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BISON SLIP PAST SAINT VINCENT 35-28 TO FINISH 5-5

Nov. 13 - BETHANY, W.Va. – Junior Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.) scored the go-ahead touchdown on a two-yard run with 3:04 to play and the Bethany College defense stopped two potential game-tying drives in their end of the field to preserve the Bison’s 35-28 victory over Saint Vincent in the 4th Annual “Green Game”.

With the victory, the Bison complete the year with a 5-5 record overall, their first .500 season since 2001. They also posted a 4-3 slate in the PAC to finish in a tie with Waynesburg (6-4, 4-3), although Bethany won the regular season meeting between the schools and owns the tiebreaker for third place in the league standings. The Bearcats finished 3-7, 3-4 in the PAC for its most successful year since restarting football back four years ago.

The BC defense forced a pair of Saint Vincent turnovers in the opening quarter to keep the guests off the scoreboard. After SVC reached the Bison 14 on their second possession, Bethany sophomore DT Blake DeBord (Martinsburg, W.Va.) forced and recovered a fumble to end the drive. On the Bearcats’ next drive, they moved to the BC 13, but junior CB Jeff Joyce (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) picked off a pass at the four and returned in 33 yards to not only kill the threat but also give the Bison good field position.

Bethany’s offense started clicking after the interception, as they moved 63 yards in seven plays to put the initial points on the scoreboard. On fourth-and-four, freshman QB Matt Grimard (Lowell, Mass./Dracut) lofted a 27-yard scoring pass to freshman WR Chris Collins (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) in the left corner of the end zone and the extra point gave Bethany a 7-0 lead.

A 32-yard run by Grimard on the opening play of their next drive sparked the second scoring drive for BC. A six-play, 76-yard drive was capped off by a nine-yard scoring run by Walker to make it a 14-0 Bison margin. Late in the half, another turnover forced by the Bethany defense nearly led to more points. Sophomore LB Willis Powell (Virginia Beach, Va./Landstown) picked off a deflected pass at the BC 44 but the ensuing Bison drive stalled out at the Saint Vincent 20 and the lead stood at 14-0 going into halftime.

Two big passing plays highlighted Bethany’s opening drive of the third quarter. Grimard first fired a 33-yard strike to sophomore C.J. Thomas (Jacksonville, Fla./University Christian) and on the next play, hit freshman RB Nico Irizarry (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) for a 23-yard touchdown pass to balloon the lead to 21-0.

After being shutout in the opening half, Saint Vincent’s offense came alive in the third period. After BC’s score, they motored 64 yards in five plays and reached the end zone for the first time on a 31-yard scoring run by Mike Kale. Then after forcing a three-and-out from the Bison, the first play after the punt was a 55-yard touchdown hook-up from Aaron Smetanka to Sheldon Loughner. The two touchdowns in only 1:55 sliced the Bethany lead to 21-14.

The Bison were forced to punt again on their next drive and it took a spectacular play by the defense to thwart another Bearcat scoring chance. On the second play after getting the ball back, Smetanka hit Zach Mihalko with a screen pass and he raced 43 yards into Bethany territory. However, senior DT John Gyure chased Mihalko down from behind and stripped him of the ball, which was recovered by BC sophomore CB Raymear Pinchom (Willingboro, N.J.) at the Bison 22.

The reversal of fortunes continued for Bethany, as they converted the turnover into a big touchdown. They moved 78 yards in eight plays and pushed the advantage back to 28-14 when Grimard threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Thomas, who came back to the ball through two defenders to make the catch in the end zone with only one second left in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter was just as wild as the third, as Saint Vincent scored on their first two drives of the stanza. A three-yard scoring run by Kale cut the Bethany lead to 28-20 after the extra point was missed. After forcing a BC punt, the Bearcats marched 81 yards for the tying score. The touchdown came on a 29-yard pass from Smetanka to Tom Quirin and following a BC penalty on the first two-point attempt, Kale bulled over for the conversion to tie the game at 28-28 with 5:28 to play.

The game was not deadlocked for long, as Bethany needed just five plays to go 65 yards for the go-ahead score. Walker opened the drive with a bruising 25-yard run and two plays later, Grimard broke loose for a 22-yard jaunt to the SVC two. On the next play, Walker went up the middle for the touchdown and the 35-28 advantage with 3:04 to play.

The Bison defense was tested twice in the final minutes trying to protect the lead. The Bearcats reached the Bison 35 on their first attempt, but a fourth down pass fell incomplete to turn the ball back over to Bethany at their 35. Then facing a fourth-and-one, BC went for it and was stopped at their own 44 with 28 seconds left. But on the first play after turning the ball over, freshman DE Prince Aguzie (Randallstown, Md.), stripped the ball from Smetanka and DeBord pounced on the loose pigskin to clinch the victory for the Bison.

The fireworks in the second half led to huge offensive numbers for the day, as the teams combined for 958 yards of offense. Grimard was in the center of the action all day, as he rushed for a career-high 172 yards, while also throwing for 180 yards and three touchdowns, also a career-best. Walker posted 101 rushing yards and his two touchdowns give him 12 rushing scores this year to break his own single-season record set last year.

The top receivers for the Bison were Irizarry, who came out the backfield to catch four passes for 53 yards and a score, and Thomas, who grabbed three passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.

On the defensive side, sophomore LB Kyle Arrington (Jackson, Twp., Pa./Jackson) made 16 tackles to finish the year with 97, the most by a Bison since Cliff Anderson made 98 stops in 2006. Junior DE Kasib Taalib-Din (New York, N.Y./Central Park East) also had seven hits and one sack to give him 8.5 for the season, which is tied for fourth-most in one season at Bethany.