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Sept. 22 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team will play under the lights for the second straight week when they host Geneva Saturday night at 7 p.m. in a match-up of 1-2 teams at Bison Stadium.

The Bison opened PAC action last weekend at Washington & Jefferson, who bolted out to a 21-0 first quarter lead en route to a 59-21 triumph over the Green and White. Bethany did outscore the Presidents in the second half, which included a touchdown run and pass by freshman QB Matt Grimard (Lowell, Mass./Dracut) and a two-yard scoring run by junior RB Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.), which was the 30th TD of his career to tie the Bethany career record set by Will Anderson (1999-2002).

According to Bison head coach Tim Weaver, the Bison continue to be victimized by bad timing when they face W&J on the schedule and also hampered by big plays in the passing game.

“Most of the credit from last week goes to W&J because they are really good,” said Weaver. “We have had the unfortunate task of playing them the week after their only loss the last three years and they come out very focused. I really thought we were ready to play, but not being competitive at all in the first quarter falls directly on me because that’s my job to get us ready to compete.

“I think we are defending the run as well as we have since we’ve been here,” said Weaver. “W&J didn’t have big plays on the ground, but they converted several long third downs. We had coverage but they just made plays. Throw in a punt return and a turnover on our own four and those don’t help you.”

Bethany’s run defense, which is ranked second in the PAC (105.7 yards per game) has been keyed by their all-sophomore linebacking corps. Leading the team in tackles is Kyle Arrington (Jackson Twp., Ohio/Jackson) with 27, while Willis Powell (Virginia Beach, Va./Landstown) and Gage Lotozo (Somerset, Ohio/Sheridan) are tied for fourth with 15 and McQuel Sims (Colquitt, Ga./Miller County) is close behind with 13 hits. Not only does the foursome make plays, but they are developing into leaders as well.

“All four of our sophomore linebackers are playing well and they are a big reason our yards per game and yards per carry allowed are where they are,” said Weaver. “They become a little more comfortable every time they go out there and show natural leadership abilities. Every coach wants playmakers and leaders and it’s good to have them playing as well as they are.”

The Bison suffered through a nightmarish year in 2009 with injuries, but one spot that remained relatively healthy was wide receiver. That hasn’t been so the case so far in 2010, as junior Alex Evans (Washington, Pa.) missed the King’s victory and played sparingly against W&J, while sophomore Johnathan Foster (Cumberland, Md./Fort Hill) suffered a season-ending injury against King’s. Sophomore C.J. Thomas (Jacksonville, Fla./University Christian) was nicked early in the year, but was BC’s leading receiver at W&J with three receptions for 61 yards. As the receivers get healthy and work to get in sync with Grimard, the passing game should start to take shape.

“Missing Alex for a stretch hurt, but he is back this week, and losing Johnathan really hurts, but if there is one bright side, it’s that we have quality depth at wide receiver,” said Weaver. “C.J. was banged up too but is healthy again and it was good to see him make plays against W&J. Our passing game continues to evolve and it’s a combination of Matt getting on the same page with the receivers and us as a staff putting Matt in positions to make throws he is capable of completing.

“But we also look for our receivers to contribute in the running game as well as the passing game,” said Weaver. “Besides catching balls, we need them to make blocks on the perimeter, because a seven- or eight-yard run can turn into 25- and 30-yard runs with a good block on the outside.”

The Bethany receivers might have chances to spring big plays this Saturday against a Geneva defense that is ranked eighth among PAC teams in rushing yards allowed with 197.7 per game. After holding Frostburg State to 50 yards in a 32-27 season-opening victory, the Golden Tornadoes have given up 286 to Albright and 257 to Thomas More in last week’s 36-20 loss. Free safety Marcus Costanza has a team-high 23 tackles and LB Jeremy Kiger has three of Geneva’s eight sacks on the year, which is tied for second-most in the PAC, so Weaver knows there are playmakers his team must worry about even if the Golden Tornadoes are allowing a PAC-worst 39.0 points per game.

“They have given up a lot of points, but you can’t blame all of that on the defense,” said Weaver. “They have struggled covering kicks, which included three big punt returns against Thomas More last week, and catching kicks, which has helped give teams short fields. We know we can’t count on those kinds of breaks because they are well coached and have good players, so that will get fixed and we’ll have to make plays to move the ball.”

The GT offense has been prolific through the first three games, as they rank second in passing (221.0), third in total offense (372.0) and boast the PAC leader in rushing. Senior RB Gerard Muschette has rushed for 393 yards and six touchdowns this year and in his career against Bethany, is averaging a whopping 10.3 yards per carry (35-360) in three previous meetings. Add in the PAC’s leading passer in QB David Girardi, who is completing 64 percent of his aerials for 663 yards and four scores, and the league’s top receiver in Corey O’Patchen (10 rec., 282 yards, three TDs) and it’s easy to see why Weaver has high praise for the Geneva attack.

“They have the best offense we’ve seen this year because they have the best player at every position,” said Weaver. “The quarterback Girardi has developed well and is a very good player, Muschette is the best back we’ve played against and always has big games against us and the offensive line is big, physical and experienced.

“Plus, they do so much offensively with different formations, motion and personnel groups,” said Weaver. “We can’t practice 10,000 defenses to get ready for everything they might do, so we need to work on just getting a couple looks down and make sure everyone knows their cues and assignments. We need to work on getting a whole bunch of guys to the ball because pursuit against someone like Muschette is crititical. We also need to keep receivers in front of us. O’Patchen has run right past Thomas More and everyone else so far and we can’t let that happen.”

As the Bison prepare for their annual night game, one of the highlights of the schedule, they have had to overcome the disappointment of last week’s setback in the PAC opener. A team made up of mostly underclassmen can handle that adversity in different ways and Weaver says how the team handles it’s business this week will tell a lot about the make-up of the program.

“I can’t answer that until Saturday night,” said Weaver when asked if his team had moved on from the W&J defeat. “It’s behind us as a staff because we’ve been prepping for another very good team. By week four and five of the season, you hope some growing up has occurred and they’ve learned to focus on next week, regardless of the previous game’s outcome. The faster we grow up, especially in the secondary with so many young players, the quicker we’ll get better.”