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BETHANY WELCOMES THIEL SATURDAY FOR HOMECOMING

Oct. 7 - BETHANY, W.Va. – After suffering their second loss of the season to a Top 25 team, the Bethany football team comes home to Bison Stadium to host Thiel (2-3, 1-1) for Homecoming Saturday in a 2 p.m. kickoff.

The Bison dropped to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the PAC last week with a 40-12 setback at #18 Thomas More. The undefeated Saints bolted to a 27-0 lead early in the third quarter and didn’t look back in handing BC their second consecutive defeat. Sophomore QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.) completed 29 passes for the second consecutive week for 253 yards and also ran for a score, while sophomore RB Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.) provided the other score with a 10-yard run. Bethany’s efforts were hampered by seven Thomas More sacks in the loss.

Defensively, senior FS Matt Dahle (McKees Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox) posted his third double-digit tackling effort of the year with 12 stops and now has a PAC-high 48 hits. Despite a few mistakes that led to TMC scores and a banged up offensive line, Bison head coach Tim Weaver liked the effort his team gave against a top program like Thomas More.

“We were disappointed the score got away from us a little bit, but I was pleased with our effort, “said Weaver. “I didn’t like that four of Thomas More’s scores were gift-wrapped by our mistakes, including an interception return for a touchdown. They are too good for us to make that many mistakes. But I was very encouraged by our play against the inside run and when they did gain yards on the ground, they got to the edge and used their speed.

“We are not in the excuse making business either, but we have three potential starters on the offensive line injured and that’s a tough position to rebuild in the middle of the season,” said Weaver. “To give up seven sacks in an anomaly for us because we’ve been good at protecting the quarterback and take pride in that. But give Thomas More a lot of credit, they brought pressure from different places and confused us at times, so we’ll need a good week of practice from the guys who will be in those positions this week.”

The beat-up line is one minor reason the Bison offense is off to a slow start by their standards. Last season after the first four games, BC was averaging 22 points per game, but over the last six contests, they posted 32 points a game and finished with a school record 280 for the year. After playing the same four teams to open the ’09 campaign, including #13 Otterbein and #18 Thomas More, Bethany’s point total stands at 18.5 per contest, but Weaver sees improvement coming if slight adjustments are made.

“We don’t have any major disasters on offense,” said Weaver. “We have to catch the ball better, we need a little more consistent play from the line and Chad has to throw a little more accurately, so it’s just little things adding up. We also need our seniors in (Matt) Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) and (Jorge) Laboy (New York, N.Y./Central Park East) to be productive. It’s our job as a staff to get them the ball, but it’s their job as players to catch the ball. At the same time, the teams we’ve lost to are 11-3 right now. We need to play better and coach better, but we did not come out of the gate playing high school teams.”

One bright spot defensively is how the Bison have handled opponents’ passing attacks, as they rank second in the league with 171.8 passing yards allowed. The play of Dahle has been a big factor in that and with freshmen such as Brett Molanick (McKeesport, Pa./South Allegheny), who picked off a pass in the end zone to thwart a Saints’ drive Saturday, developing quickly, the unit should continue to get better, although Weaver says getting more pressure to the quarterback is a necessity.

“We are so much faster defensively and the young guys are starting to get it,” said Weaver. “The ball isn’t being thrown over their heads for big plays and we got off the field last week with a pick in the red zone by a freshman. One thing we need to see is we have to get more pressure on the quarterback because one sack in four games is not acceptable. We want to be an attack and pressure unit, but the adjustments that come with that aren’t conducive to a young team. We aren’t even close to panic mode yet and while there is some urgency, we aren’t going to reinvent ourselves because we believe in our guys and what we’re doing.”

Although this week’s opponent doesn’t come in with gaudy offensive numbers, the Bison had trouble containing Thiel last season. After breaking out to a 28-7 halftime lead, Bethany surrendered 21 second-half points, including the tying TD with 48 seconds left. The epic contest carried on through four overtimes before the Tomcats eventually came away with a 50-44 victory in the longest game in school history on both sides. Quarterback Willie Bova threw for 374 yards and four scores, while also rushing for the game-winning touchdown in the final extra period.

Thiel had another heart-stopping ending last week, as they slipped past Westminster 24-21. The Tomcats trailed 7-0 heading into the fourth period, but scored all of their points in the last 15 minutes, which included a blocked punt in the end zone and an 86-yard scoring pass from Bova to Brendan Taylor. The final tally came when Bova guided TC 39 yards in four plays to set up John Madeline’s game-winning 46-yard field goal as time expired.

Bova finished the game with 22 completions in 33 attempts for 304 yards and two touchdowns, with his top target being Taylor, who made six receptions for 151 yards and one TD. The Bova-to-Taylor connection has been very productive this year for Thiel, as Bova is fourth in the conference with 217.8 yards of total offense per game and Taylor ranking second in the league in receptions (7.40) and receiving yards (106.8) per game. The Tomcat rushing attack has struggled through the first five games however, as they mustered just 28 yards on 25 carries against Westminster last week and are eighth in the PAC with 57.2 yards on the ground per game.

The Thiel defense is ranked in the middle of the road in the PAC in most categories, although they have been susceptible to the pass, ranking eighth with 241.6 yards per game allowed. Although the Tomcats don’t get pressure as well as Thomas More with just seven sacks in five contests, they can be an opportunistic group, tying for third in the circuit with 10 turnovers forced, including seven in their wins over Albion and Westminster. LB Bobby Shew is having a solid year for the Tomcats, ranking seventh in the PAC with 41 tackles and he scored the touchdown against Westminster after falling on the blocked punt in the end zone.

For Weaver and his team, this week brings another test of trying to stop a senior quarterback and trying to deal with a disciplined football team.

“This week just continues this stretch of playing teams led by senior quarterbacks,” said Weaver. “Thiel is improved from last year and is one of my favorite teams in the conference to watch on film because of how hard they play in all three phases of the game. Bova might be the best player in the league and he just wills his team to win. There might be 15 quarterbacks in the country who can make the throw he made last week on the 86-yard touchdown pass. Defensively, they are well-coached, tackle well and physical. The only team to really score on them this year was W&J, so it will be a challenge for our offense.

“And I’m sure they are coming here very confident and believing they will win,” said Weaver. “They won’t go away and never believe they’re out of it, so we need to be ready for a battle, get the game to the fourth quarter and see who executes better.”