Oct. 1 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team will be aiming to even their PAC record at 1-1 when they host Thomas More (2-1, 2-0) for Homecoming this Saturday. Kickoff at Bison Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m.
The Bison fell to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the conference with a heart-breaking 41-35 loss at Grove City Sept. 20. Bethany led 35-33 at halftime, but the only score in the final 30 minutes came from GCC with 1:59 to play. The Green and White reached the Wolverine 45 before their drive stalled out and Grove City held on for the win. Junior WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) hauled in five passes for 107 yards, including a 78-yard scoring pass from freshman QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.), which gave Cruse 18 career TD receptions to tie the school record.
“It was a weird game in that both teams played very well on one side of the ball for a half,” said Bethany head coach Tim Weaver. “When you have a close game like that, it will come down to turnovers. We turned it over three times and didn’t cause any, so they won.”
The loss was the first one-score defeat Bethany has suffered under third-year coach Weaver and while the team had to dwell on it through last week’s bye, the Bison coach says his team learned from that contest.
“We have very resilient players,” said Weaver. “When we looked at that game, we saw that we did a whole bunch of things wrong. Some of them were because the coaching staff didn’t do their job preparing the team, some were because the players didn’t execute and some were because Grove City made plays when they had to. The game turned on a few plays and if we made one or two of those, we could have won, and if we made a handful, we would have won by a couple scores.
“Just because we realized what plays we should have made, we can’t automatically think we’re going to make those now,” said Weaver. “We still have to go out and execute and it’s our job as staff to put the right players in the positions to make the plays and also have their confidence level be where it should for them to get it done.”
Bethany’s running game continues to impress three games into the season. Led by freshman Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.), who has 177 yards and three scores, and sophomore Marcus Santini (Seminole, Fla.), who has rushed for 145 yards and two TDs, the Bison rank second in the PAC in rushing yards per game (150.0). Having two backs with similar abilities gives Weaver the ability to keep fresh legs on the field to pound out the yards.
“We are so much better at that position,” said Weaver. “They are more similar then they are different, as both of them have good feet, are physical and can catch the ball. We like to rotate them so they stay fresh because they won’t break many 80-yard runs, but because of their ability to break tackles, we should see a bunch of 25-yard runs. They are great kids to coach too and the difference at that position is much more noticeable then at any other since we arrived, both in talent and in character.”
The Bison youth in the backfield has been productive, but there is still inconsistency at the linebacker position on the other side of the ball. BC has three new starters from last year and after camp, Weaver said he was waiting for players to step up and take control of those spots. To this point, although they have made some plays, Weaver wants to see more from that unit.
“If I had to grade them so far, I would give them a C,” said Weaver. “Inexperience can only be used as an excuse for so long. At some point, you have to become a football player. They’ve made some plays, but they haven’t tackled the way we want. And the things we work on every day in practice haven’t sunk in yet. That responsibility falls on both the coaching staff and the players, but it better start to sink in soon or we won’t be good defensively.”
Saturday’s game will give Bethany a chance for their third straight victory over Thomas More. BC rallied from a 14-0 deficit to claim a 21-17 triumph in Kentucky in 2006. Last year, the Bison sprinted out to a 28-7 lead and went on to a 35-14 victory over the Saints. Senior WR Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.) caught two scoring passes and Cruse grabbed one as well, which continues his success against TMC. In two career games against the Saints, Cruse has caught 13 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns.
Although Bethany has claimed two straight from Thomas More, the Saints team coming in this week looks much different. That’s because two playmakers, QB Trevor Stellman (493 passing yards, 5 TDs) and LB Brad Steinmetz (third in PAC with 31 tackles), have returned after they both missed last year because of injuries. Their presence, along with two talented running backs in Anthony Knott (22 carries, 222 yards, 2 TDs) and Cordario Collier (37 carries, 138 yards, 2 TDs), has helped TMC win two in a row following a loss to John Carroll in the opener.
Last week, Stellman completed 17-of-23 through the air for 200 yards and two touchdowns and added 30 rushing yards and another score in a 31-10 victory at home over Westminster. He earned PAC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts, while freshman RB Kendall Owens won the league’s Special Teams honor after returning two kicks for 92 yards and four punts for 45 yards. DB Martez Williams led a Saints defense with nine solo tackles and one interception.
“Thomas More is a very good team on both sides of the ball,” said Weaver. “Steinmetz coming back to team with (Matt) Clark (26 tackles) gives them two playmakers at linebacker. And having experience at quarterback makes them a completely different team offensively. They added two freshman backs (Knott, Owens) that scare you to go along with Collier. But Stellman might be the best combination runner/passer in the conference. He can throw over your head one play and break a 60-yard run like he did against Waynesburg the next.”
Even though the Bison are staring at a 0-2 start in PAC play this week, Weaver doesn’t see this as a must-win because he’s still focused on becoming a better team for the long haul.
“I don’t think there is any more pressure to win this week,” said Weaver. “We look at every week the same, and I go back to old coaching cliché that you just want to be 1-0 every week. If you think big picture for the season, you lose focus on the next practice and next play. When you’re playing the guys we are, with a freshman at quarterback, a freshman and sophomore at running back and a bunch of new starters at linebacker, our main focus is on improving every week. Our goal is to be a better team Sunday then we are now.”