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BETHANY PRIMED FOR PAC OPENER UNDER THE LIGHTS SATURDAY
Sept. 16 - BETHANY, W.Va. – It will be a weekend of firsts for the Bethany football team (1-1), as they host Grove City (0-2) Saturday at Bison Stadium in the initial Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) contest of the year for both teams.
In addition, with the 7 p.m. kickoff, it will be the first home night game in Bethany history. The Bison are not unaccustomed to playing under the lights, as they’ve had one road night game each of the last four years, including a match-up at Grove City last fall. And while it means a long day of anticipation for head coach Tim Weaver and his staff, getting to tee it up in the dark will provide a special milestone for the program.
“This whole process started three years ago with upgrading the facility, expanding the roster and improving the quality of play and it will be sort of a culmination this Saturday with this game,” said Weaver. “It’s good for college kids to break out of the monotony of playing every Saturday afternoon. However, it will be a little different in terms of catching the football, kicking and making other logistical adjustments and the bad part as a coach is waiting all day for the game to come. But the kids are looking forward to it and we expect a great atmosphere.”
The Bison helped elevate the excitement for this game by posting their first win of ’09 last week when they scored 13 fourth quarter points and held on for a 41-33 triumph at Kentucky Christian, a NAIA program. Sophomore RB Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.) ran for a career-high 172 yards and one score and set a new BC single-game record with three touchdown receptions, all thrown by sophomore QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.), who tossed a career-high four scoring passes in the victory
While the offense had another big day, the defense stepped up in the second half. After allowing a TD on the Knights’ opening drive of the second half to fall behind 33-28, Bethany shut out KCU the rest of the way. The outcome was good on many fronts according to Weaver, one of which was getting a road win to snap a nine-game losing streak away from BC.
“Last week’s win was a big feather in the cap,” said Weaver. “Due to the way the PAC schedule has fallen, we haven’t been on an overnight trip in three years. So to go overnight and win a game against a scholarship program by coming back in the fourth quarter is huge for us.”
One item to watch as the season goes along will be to see how the Bison freshman class of more than 100 players develops. Saturday’s win saw quite a few first-year players step to the forefront, including RB Solomon Griffin (Akron, Ohio/Buchtel), who scored his second TD of the season, wide receivers Johnathan Foster (Cumberland, Md./Fort Hill) and Ed Holmes (Virginia Beach, Va./Landstown), who both made big fourth quarter receptions, and LB Will Powell (Virginia Beach, Va./Landstown), who had six tackles and blocked an extra point.
Weaver also says key defensive plays were turned in by upperclassmen who switched positions prior to the start of the season, essentially making them freshmen as well. Senior DB Matt Dahle (McKees Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox) led the team in tackles for the second straight week with nine, while senior LB John Gyure (Pittsburgh, Pa./Brentwood) and sophomore DB Mike Sawlsville (Mt. Pleasant, Pa.) are in their first year at new spots.
“We had some new playmakers emerge, which we knew was going to happen,” said Weaver. “Foster and Holmes made plays for us at key times and when we look at the defensive film, we can have as many as seven freshmen out there. Plus, we have guys like Dahle and Sawlsville playing their first games at DB and Gyure being a first-year player in terms of reps at linebacker. It’s encouraging, exciting and frustrating all at the same time because as fast and athletic as we are, we are still going to make young mistakes. We’re still learning how to make the transition from practice speed to game speed and if can make that adjustment earlier in the game, we’re going to be alright.”
Another highlight to the Bison victory was the continued emergence of a dominant running game. With an average of 191 rushing yards per game, BC is ranked second in the PAC behind only Waynesburg (194). Walker gained his personal-best 172 yards on just 22 carries, a 7.8 average, and the 205 yards against Kentucky Christian marked the first time the Green and White ran for that many yards since Oct. 6, 2007 , when they gained 224 at Grove City.
“Our running game’s success is because of a good offensive line, a good running back and threats on the perimeter that people have to defend,” said Weaver. “The offensive staff does a good job of game planning and once the running game starts to click, it feeds the entire team because it means you’re controlling the line of scrimmage.
“We also have a back in Walker who, other than breakaway speed, has all the tools,” said Weaver. “He is really strong, has good feet, can change direction, catch the ball and has a lot of football smarts. He has a chance to put up monster numbers the rest of his career.”
Monster numbers is something Grove City has seen their senior quarterback Andrew DiDonato post in the Wolverines’ first two games this season. He leads the conference and is ranked second in all of Division III with 436.5 yards of total offense per game. Last week in a 45-40 loss at Carnegie Mellon, DiDonato set school records with 382 passing yards, 473 total yards and five touchdown passes.
Not all of his damage is done through the air either, as he is third in the conference behind Walker (124.5) and Geneva’s Gerard Muschette (110.5) with exactly 100 rushing yards per game. Add in the fact that this veteran signal caller directs a Grove City offense that can show a Wing-T or Spread look and finding a way to slow down the Wolverines becomes a daunting task.
“DiDonato is playing unbelievable,” said Weaver. “He is making good decisions, throwing accurately and is still a threat to take off. The difference is this year, he is keeping his eyes downfield and rather than just start running, he is always looking for a late-breaking receiver before he starts running.
“This is going to be an enormous challenge for us,” said Weaver. “We have to keep it simple and let guys play as fast as they can. At the same time, we have to recognize the two completely different schemes they’ll run. We have to be sound against the Wing-T, which means tackling well and staying in the gaps. When they spread it out, we have to keep DiDonato in the pocket and keep them in front of us.”
As good as the Grove City offense has been, averaging 43.5 points and 479.5 yards in the first two games, their defense hasn’t been as fortunate. GCC is surrendering 48.5 points and 452 yards a contest. They aren’t without their playmakers however, as LB Jason Ferguson leads the conference with 22 tackles and Mark Rossol, making his first career start at safety last week, registered 15 stops.
Weaver says the caliber of opponents is part of the explanation as to why the Wolverine defense has allowed so much early in the year.
“They’ve played two good teams in Dickinson and Carnegie Mellon,” said Weaver. “We know how hard it is to stop Carnegie Mellon because we couldn’t do it the two years we played them. And Dickinson just handily beat a Top 20 team in Hobart (26-3). They have some holes to fill due to graduation and like us, are trying to find their way on defense.
“But we have no illusions about scoring a ton of points this week,” said Weaver. “We still need to execute, look to stay balanced and finish drives when we get a chance to score. We also have to play the whole game. Last year, we had a good first half offensively and stalled out in the second. We can’t allow that to happen and have to be ready to play 60 minutes.”