Oct. 4 - BETHANY, W.Va. – Junior wide receiver Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) caught his 19th career touchdown reception to set a new Bethany College record, but the Bison were upended by visiting Thomas More 42-12 Saturday in front of a Homecoming crowd at Bison Stadium.
The loss drops BC to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the PAC, while the Saints won their third in a row to improve to 3-1 and 3-0 in the league.
Thomas More jumped in front with two touchdowns in the opening quarter. After forcing a three and out from Bethany on their first drive, Saints running back Anthony Knott raced 40 yards to the end zone on TMC’s first play from scrimmage for a 7-0 lead. Bethany turned the ball over on downs at the Saints’ 25 on their next possession and the visitors went 75 yards in eight plays to hit paydirt again, this time on a four-yard scoring run from Cordario Collier.
Bethany’s first score came early in the second quarter. Runs of 16 and 18 yards from sophomore RB Marcus Santini (Seminole, Fla.) and a 20-yard reception by Cruse were big plays on a nine-play, 56-yard drive, which stalled at the TMC nine. Freshman kicker Evan Plescia (Strongsville, Ohio/Copley) sailed a 26-yard field goal through the uprights to make it a 14-3 deficit.
The Bison never had a chance to build any momentum from that score, as the ensuing kickoff was returned 83 yards for a score by Deuce Doucette to extend the Saints’ lead to 21-3 with 12:08 to play in the half.
Cruse would set Bethany history on the Green and White’s next possession. Freshman QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.) fired a strike over the middle to the 6-3, 210-pound wideout, who picked up a couple blocks downfield and raced down the sideline for a 55-yard scoring pass. The extra point was blocked, leaving the score 21-9 in favor of Thomas More.
The scoring reception broke the tie Cruse and T.J. Parker (2003-06) were in atop the Bethany record books with 18 TD grabs. It was also the third touchdown catch of the year for Cruse, with Saturday’s being the shortest (55, 57, 78) for the big play wideout.
Thomas More once again answered by moving right down the field on their next possession and punching it in on a one-yard sneak by QB Trevor Stellmen, extending the Saints advantage to 28-9 leading into halftime.
The second half opened with Bethany’s defense containing the Thomas More attack, which nearly allowed the hosts to get back into the game. The Saints were forced to punt on their first possession and the Bison used 17 plays, including two third down and one fourth down conversions, to drive 77 yards and add on a 25-yard field goal from Plescia to trim the Thomas More lead to 28-12.
The BC defense held Thomas More without a first down on their next two drives and after the third TMC punt of the half, Bethany went on the move again. A 43-yard pass play from Smith to Cruse opened the drive, which reached the Saints seven-yard line. The Bison were unable to find a way into the end zone and turned it over on downs following a six-yard loss and three incompletions.
The contest turned quickly in Thomas More’s favor from that point. After being within seven yards of possibly getting within one score, Bethany saw the Saints ice the game with two touchdowns in a span of 3:35. After they regained possession deep in their own territory, TMC drove 87 yards, with the final 17 coming on a run from Stellmen to make it 35-12. Two plays into their next possession, Smith was picked off at the BC 39. Four plays later, Knott rolled 33 yards for the final score of the game.
Although Bethany led in the majority of offensive categories, including first downs (21-18), total yards (395-378) and time of possession (32:10-27-27:50), the Saints countered with big return yards from the special teams (39.4 yards per kick return) and a productive day from their running attack (273 yards).
The Bison’s starting receivers were highlights on the day. The record-setting score was just part of a four-catch, 136-yard effort from Cruse, which now gives him 17 receptions for 420 yards (24.7 yards per catch) for the season. Senior WR Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.) hauled down 13 aerials for 82 yards to tie the school’s single-game reception record. McNeil already caught 13 balls in a game once, which was last year at Washington & Jefferson, while the mark was originally set by Denny Williams in a 1979 contest against Thiel.
Smith posted his biggest numbers of the year to date, hitting on 28-of-45 through the air for 288 yards. The 28 completions is the third most in one game at Bethany behind only Jeremy Lacaria’s 31 against Wooster in 2002 and Milton Joyner in the W&J tilt last year. Sanitini churned out 78 yards from 13 rushes on the ground and also hauled in five passes for 24 yards.
On the defense, sophomore SS John George (Munhall, Pa./Steel Valley) made nine tackles, with other strong games coming from senior CB Brandon Zeman (Bridgeville, Pa./Chartiers Valley), who had five tackles, including two for loss, and sophomore DL Brad Ragghianti (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Hills), who had a 14-yard sack among his three stops.
Thomas More was led by their duo in the backfield of Knott (110 yards, two TDs) and Collier (93 yards, one TD) and Stellman (14-of-18 passing for 105 yards, two rushing touchdowns.
Bethany will head out on the PAC road for the next two games, as they journey to Greenville, Pa., to take on Thiel next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Tomcats fell to 0-5 Saturday with a 16-10 setback at Westminster, but Thiel has won five in a row over the Bison, including a 37-13 triumph last year in Greenville.