BETHANY, W.Va. – After they evened their record last week with a big win, the Bethany College football team (1-1) will open PAC play Saturday at Grove City (Pa.) College (1-1) in a rare night game at Robert E. Thorn Field, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
This will only be the second night game ever at Grove City, who lost to Waynesburg 27-23 in the first night contest last year. Saturday will mark the fourth consecutive season the Bison have played under the lights at least once, with BC losing at Geneva 28-13 last year in their last contest played after the sun went down. Bethany has lost four straight night games, with their last victory being a 17-0 shutout at Shenandoah (Va.) University in the 2001 season opener.
Bethany brings some momentum into this week’s contest after a 34-19 triumph over Kentucky Christian University last Saturday, which was their fourth consecutive win in a home opener. The Bison trailed 19-14 heading into the fourth quarter, but freshman QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.) scored on a one-yard sneak on the first play of the quarter and freshman RB Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.) had a pair of TDs (28, 1) as BC tallied 20 unanswered points to claim the victory.
It was a total team effort, according to Weaver, who saw his team achieve a near-perfect balance offensively (186 rushing yards, 185 passing yards), give up just two plays longer then 25 yards defensively and play nearly flawless special teams.
“All wins are good wins and the first win of the year is always special,” said Weaver. “What made this special is that it was a good team win. We dominated the game on special teams and minimized the big plays defensively. Even though they had a lot of yards, they only broke one really big play. Offensively, we protected the football, made a few big plays in the passing game and got the running game going.
“Really the best thing about Saturday was the energy level and passion we brought to the field and we played really hard, which was a contrast to week one,” said Weaver. “Give credit to our assistant coaches, who made sure the right players were on the field in the right situations, and those players executed and made plays when we needed them.”
One player who stepped up in his first career start was Smith. He settled in right away, firing a 57-yard TD pass to junior WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) on the first play of the game off a flea flicker. He finished the game with 168 passing yards, one scoring pass and running in the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, all while not committing one turnover.
“We were very happy with Chad,” said Weaver. “He took some big hits early in the game, but protected the football. A lot of credit goes to (offensive coordinator Bill) Garvey for scaling back what we did on Saturday and making sure Chad was comfortable with what he was doing. However, we won’t survive running a limited menu, so we’ve challenged Chad to get a grasp on as much as he can every week. He also had a lot of help from the offensive line. He had protection every time he dropped back to pass and we were very successful running the football, so we accomplished what we did because the offensive line played up to expectations.”
The Bison defensive line also had a strong game against Kentucky Christian. Junior John Gyure (Pittsburgh, Pa./Brentwood) was named PAC and ECAC Southwest Defensive Player of the Week after making 10 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and the entire unit was vital in getting pressure on KCU quarterback Ricky Phillips and limiting the Knights’ ground game to 106 yards on 40 carries, a measly 2.7 yards per carry average. This came just one week after Otterbein gained 243 yards and averaged 5.4 stripes per tote in week one.
“We’ve known since the first day we arrived that upgrading the defensive line was a focal point in recruiting,” said Weaver. “We also know that’s one of the slowest places to show improvement because it takes a couple years of lifting to show results. But we have some talented freshmen like Rolland Owens (Wintersville, Ohio/Steubenville) and Bobby McConnell (Valley Grove, W.Va./Wheeling Park) who have settled in after their first game and are helping right away. We improved a great deal on Saturday by only allowing 2.7 yards per carry. It doesn’t matter how many yards you give up, if you hold a team under three yards a carry, you’re doing a good job.”
It wasn’t Bethany’s defense that was the problem in last year’s 36-15 loss at Grove City. Instead it was an offensive unit that scored on just one of six trips inside the GCC 20 and two turnovers in the fourth quarter which led directly to Wolverine scores. The win was Grove City’s sixth straight over the Bison at home and 10th in the last 11 meetings overall. The last BC triumph at Grove City was a 13-6 victory in 1995.
This year’s GCC team has opened the season in similar style to the Bison. They suffered a 34-7 setback on the road in week one against a good Dickinson (Pa.) College program, then rebounded to force four second half turnovers in turning back Carnegie Mellon (Pa.) University 19-10 a week ago. Safety Zach Fulmer caused the biggest problem for the Tartans, as he picked off two passes, including one in the end zone, while also recovering a fumble that set up a GCC score. Offensively, TB Brian Mercer galloped for 115 yards and a score, while junior QB Andrew DiDonato, already the school’s all-time passing leader, threw for 137 yards and a TD.
DiDonato triggers the Wolverine offense with 304 passing yards and a pair of scores, with his favorite targets being Stephen Mercer (8 rec., 71 yds., 2 TDs) and Zach Summy (7 rec., 112 yds.). Brian Mercer has 129 rushing yards to lead the team, although GCC is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry through two games. On the other side, LB Adam Eichler is tops on the squad with 21 stops, with CB Randy Santina coming in second with 18 hits and one INT.
When evaluating Grove City for this week’s tilt, Weaver says trying to prevent DiDonato from making plays will not be easy and he also puts more stock into the Wolverines’ triumph over Carnegie Mellon last week then the season opening loss to Dickinson.
“Grove City was able to get back to what they do well last week,” said Weaver. “Much like us, they were able to run the ball. Their defense also kept it low-scoring, they kept it close and capitalized on any mistakes they could. It seems when DiDonato has to make a play, he does. It’s like he has a force field around him and you can’t tackle him.
“We’ve played CMU the last two years and have been out of the game by halftime each year,” said Weaver. “To beat CMU shows how good Grove City is.”
Now with two games under their belt in 2008, Weaver says the keys for his team won’t be different from week to week, regardless of whom they are playing.
“Our formula will not change much from here on out,” said Weaver. “Offensively, we have to run the ball, as well as protect it. We need to pick our spots to throw deep and let our guys on the outside make plays. We have to tackle well defensively, as well as limit big plays and force takeaways.”