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Bison Set to Open Gridiron Slate Saturday against Centre
Aug. 29 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team will open the new season Saturday with its stiffest challenge in head coach Tim Weaver’s seven-year tenure, as the Bison play host to 2011 playoff qualifier Centre (Ky.) College. Kickoff at Bison Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Bethany is also coming off a productive season, as BC’s 5-5 mark last year gave the program back-to-back .500 records for the first time since 2000 and 2001. With 21 seniors coming back from those teams, that experience helped drive the program to have a strong camp and the Bison are primed for the kickoff of the 2012 season.
“Our camp overall was very, very good,” said Weaver, who is fifth all-time at Bethany in victories. “We were able to install everything we wanted to. We are fortunate to have tremendous veteran leadership and they set the tempo and demeanor of everything. Our attrition with the newcomers was low, but I credit the veterans for helping with that as much as the young guys.
“We also found a couple new players that can step in and play right away, which we weren’t expecting,” said Weaver. “They showed us they can play and help right away and that is a big boost for our depth.”
The Bison are a veteran group on both sides of the ball coming into 2012 with 17 starters back. On offense, junior quarterback Matt Grimard (Lowell, Mass./Dracut) returns after setting a new BC-single season record with 2,685 total yards last fall. He’ll be protected by four returners on the offensive line, which is bookended by senior tackles Bryan Benzinger (Fairview Park, Ohio) and Nick Gore (Boston Heights, Pa./Nordonia) and features senior guard Doug Murray (New Cumberland, W.Va./Oak Glen) and junior center Evan Sargo (Munhall, Pa./Serra Catholic).
On the defensive side of the ball, where the Bison led the PAC in yards allowed last year (281.1), five seniors will spearheaded the efforts. On the front line, defensive tackle Blake DeBord (Martinsburg, W.Va.) is back for his third year as a starter in the middle, while the linebackers will feature seniors Kyle Arrington (Jackson Twp., Ohio/Jackson), a three-time All-PAC selection, and Gage Lotozo (Somerset, Ohio/Sheridan), who made 40 stops last year. In the secondary, cornerback Jeff Joyce (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) is coming off back-to-back All-PAC honors and safety Simeon Young (Washington, D.C./McKinley Tech) steps into the starting line-up.
Even with all the experience returning, the surprises of preseason camp were found in some of the freshmen. First-year linebacker Tyler Vincent (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) has positioned himself for playing time on the defense, while wide receiver Eric Blinn (Beaver, Pa./Western Beaver) will see extensive time on offense. Weaver is also thrilled with a stable of four freshmen quarterbacks that will provide solid depth behind Grimard.
“The two major surprises are that we’ll have freshmen contribute this year at linebacker in Tyler and wide receiver in Eric,” said Weaver. “They were highly rated coming in, but they climbed over people on the depth chart and will see significant playing time.
“The other surprise is that our recruiting class at quarterback is very strong,” said Weaver. “We recruited four guys and they can all play. So we feel real good about the depth behind Matt, our ability to move the ball in JV games and the future of the position.”
Despite the strong camp, Weaver says there are still a couple spots him and his staff will feel more comfortable about once the season begins. DeBord anchors the talented defensive line, but with three sophomores and one freshman listed on the two-deep, it might be the most inexperienced spot on the roster. On the other side of the ball, Bethany will turn to a new tailback and while Weaver says his staff believes strongly in sophomore game-one starter Phil Acrie (Verona, Pa./Linsly-W.Va.) and junior D.J. Lesane (Elizabethwon, N.C./East Bladen), among others, there is always apprehension when the new guys step into the limelight for the first time.
“We are a little unsettled with depth at defensive line,” said Weaver. “We know we have talented guys, but we’re glad the first game is at home. It gives us a chance to put them in and see how they handle game day. There is no way to know that as a coach until you put them in.
“We are also inexperienced at running back,” said Weaver. “We really like the guys we have to play there, but it will be their first time in the spotlight.”
Centre lost some of their experience that helped the team to a 9-2 finish in 2011, which included a win in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs before a 30-10 loss to eventual runner-up Mount Union in the second round. The Colonels lost 10 starters from that team, but 63 lettermen are back, so another big year is expected. Centre was ranked 12th in Lindy’s preseason poll and they were first among Others Receiving Votes in the D3Football.com poll.
The offense will have a new signal caller, as Heath Haden, a 6-1, 177-pound sophomore is slated to start Saturday. He is joined in the backfield by senior Monte Scotton, who ran for 771 yards and 13 scores last year. The top two wideouts also return in Rob Mellio (42 receptions, 460 yards, four TDs) and Jason Osterman (39 rec., 396 yards, nine TDs) and the front line consists of four seniors and one junior, so the Colonel offense, which averaged 32.9 points per game, should be a formidable attack. If they can’t punch it in, the Colonels can turn to kicker Jordan Gay, who hit 11 field goals last year and also punted for an average of 41.3 yards per kick.
Centre’s defense lost six players who made 40 or more tackles last year, but four others return to pace a unit that forced 25 turnovers. Senior safety Thomas Kent posted 72 stops, including six and a half for loss, while junior linebacker Michael Bozarth registered 50 tackles for the Colonels, who did allow nearly 22 points per game last season. Despite the graduation losses they took, Weaver said Centre is stout from top to bottom.
“They were very good last year and look to be good again this year,” said Weaver. “They had a great quarterback graduate, but they are replacing him with a very talented player who knows the offense very well. Their backs are big and physical and they have good skill at wide receiver. The interior of their defense at tackle and linebacker is very good. And their kicker is the best we’ve ever seen and it’s not even really close.
“They are fundamentally sound, talented, used to winning and have high expectations for the season,” said Weaver. “This is going to a huge challenge for us.”
If Bethany wants to knock off the Colonels and start out 1-0 for the second consecutive season, the big factors according to Weaver will be not turning the ball over, be better inside the 20 on offense and defense and also not let Centre’s kicker completely control the tempo of the game.
“To win this week, we can’t turn the ball over because that’s a huge factor in any opener,” said Weaver. “We have to tackle well because all of their backs and receivers are very violent, physical runners with the ball. And we have to be patient because their punter can control the field and tempo. There are a ton of hidden yards in each of their games because he puts teams on long fields.”
“The other area we need to improve on, not just game one but for the season, are both sides in the red zone,” said Weaver. “We worked on it a lot during camp and changed some things we do, so we expect to execute better this year.”