Nov. 7 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team will complete the 2007 season Saturday afternoon with their biggest challenge of the year, as they travel to Washington & Jefferson (Pa.) College to face the fifth-ranked Presidents. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m. at Cameron Stadium.
The Bison’s record dropped to 4-5 overall last weekend with a 42-19 loss to Carnegie Mellon (Pa.) University. Although senior QB Milton Joyner (Pittsburgh, Pa./Westinghouse) threw for 206 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair to sophomore WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier), who tied the school’s single-season touchdown reception record (9), BC’s efforts were hurt by four turnovers that led to 14 Tartan points.
Despite the loss, which stopped Bethany’s two-game winning streak, head coach Tim Weaver says there were some positives from the contest, as well as lessons to learn.
“Last week was an opportunity to learn some lessons,” said Weaver. “We played with a lot of energy and passion the previous two weeks in wins over Westminster and Thomas More, but for whatever reason, we didn’t have that last week. That’s my job as a coach to get them ready to go every week and it’s a also a lesson for the players to learn that they need that extra energy and drive from the opening kickoff every week.
“We also learned that we still need to grow as a team,” said Weaver. “We had a bad stretch in the second quarter in which we turned the ball over a couple times and we never really recovered from that. And we also learned we still have a long way to go to match up physically against teams who are going to line up and try to beat you up. It means we need a year in the weight room and a year of recruiting depth to get better in that regard.
“Overall, when you turn the ball over four times, the score will look much worse,” said Weaver. “But we were much more competitive than we were the year before against Carnegie Mellon. We ran for three times as many rushing yards and more than tripled our scoring output, so we made some strides.”
With 90 percent of the season in the books, Weaver can start to evaluate the campaign as a whole and see that his program made quite a few improvements from his first year at the helm.
“At the start of this year, we said we were still a season away from being win-loss oriented,” said Weaver. “We had other goals that were more of a focus, including playing well at home, where we went 3-2, running the ball better, which we actually exceeded our expectations, and be more competitive in every game. This year, we had games against Grove City and Geneva that we were in going into the fourth quarter before they got away from us and I don’t think we would have been there last year.
“And from a program standpoint, we wanted to continue to develop depth,” said Weaver. “Except for Milton at quarterback and at linebacker (three seniors), all of our key guys are coming back next year and have shown a willingness to work hard.”
While there were bright spots to the Bison program this year, there are also areas that Weaver believes need a good amount of improvement. And although there were strides made defensively, the Bison coach says most of those improvements must come from that side of the ball.
“From a defensive standpoint, we have to tackle better and put a more physical front seven on the field next year,” said Weaver. “That comes from just continuing to recruit and develop players, which we’ve done on offense. It’s about the players getting stronger and faster and the staff needing to recruit, so it’s more of a developmental aspect now.”
Bethany’s opposition this week would serve as a good role model for developing into a top-flight program. Washington & Jefferson enters the regular season finale ranked fifth in the nation according to the AFCA and Don Hansen polls and eighth in the country in the D3Football.com poll. The Presidents improved to 9-0 overall and clinched the PAC title and automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs with a 42-0 trouncing of Thomas More last week. QB Bobby Swallow threw for 204 yards and a pair of scores, while RB Curt Jones rushed for 153 yards and two TDs. W&J’s defense also forced four Saints turnovers, which were converted into 21 points.
The Presidents’ offense has been a juggernaut all season long, leading the PAC in scoring (44.1), passing (299.8) and total yards (522.9). They are led by Swallow, who leads all NCAA Divisions with a 195.2 quarterback rating. He has completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,545 yards and 36 touchdowns, while throwing just two interceptions. Their top receiver yardage-wise is Tom McCafferty, who has 50 catches for 853 yards and 10 TDs, but David Ravida leads the team with 51 receptions for 561 yards and six scores.
Even with a potent passing game, the Presidents have a good balance with the running attack, as Kevin Mathews (680 yards) and Jones (648) have combined for over 1,300 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
“Nobody has yet,” said Weaver when asked how to slow down W&J’s offense. “Swallow is having an unbelievable year. He is poised in the pocket, accurate and makes good decisions. When you play a good quarterback, you want to try to pressure him as much as possible, try to rattle him a little. The two top pass pressure oriented defenses they’ve played this year in Geneva and Waynesburg had the most success limiting their production.
“However, they can run the ball and trying to send pressure can lead to creases in your defense,” said Weaver. “Mathews is as fast of a back as we’ve played all year and has great feet. And we can’t just cover McCafferty. They have a lot of weapons on the outside and Swallow will find the guy with the best match-up. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us , but it’s one we are looking forward to.”
Although not getting the headlines the offense is, W&J’s defense may be just as impressive. They are the top-ranked unit in the PAC in points allowed (14.6) and passing defense (124.0) and third in total defense (267.6). They also boast the top turnover margin in the league at +15. LB David Gitlitz leads this unheralded group with 89 tackles, including 15 for loss, while LB John Fahey, who has 67 stops on the year, was PAC Defensive Player of the Week last week after making eight tackles, forcing a fumble and returning an interception 35 yards for a touchdown.
“Because of the numbers their offense is putting up, their defense gets overlooked,” said Weaver. “But they are a solid group who are at or near the top of the PAC in every category. They can take the ball away and are good tacklers. You can’t look at them on film and say we’ll take advantage of that because they don’t give you much.”
Obviously there wouldn’t be a better way to end year two of the Weaver era then pulling off the upset Saturday. But even if Bethany isn’t able to do that, Weaver says this is still a good chance for his program to gain some momentum heading into the 2008 season.
“The biggest thing I’m asking of our players is to embrace the challenge of playing this team,” said Weaver. “There are five teams who get to play a top five program this weekend and we’re one of them. Last year, we turned the ball over four times in the first half, which helped them get out to a huge lead (40-0 at halftime). I don’t want to get off the bus down 21-0 just because of what it says on their jerseys. For us to get where we want to go, we need to have fun with the challenge of playing this team.”