Sept. 29– BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team looks to snap a three-game skid when it heads to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday to take on Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) foe Carnegie Mellon at 6 p.m.
The game marks the third time this season that the Bison will be playing under the lights, and second-consecutive. Bethany (1-3, 0-2 PAC) was defeated last week by Westminster 38-9 at Bison Stadium.
“I prefer a day game for sure just because it changes your schedule,” Head Coach Bill Garvey said. “The players obviously like night games and playing under the lights. It certainly makes Saturday afternoon feel like its four days long, but it does give an extra-quick walkthrough in the morning.”
The Bethany air attack, which totaled 417 yards passing in week three at Thiel, was held to 94 by a Westminster in the week four loss. That defense currently leads the PAC and ranks sixth in NCAA Division III in both scoring defense and total defense.
“They made it hard on the backend,” Garvey said of the Westminster defense. “If you are athletic and physical as a secondary you’re usually going to be pretty good. They made it difficult for what we do on offense, trying to get the ball to the perimeter as much as we do. We struggled, but make no mistake, they are probably going to be one of the top defenses in the conference this year and obviously it showed.”
Freshman running back Raekwon Wright (Baltimore, Md./Patterson) rushed a season-high 20 times for 87 yards and a touchdown and continued to serve as the team’s primary kickoff and punt returner. He currently leads the team and ranks fifth in the PAC with 502 all-purpose yards (198 rushing, 82 receiving, 58 punt return, 164 kick return).
“Recruiting him we knew he was dynamic and could do so many things. We knew he’d impact the return game, but offensively we didn’t know what his role was going to be. With the injury to Jalen (Holmes) we obviously knew his role was going to be at tailback and he’s done a great job.”
The defense was led once again by senior linebacker Donovan Hayden (Hyattsville, Md./Northwestern), who tallied 15 stops against Westminster. He currently ranks second in NCAA Division III with 59 tackles this season (14.8 per game) and has posted double-digit tackle totals in all four games this season.
“He’s just a good player,” said Garvey on his linebacker. “He has been for the past three years. Very athletic and physical at the same time. He’s so dynamic because of his speed. We can blitz him off the edge or drop him back in coverage. It’s no surprise to us that he is ranked that high in tackles.”
Carnegie Mellon (1-2, 1-1 PAC) enters this week’s contest on the heels of a hard fought 20-16 loss to No. 16 Thomas More. The Tartans had the ball with 2:58 remaining in the game in its own territory, but an interception thrown by quarterback Alex Cline ended the CMU threat. Thomas More rushed for a pair of first downs to run the clock out and survive the upset bid.
“They can play with anyone in the country,” said Garvey on Carnegie Mellon. “When you have their experience on both sides of the ball, and possibly the best running back in the entire country, you can play with anybody and be effective. We have to get ourselves prepared to play a very good football team.”
That running back, Sam Benger, who led Division III in rushing last season, ranks ninth this season with 499 rushing yards. Last week at Thomas More, Benger was held to 55 yards on 22 carries, with two catches for 21 yards.
“We are going to try and stop the run first, as everyone playing Carnegie Mellon is trying to do,” Garvey added. “Thomas More did that effectively so it was a good film to have from a game plan standpoint. Hopefully we learned a couple of things and that helps us with our plan as well.”
Carnegie Mellon holds a 34-7 edge in the all-time series between the two institutions, with Tartan taskmaster Rich Lackner owning a 14-2 record against Bethany. The last Bison win over Carnegie Mellon was in 2014, when Bethany earned a 19-7 win. Former wide receiver Eric Blinn hauled in 15 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.