Sept. 8 - HIRAM, Ohio – Behind 447 yards of total offense, including a career-high 137 rushing yards from junior RB Nick Neratka (Markleysburg, Pa./Uniontown), the Bethany College football team began the 2007 season with a 24-7 victory at Hiram (Ohio) College Saturday afternoon.
Bison junior WR Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.) returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score in last year’s 42-7 BC win over Hiram and nearly took one all the way on the opening kickoff of this game. He went 56 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Terrier 31-yard line to set up the Bison on their first possession. Four plays later, senior QB Milton Joyner (Pittsburgh, Pa./Westinghouse) threw a 10-yard scoring strike to junior WR Brad Zink (Washington Court House, Ohio/Miami Trace) to put Bethany on top 7-0 with just 1:39 gone from the game.
Hiram would drive into Bethany territory on their first two possessions, but their drives stalled out. The Bison would add their second score to the board midway through the second quarter. A short punt gave them possession at the Terrier 43. A 20-yard completion from Joyner to McNeil on a fourth-and-six kept the drive alive. A false start penalty and an incomplete pass after Bethany had reached the two brought on the field goal team and junior Matt Blumer (Sarasota, Fla./Cardinal Mooney) split the uprights from 24 yards away for a 10-0 BC advantage.
The Bison had two more chances to add to their lead before halftime, but failed on a pair of fourth down conversions. One came on an incomplete pass on a fourth-and-two from the Terrier 14, and the other was when Neratka only gained one yard on a fourth and goal from the five. Those stands by the Hiram defense kept the score 10-0 going into halftime.
In the second half, the Terriers threatened twice but came away empty handed both times. Midway through the period, they reached the BC 24 but lost 10 yards in the next two plays and were forced to punt. Late in the quarter, back-to-back runs by Hiram QB Trevor Henderson gained 27 yards and moved the hosts to the Bison eight. The BC defense stiffened and the Terriers were forced to try a 27-yard field, which was wide left and Bethany maintained their 10-point margin.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Bison reached the end zone again. Joyner fired a pass deep down the middle to sophomore WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier), who beat single-coverage to haul in the throw and race 59 yards to the end zone to extend the Green and White lead to 17-0.
On their next drive, Hiram answered for their only score of the day. Henderson completed two consecutive passes, including a 41-yard strike to Steven Hammond inside the Bethany 10. Two plays later, Jon Agnew scored on a four-yard run to slice the Bison lead to 17-7.
Bethany would clinch the triumph with an impressive drive after the Hiram score. An 11-play, 66-yard march, highlighted by Neratka’s five carries for 21 yards and Joyner’s two completions for 26 yards, ended when Joyner snuck in from the one to cap the scoring in Bethany’s 24-7 victory, their largest win in a season opener since a 17-0 shutout of Shenandoah (Va.) University in 2001.
The Bison offense was a balanced attack Saturday, as they amassed 225 yards passing and 222 yards on the ground, their highest total since gaining 247 yards in a win over the Apprentice School (Va.) on Nov. 2, 2002. Neratka led the efforts on the ground with his 137 on 23 carries, as he became the first Bethany running back to go over 100 yards in a game in more than three years. The last Bison back to do that was Mike Yandrick with 107 in a win over Apprentice Nov. 1, 2003.
Also turning in good games were Cruse, who caught six passes for a career-high 122 yards and a score. It was his second career 100-yard game. And in his first career start at quarterback, Joyner connected on 14-of-32 aerials for 225 yards and two scores, while also rushing for 28 yards and a touchdown.
Spearheading Bethany’s defense, which surrendered just 258 total yards, was senior LB Bill Wineberg (Pittsburgh, Pa./Shaler). He made 12 tackles and had one of BC’s three sacks. Senior LB Kellen Lieb (Farmington, Pa./Uniontown) and junior DB Dante Fuscardo (Follansbee, W.Va./Brooke) each made nine stops as well.
Next week, the Bison will try to go to 2-0 for the first time since 2001 when they host Saint Vincent (Pa.) College in their home opener, which is scheduled to begin at 1:30. The Bearcats dropped to 0-2 in their first season of varsity football since 1962 with a 48-7 loss to Westminster (Pa.) College Saturday.