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BISON HOPE WINNING WAYS CONTINUE SATURDAY AT THIEL

Oct. 14 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team (3-3, 2-1) can run their winning streak to three games, which would be its longest in nine years, with a victory Saturday at Thiel (0-5, 0-3) in a PAC game scheduled to kickoff at 1:30 p.m. in Greenville, Pa.

The Bison evened their record with a 47-39 win last Saturday at Westminster, their first triumph in New Wilmington since 1940. Freshman quarterback Matt Grimard (Lowell, Mass./Dracut) accounted for 286 yards and had a hand in five touchdowns (three rushing, two passing), while junior RB Eric Walker ran for 174 yards and scored a pair of TDs. The game saw BC take as large as a 34-10 lead, only to have to defend two onside kicks in the final minutes to hang on for the victory. So while head coach Tim Weaver was happy to come out with the win, he saw a lot of improvements his team needs to make.

“It’s always good to win any game, as I was told several times after last week, but I want our program to be progressing past that mind set,” said Weaver. “We want to play well in all three phases of the game for all 60 minutes, which we didn’t. We just had to keep the ball in front of our defense in the fourth quarter and we didn’t. We had a chance to pick up a first down and run out the clock to win by two scores and we didn’t. We gave up a long kick return and had a long return called back because of a penalty. So there are definitely things we need to improve going forward.

“That being said, we want to accentuate the positives and work on our problems,” said Weaver. “From about the 10 minute mark of the first quarter until late into the fourth quarter, we played our best football of the season. The bottom line is we won on the road at someplace we hadn’t won in 70 years and got back to .500, which is especially good with the start we had. But we know we need to play better to achieve our goals.”

After being shutout in the opening game of the year, the Bison offense has been clicking with an average of 31.2 points per game. Part of the turnaround has been the unit’s ability to convert third downs, a major factor in the team’s success last week as they were 8-for-12 on third downs. That brought their percentage up to better than 43 percent over the last five contests as compared to just 37 percent conversion last season.

“A lot of credit goes to (offensive coordinator Bill) Garvey for his play calling on third downs,” said Weaver. “Calling conversion downs are when a coach can really get involved in the game. Plus, the players really believe in what we’re doing. Eric and Matt have established themselves as playmakers, but our receivers are stepping up too. We’ve lost our top three receivers to injury since the year started, but C.J. Thomas (Jacksonville, Fla./University Christian), Ed Holmes (Virginia Beach, Va./Landstown) and Chris Collins (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) have stepped up and we haven’t missed a beat.”

The Bethany defense set up two scores against Westminster with a pair of interceptions by freshmen safeties Jordan Joyce (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) and Adrian White (Tampa, Fla./Chamberlain), their first two thefts of the year. Although the group has shown steady improvement through the first six weeks of the year, the one thing lacking has been turnovers, as they have forced just four so far. Always a focal point for the Bison, Weaver is wishful that last week starts a defensive trend of taking the football away.

“I certainly hope we start getting more because that’s the best way to get easy points,” said Weaver. “The turnover ratio is the most important stat in determining wins and losses and even though we emphasize it, it’s an area we have not helped ourselves enough. But we had two freshmen get their first last week and they made great plays to get them. They were more takeaways rather than turnovers and hopefully we can start getting them in bunches.”

Turnovers have been a big problem for Bethany’s opponent this week, as Thiel is tied with Westminster for the most miscues in the league this season with 15. It’s a big reason the Tomcats offense is ranked last in the PAC in every major category, including scoring (3.8 per game), total offense (194.0), passing offense (126.8) and rushing offense (67.2). After playing two different signal callers early in the year, the Tomcats seem to have settled on 6-3 freshman Andrew Smith, who has thrown for 389 yards this year, as their starter. His top target on the outside is WR Tyler DeJong, who is averaging 17.7 yards per catch (13-230).

“It appears Thiel has settled on Smith as their starter,” said Weaver. “He is a big kid with a strong arm who has a chance to develop into a solid passer that can pick you apart . They do a ton of stuff with different formations and their option game. Having the bye week in the middle of the year was perfect for them because when you’re struggling, it gives you a chance to work on ball security and fundamentals.

“They have turned it over a lot so far, but we can’t count on them giving it to us six times like they did in the Waynesburg game,” said Weaver. “We are not sure what to expect, so we’ll prepare for everything and keep it simple on our guys so they can line-up, understand their assignments and just play fast.”

Weaver has a good deal of concern about facing the Thiel defense due to the combination of their experience and having the bye week to prepare. Because of the high number of turnovers, the Tomcats are allowing 28.4 points per game, but they are second in the PAC in total defense (298.6) and first in pass defense (149.6). It’s a veteran group with six senior starters, including three on the front line and two more in the secondary. The one senior at linebacker is Bobby Shew, who has 30 tackles, but is tied for first in the circuit in stops for loss with 10. Free safety Bryan Villegas has 31 hits this year and a pair of interceptions for a unit that is third in the PAC with 11 takeaways.

“Thiel might be 0-5, but no one moves the ball on them,” said Weaver. “They have faced a lot of adversity on the field this year with the turnovers and short fields they’ve been forced to defend and they just keep playing well. They are strong up front, fast on the back end, have smart linebackers and are as sound and well-coached as anyone. Facing this team, especially with the bye week to prepare, is a great concern for us.”

This week’s game with winless Thiel on the road could seem like a trap game for the Green and White, as on the horizon stands a contest with #9 Thomas More next Saturday (Oct. 23) at home. But between knowing that Thiel will be well prepared for the Bison, as well as having the chance to attain a preseason goal with a victory Saturday, has kept Bethany’s focus squarely on this match-up.

“They’ve had two weeks to get ready for us and we know they are placing major emphasis on this game, so our focus has been all Thiel this week and no one is looking past them,” said Weaver. “One thing we’ve been reminding everyone this week is we have a chance to reach one of our preseason goals. In addition to wanting to win the PAC championship, we said we wanted to get to four wins, which is one more than we’ve had the last two seasons, as quickly as possible and this week gives us our first opportunity.”