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Bison Football ECAC Southeast Bowl Preview

Nov. 19 - BETHANY, W. Va. - For the first time since the 1980 season, the Bethany College football team will play a post-season contest, as they will travel to Owings Mills, Md. for a contest with Stevenson University in the ECAC Southeast Bowl. Full game notes can be viewed below.

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The Bison: The Bison earned their first trip to a post-season contest since 1980 as they recorded their best regular season record sicne 2001, going 6-4 on the year.

The Green & White opened the season on the fast track to at least a .500 season as they won five of their first six contests. After opening the season with a loss to Mount Union, the Bison took to the road and erased half time deficits to both Thiel and Westminster.

Against the Tomcats, Bethany posted the most points they would see all season as they dropped 35 second-half points en route to a 45-24 win over the Tomcats. The Bison defense also started a trend, as they held Thiel to just 215 total yards of offense in the win.

The following week, the Bison were once again down at halftime to Westminster, before coming back to take a 21-14 victory in overtime in New Wilmington. Sophomore Jalen Holmes would score his first touchdown of the season in the overtime frame as the Green & White would move to 2-1 on the year.

The Bison would rattle off three more victories in a row, notching wins at home against Waynesburg (33-27) and Carnegie Mellon (19-7) on either side of a road triumph at Case Western Reserve (25-14). In both the victories against PAC newcomers, the Bison defense dominated at the line of scrimmage, giving up just 41 rushing yards to Case Western and 48 to the Tartans.

After their five-game winning streak, however, it would take three chances for the Bison to get to six wins. After falling to Washington & Jefferson at home (34-3) and Geneva on the road (20-14), the Green & White sealed their best season since ‘01 with a 34-9 win over Grove City.

The defense was once again the story against the Wolverines as the Bison turned Grove City over four times, leading to 31 second-half points.

The Bison would then finish their season 6-4, dropping their final regular season game to Saint Vincent. Despite the loss, the Bison flexed their muscles in the run game, posting a season-best 336 rushing yards in the contest. The total marked the most yards on the ground since the 2010 season.

Over the course of the year, the Bison “D” continued to show vast improvement. After finishing the 2013 season as the conference’s last place defense in opponents’ yards per game (437.1), the Bison have seen a quick turnaround. Bethany finished the regular season as the third best defense in the PAC, allowing just 335.5 yards per game. The Green & White went from allowing 188.4 yards per game on the ground last season to 132.7 in 2014. Additonally, The Bison went from ranking seventh in the PAC in passing defense (248.7) in 2013 to ranking second this season (202.6).

Scouting the Mustangs: Stevenson earned their right to host the ECAC Southeast Bowl game by posting a season record of 7-3, the best record in the program’s brief history. Just four years old, the Mustangs have improved each of the last two seasons. After posting four wins in 2013, the Mustangs showed a three-game improvement in the 2014 campaign.

Like the Bison, the Mustangs opened the season strong, winning their first four games, which included starting 3-0 in conference play. Stevenson then dropped three of their next four, which included losses to NCAA Playoff bound teams, Delaware Valley (35-13) and Widener (34-23). Sitting at 5-3, the Mustangs finished their season strong, defeating Wilkes 33-14 and Misericordia, 35-14 to solidify their chances to host the ECAC bowl game.

In similar fashion to the Bison, Stevenson earned their trip to the ECAC by relying on a defense that ranked second in the Middle Atlantic Conference in total yards allowed per game (298.2). Stevenson allowed just 125.3 yards per game on the gound, and gave up 172.9 yards per game through the air. The defense for the Mustangs is led by sophomore linebacker Cody Pietryzk, who led the team in both total tackles (70) and tackles for loss, recording 9.5 on the season.

The Stevenson defense comes into the contest with the Bison having ranked second in the MAC in opponents’ points per game (16.7). They also forced 22 turnovers on the year, registering 13 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. Senior defensive back Shane Clough led the way in turnovers, finishing the year with four picks on the season.

Offensively, the Mustangs struggled some on the offensive side of the ball, ranking ninth in the MAC in total offense, averaging just 281.0 yards of offense per game. The offense is led by sophomore running back Trey Lee and senior wideout Anthony Reid. Lee comes into the game having rushed for 741 yards and seven scores, while Reid leads the passing game with 444 yards receiving and five TDs.
 
The Series: This year’s meeting between the Bison and Mustangs marks the first ever meeting between the two programs. Stevenson’s football program was initiated in 2011.

The Coaches: Bethany’s Bill Garvey and Stevenson’s Ed Hottle meet for the first time in both of their tenures as head coaches.

Garvey, who is in his second season as the head coach of the Bison, posted a 10-10 record through his first two full seasons at the helm of Bethany football program. The last coach to win at least 10 games through their first two seasons was H.M. Buland who totaled a 12-8 mark through two years at the helm.

Hottle, who is the first head coach in Stevenson history, led the Mustangs to their best season to date in 2014, leading the Mustangs to seven victories. While with the program, Hottle has posted a record of 15-25, but has notched an 11-9 record over his last two campaigns at the helm.

All-Conference Honorees: When the Bison and Mustangs take the field on Saturday, the game will see a total of 25 players who were named to their respective all-conference lists. The Bison come into the game with 15 All-PAC honorees, while the Mustangs had ten players earn All-Middle Atlantic Conference honors this season. Of the 25 players, a total of six who take the field were named first-team selections. On the Bethany side, the Bison will be lead by first teamers, seniors Wyssmy Despagne at defensive back Stephen Amic at punter, as well as juniors Eric Blinn at wideout and Nadim Raddar at defensive end. For the Mustangs, defensive back Austin Tennessee and special teamer Devonte Williams were named first-team selections.

Defensive Force: When the Bison are on defense, look for Raddar to continue to cause havoc for the opposition. This season, Raddar was tabbed as the Presidents’ Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, an honor for which he was truly deserving.

Not only did Raddar led the Bison in both tackles for loss (20.0) and sacks (12.5) this season, but his 2.2 tackles for loss per game also ranked tops in all of Division III. Totaling 74 tackles on the season, Raddar registered at least 3.0 tackles for loss on four different occasions, including back-to-back games against Thiel and Westminster in which he totaled a season-best 3.5.

Strong Defense: Not only has it been Raddar that has held down opposing offenses, but the entire defensive front seven has been causing mayhem in backfield all season. The Bison totaled 112 tackles for loss this season, leading the entire country with that total. Six Bethany defenders ranked in the top 20 in the conference in tackles for loss at the end of the season, which included five in the top ten.

Raddar ranked first, finishing with 20.0 on the season. Junior Donavan Hayden finished the year ranked third in total TFL with 18.5 while juniors Eric Campbell, Larry Kpadehyea and sophomore Khallid Pierce all finished tied for sixth (13.0). Sophomore Matt Conover also cracked the top 20, totaling 9.0 tackles for loss on the year.

In half of the games this season, the Bison defense has held the opposing offense under 250 total yards. Twice they held teams under 50-yards rushing (Case Western and Carnegie Mellon) and they also held Thiel College under 100-yards passing in week two.

Road Sweet Home?: One of the things that has worked in Bethany’s favor this season has been their ability to go into unfriendly confines and come away with victories. The Bison went 4-1 on the road during the regular season, outscoring their opponents 139-81. The Bison defense allows just 16.2 points per game away from Bison Stadium, and is allowing only 253.2 yards per game on the road.

The Bison offense also picks up its game for road contests, as they are averaging 365.0 yards per game this season, including 164.6 yards per contest on the ground, and 200.4 through the air.

To further help the Bison cause, a total of 31 Bison players are from the Maryland area where the ECAC contest is being played.

Blinnsanity: Look for junior receiver Eric Blinn to have a breakout day for the Green & White. The wideout led the PAC in most major offensive categories this season, including total receptions (97), receptions per game (9.6) and receiving yards per game (98.0). A First-Team All-PAC selection for the second year in a row, Blinn had totaled over 100 yards receiving on six different occasions.

In just his third year, Blinn has already surpassed Bethany career marks in receptions and receiving yards and sits just three touchdowns shy of the career record. In the final game of the regular season, Blinn re-broke the Bethany single-season reception record which he set one year ago.

With three catches in the ECAC bowl game, Blinn will become the first Bison in history to eclipse 100 receptions in a season. He also needs just 20 receiving yards to become the only player in school history to record 1,000 receiving yards twice in a career.  

About the ECAC: The Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) is the nation’s largest conference and only multi-divisional conference, with appproximately 300 Division I, II, and III colleges and universities from Maine to South Carolina and westerly to Missouri. Established in 1938 under the leadership of inaugural Commissioner Asa S. Bushnell with 58 charter members, the ECAC has since emerged as the nationwide leader in service. The ECAC headquarters relocated from Centerville, Mass. to the Matrix Coporate Center in Danbury, Connecticut in July of 2014.