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Nov. 11 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The 2009 season will come to an end Saturday for the Bethany football team when they travel to Saint Vincent for the 3rd Annual “Green Game”, which is part of Rivalry Week in the PAC. Kickoff at Chuck Noll Field in Latrobe, Pa., is scheduled for 1 p.m.

The Bison are limping towards the finish line this season, both literally and figuratively. A total of 26 players have suffered season-ending injuries during the campaign for Bethany, who dropped their fourth consecutive contest last week with a 49-0 setback to 15th-ranked Washington & Jefferson. The Bison came up empty on three trips to the red zone and also turned the ball over six times, their highest total since Sept., 2005. One bright spot however was freshman WR/KR Ed Holmes (Virginia Beach, Va./Landstown), who caught seven passes for a 95 yards and finished with 212 all-purpose yards.

“The six turnovers really tell the story from last week,” said Weaver. “Other than that, we had some nice drives on offense and just didn’t finish. I was pleased defensively that we were able to get off the field a couple times with third down stops and also took the ball away a couple times in the red zone. And we keep playing hard and we’re staying together through our first really tough stretch since we’ve been here. But this is still a game of turnovers and field position and if you want to stay close to a team like W&J, you can’t turn it over and we weren’t even close in that department.”

Bethany’s struggles in the red zone have been an issue all season long, as they have scored on just 19 of 35 trips inside the opposing teams’ 20-yard line for the lowest percentage (54.3) in the PAC. It has been especially troublesome the last two weeks, as the Bison have come away with points only once in seven red zone attempts. Weaver said better execution is needed by everyone on the offensive side.

“As it usually is when you play a bunch of inexperienced guys, it’s a lot of different factors in the red zone,” said Weaver. “We dropped a touchdown pass Saturday and had a first down at the one and didn’t get our running play to mesh, so it could have been a little different game if we would have scored early. Whether it’s one dropped ball, one missed block or one bad throw, we need to improve our overall execution and be focused on our assignments, regardless of where we are on the field.”

Although the Bison numbers on defense have not shown as much improvement as Weaver would like, he says this was still a big stepping stone in their growth on that side of the ball. Although injuries have taken away players like senior LB John Gyure (Pittsburgh, Pa./Brentwood) for most of the year and freshman CB Brett Molanick (McKeesport, Pa./South Allegheny), who led the team with three interceptions in six games before a season-ending injury, the young players development has Weaver thinking about recruiting depth for next year instead of immediate starters.

“Although the numbers may not show it, we are much more talented defensively than we have been,” said Weaver. “We now have guys who can tackle in space and our interception numbers are up. What we’re giving up now is a function of mistakes and execution. We have playmakers, but they are young, so we as coaches have to put them in position to make plays without thinking too much. But we think we have our defensive problems under control and now can focus on developing what we have and getting more depth, although it will always be hard to recover from injuries to guys like Gyure and Molanick. With another strong recruiting year, we shouldn’t be playing as many freshmen in key positions and give them time to develop.”

The Bison’s opponent this week knows all about developing players, as the Bearcats are in their third season of football after bringing the program back in 2007.  Although they sit at 0-9 coming into Saturday, they have shown marked improvement throughout the season, which included a 21-7 defeat to W&J Oct. 17, a game they trailed by just a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Compared to last year, SVC’s total offense is up more than 50 yards per game and they are allowing nearly 30 less yards per contest.

Saint Vincent was off last week, so their last action came Oct. 31 with a 38-14 loss at Thiel. The Tomcats blew the game open with 28 second quarter points and the Bearcats’ efforts were hindered by seven turnovers, including four interceptions. Turnovers have plagued SVC all season, as they are a PAC-worst -23 in the turnover ratio for the year. Quarterback Jake Smith threw for 219 yards and one TD while also rushing for a team-best 69 yards in the defeat.

Smith triggers the Bearcat offense with 930 passing yards and seven scores and is also second on the team with 205 rushing yards. The top threats on the perimeter include Sheldon Loughner with 26 receptions for 396 yards and a team-leading three scores. On defense, David Ribero is fourth in the conference with 78 tackles and leads the Bearcats with 13 tackles for loss and three sacks. In the secondary, Rob James has 28 stops and picked off four passes.

“Saint Vincent isn’t a whole lot different than where we’re at,” said Weaver. “They know they’re better and they just keep developing their players. They play hard and competitive and are just trying to get over the hump to win some of their close games.

“Defensively, you can’t just line up and run over them,” said Weaver. “They’ve improved up front with guys who have played the last couple years and been in the weight room. Their front seven is active and make you get ready for a lot of stuff. And they’ve made some good position changes to put more speed in their secondary.

“Offensively, they spread the ball around and get a lot of kids involved,” concluded Weaver. “Overall, we are going to have our hands full an improving team who is coming off a bye week, so we have to go there and be ready to execute.”

Bethany leads the “Green Game” series over Saint Vincent 2-0, which included a 66-7 win in 2007 and a 44-14 triumph in 2008. In last year’s game, Taylor McNeil caught 10 passes for a Bethany-record 279 yards and two TDs, while current sophomore Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.) rushed for 117 yards and another score. The Bison have averaged 625 yards of total offense in the two meetings with the Bearcats, while holding SVC to an average of 221 yards.