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Sept. 30 - BETHANY, W.Va. – After recovering from a loss in the conference opener through their bye week, the Bethany football team returns to the field Saturday with a road trip to defending PAC champion and nationally-ranked Thomas More. Kickoff at the Bank of Kentucky Field is slated for 1:30 p.m.

The Bison (1-2, 0-1) were idle last weekend after suffering a 35-14 defeat at the hands of Grove City Sept. 19 in the PAC opener for both squads. Four turnovers hurt BC in the loss, as did four Grove City scoring drives that went 10 plays or more. Senior WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) caught seven passes for 82 yards and one TD, his 22nd career touchdown catch, in the loss. He now has 2,090 career receiving yards and is 52 away from the school’s all-time record of 2,141, set by T.J. Parker (2003-06).

Beginning the conference slate with a loss at home was not the start the Bison envisioned at the start of the year and having the bye week right after may have been a good chance to get back to basics for the young squad.

“We spent the first couple days of practice during the bye week just working on fundamentals and our stuff,” said head coach Tim Weaver. “We also changed positions with some guys. After evaluating players for a month, it allowed us to make moves and put people in spots where they might help us more.

“Towards the end of the week, we took the pads off and started basic prep for Thomas More,” said Weaver. “We wanted them to start getting their legs back and also wanted to prepare the young guys for the JV game Sunday at Marietta (won by Bethany 26-25).”

Although Bethany’s very young defense has seen its share of struggles to this point, Weaver says he has seen things he liked so far. Still, Weaver also knows they must improve in a couple areas, especially third downs, as opponents have converted 54.3 percent (19-35) of their third down attempts against the Green and White.

 “I like that we aren’t giving up big plays,” said Weaver. “Look at the Grove City game and the longest play they had was 20 yards. They had four scoring drives with 10+ plays, which doesn’t happen often, so they deserve credit for that.

“Our main issue is that we have not progressed to the point where our talented players are making plays to get us off the field on third down,” said Weaver. “Our guys may be in position, but either we make a tackle right at the first down marker, or we get a pass rush but leave a lane open for the QB to scramble. It’s coming but the faster we get guys to trust and believe in each other and what they’re doing, it will flip the switch and this defense will be pretty good.”

Even a defense playing well could have problems with the balanced attack brought in by Thomas More, who is 3-0 and ranked 18th in the nation by the AFCA and 25th in the poll. After toughing out a 14-7 win over John Carroll in the opener, the Saints have coasted past PAC rivals Waynesburg (47-24) and Westminster (34-16).

In last week’s win over Westminster, Thomas More led 34-0 after three quarters before the Titans finally managed to score. TMC quarterback Trevor Stellman was 13-of-16 through the air for 239 yards and three scores and also rushed for a team-high 84 yards and another touchdown. For the year, he leads the PAC in passing efficiency (181.3) while completing 64.6 percent of his aerials for 652 yards and seven TDs, while being picked off only once.

Thomas More’s defense is also a stout unit, as they rank second in the PAC in points allowed (15.7) and third in rushing yards surrendered (67.0). They held Westminster to 42 rushing yards on 23 carries, but did give up over 300 yards passing and are allowing 225.3 per game through the air. The defense is led by senior LB Brad Steinmetz, a preseason All-American who is fourth in the conference with 27 tackles and also has two sacks.

“Thomas More is the best team we’ve played,” said Weaver. “We knew they were good but you watch them on film and they have no weaknesses. They have speed on offense, defense and special teams and are by far the most physical team we’ve seen. They have a senior quarterback playing at a high level and a senior leader on defense who is a monster. Offensively, they can spread the ball around and make you prepare for a ton of stuff. And they bring pressure from all over defensively.”

How the Bison handle that pressure will be a key Saturday. Bethany currently leads the conference in fewest sacks allowed, as sophomore QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.) has gone down just twice in 112 attempts and Weaver says the heat the Saints bring could leave the potential for big plays. He also says his team has to be ready to recover from negative plays that will also stem from TMC’s scheme.

“When you bring as much pressure as they do from so many different places, it can be high-risk, high-reward,” said Weaver. “Obviously we hope we can block it all and also run the ball to achieve the balance we want. But we’ll try to find the holes in the coverage and aim to get the ball of Chad’s hands quickly.

“We also can’t let a couple negative plays affect us,” said Weaver. “In the Grove City game, when we turned the ball over on our first drive, we didn’t recover. We’re not mature enough as a team yet to handle it and that needs to change. Bad things are going to happen in a football game and Thomas More will make more bad things happen than anyone we’ve played. And it’s my job, as much as the players, to get us to bounce back and stay focused.”