Oct. 30 - BETHANY, W.Va. – When Carnegie Mellon (Pa.) University invades Bethany Saturday, the Bison football team will be trying for their third consecutive victory and attempting to clinch their first .500 season since 2001. Kickoff at Bethany Field is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Bethany evened their record at 4-4 last weekend with a 35-14 triumph over Thomas More (Ky.) College. BC rolled to a 28-0 first half lead and then controlled the ball for nearly 23 minutes of the second half to put the win away. Senior QB Milton Joyner (Pittsburgh, Pa./Westinghouse) threw for 239 yards and three scores, including a pair to junior WR Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.), and the BC defense held a Saints rushing attack that was averaging more than 150 yards per game to just 30 on 15 carries.
The Green and White special teams also contributed to the scoring when sophomore Matthew Dahle (McKees, Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox) returned a punt 62 yards for a score in the second quarter, which helped make the win the most complete in head coach Tim Weaver’s nearly two-year tenure.
“Saturday was the best win since our staff came here,” said Weaver. “There were no lucky bounces or no two-minute drill at the end. We beat a good team and outplayed them in every phase of the game. It says a lot about our players’ heart, mental toughness and belief in each other to recover from a rough stretch in the middle of the season to do what we’ve done the last two weeks.”
An opportunistic defense has helped Bethany claim wins the last two weeks. Through the first six weeks, the Bison had forced just six turnovers, but against Westminster (Pa.) College and Thomas More, BC has forced five, including two interceptions last week by senior LB Kellen Lieb (Farmington, Pa./Uniontown) and sophomore CB Michael Salters (McKees Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox).
“The forced turnovers are a matter of our players becoming more experienced,” said Weaver. “We had lots of chance for interceptions last year and through the early part of this year but we just didn’t catch them. As frustrating as it was, you can’t scream at the players because they don’t want to drop the ball and you don’t want it to become a mental thing. But it’s been a point of emphasis for us to make plays. There is a difference between playing well and making plays and we’re starting to make plays.”
The effect of the turnovers has been two-fold for BC lately, as they have turned the five miscues by their foes into 21 points. Two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter against Westminster Oct. 20 as Bethany scored 20 unanswered points and last week, Lieb’s INT led directly to Joyner’s five-yard scoring pass to McNeil that made it 14-0 in the second quarter.
“The one stat that means more to me than anything in college football is points off turnovers,” said Weaver. “We emphasize playing a team game and feeding off each other and there is no greater example of that then capitalizing off another team’s turnover.
“The other part of that is we need to start playing better defense after we score,” said Weaver. “Our defense had tended to let down after the offense scored. Momentum is really important to maintain and we were better at that last week.”
The Bison will face an opponent Saturday whose season has been a mirror image of theirs to this point. Just like Bethany, Carnegie Mellon started the year with a pair of victories before suffering four consecutive defeats through the middle of the season. But the Tartans have regrouped to win their last two outings, including an 18-13 win last week over Washington (Mo.) University as they scored 13 third quarter points to rally from a 7-2 halftime deficit.
Carnegie Mellon is paced by one of the top rushing attacks around, as their vaunted Wing-T formation has helped them average 271 yards per game on the ground. Fullback Travis Sivek has gained 777 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, while halfback Robert Gimson has rushed for 706 yards. The recently opportunistic Bethany defense may have more chances this weekend, as the Tartans have committed 18 turnovers, including 11 fumbles. But Weaver looks at this game as a chance to see how much his defense has improved.
“It’s always a pleasant week when you play a team that makes you change everything you do defensively,” said Weaver. “They are committed to running the football and have been a tough match-up for us over the last couple years, so this will be a great chance to see how far our defense has come. We aren’t going to hold them to 30 yards, but a big point of emphasis this week is to hold their yards per carry down and force them into third and long situations.”
Defensively, the Tartans have been difficult to run against all season, allowing just 96.8 yards per game on the ground. They have proven to be vulnerable through the air, as teams are passing for 195.6 yards per game, although CMU does have 18 sacks on the year, including 6.5 by DL Richard Hauffe and 5.5 by DL Clay Crites. In the secondary, CB Jon Scholl leads the team with 88 tackles.
Although it won’t be easy to establish the running game against Carnegie Mellon, Weaver says it’s imperative his team pick up yards on the ground to open up the passing game.
“We have to be able to run and stay committed to it to be able to throw the ball,” said Weaver. “We want to be balanced because there may be opportunities to make plays through the air. Like the defense, we had balls that were dropped against Grove City and Thiel that have been caught the past two weeks, so our playmakers are making plays.”
Last year, the Bison went to Thomas More and pulled out a 21-17 victory to put their record at 4-4 heading into a contest at Carnegie Mellon. However, the Bison would come up short in Pittsburgh, falling 44-6. But this is a different year and different Bison team that is primed for the challenge Carnegie Mellon will bring on Saturday.
“Their entire team is a physical, physical operation,” said Weaver. “But we are looking forward to it. They are not very different from Thomas More. Schematically they are different but Thomas More’s front seven was very physical and we handled that challenge. This will be a good chance to see if we can do it again.”