Sept. 6 - WESTERVILLE, Ohio – Five Bethany College turnovers, including three in the first half that stopped drives inside Otterbein (Ohio) College territory, gave momentum to the hosts and the Cardinals went on to a 40-7 season opening victory over the Bison football team Saturday afternoon.
An early miscue led to the first Otterbein score just 30 seconds into the game. Bethany received the opening kickoff, but a fumbled snap on the first play of the game was recovered by the Cardinals at the BC 10. Following a penalty and a running play which lost a yard, Otterbein QB Jack Rafferty flipped a 16-yard scoring pass to Ryan Rowley. The extra point was wide right, so it was a 6-0 game just half a minute into the season.
The hosts’ lead grew to 13 on their next possession. Using nine plays to go 68 yards, the drive culminated when RB Eric Yates slipped out of the backfield to catch a four-year touchdown pass from Rafferty.
It looked like Otterbein would score again late in the first quarter. They drove down to the Bethany 40 before the Green and White defense stepped up. On second down, sophomore DL Brad Ragghianti (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Hills) sacked Rafferty. One play later, the Cardinals went for it on fourth down, but senior LB Ron Ermlick (Charleroi, Pa.) and sophomore LB Tom Kisner (Killingsworth, Conn./Xavier) broke through for another sack to turn the ball back over to the Bison at their own 45.
Bethany’s offense came alive at that point. Sophomore QB Dan Pegg (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands) completed two straight passes for 23 yards to take BC into enemy territory. After two running plays and an incomplete pass, the Bison went for it on fourth and 12. Pegg lofted a 23-yard completion to junior WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) inside the Cardinal 10. Two plays later, sophomore WR Randy Rankin (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands) took a screen and went seven yards for the touchdown, which pulled Bethany within six at 13-7.
The rest of the first half was filled with turnovers from both teams. Bethany would reach the Otterbein 31 on their next two drives, but interceptions ended both threats. The Cardinals weren’t having any better luck, as Bethany junior DB Nelson Mitzen (Waynesburg, Pa./Waynesburg Central) picked off a pass to thwart one Otterbein march and then he recovered a fumble that was forced by Kisner at the Bison 34.
The fumble came with 3:31 to go in the half and the Green and White offense tried to put more points on the board before halftime. Two passes to junior TE Jorge Laboy (New York, N.Y./Central Park East) gained 25 yards and helped Bethany reach the OC nine-yard line with 25 seconds to play. Following a timeout, Pegg tried to gun a pass to Cruse inside the five, but Otterbein’s Chad Woodfork wrestled it away from the Bison wideout for the INT and the Cardinals were fortunate to get to halftime with a 13-7 advantage.
Having eluded so many Bethany threats in the first half, Otterbein came roaring out the gate in the second half. On their first possession, they moved 60 yards in eight plays, with Colton Coy scoring on a 12-yard run to grow Otterbein’s margin to 20-7. Another Bethany interception, this one coming at the Bison 48, gave the hosts a short field and they took advantage. Seven plays later, they were in the end zone when Rafferty hit Rowley for a five-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 27-7.
Otterbein would put two more TDs on the board in the fourth quarter, including the fourth scoring pass of the day for Rafferty. The Bison offense never did find its stride in the second half. After outgaining the Cardinals 208-143 in the first 30 minutes, Bethany gained just 93 yards after halftime, while Otterbein churned out 295.
Making his first career start, Pegg finished the game with 17 completions in 29 attempts for 147 yards and the one score. His top targets on the day were Laboy with seven catches for 68 yards and senior WR Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.) with six receptions for 44 yards. BC’s ground game was limited to just 102 yards on 28 carries (3.6 per carry). Freshman Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.) totaled a team-high 36 on 14 carries.
Bethany’s defensive efforts were led by Mitzen, who finished with nine tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery, while Kisner and sophomore LB Ryan Sipe (Pittsburgh, Pa./Penn Hills) each made seven hits.
For Otterbein, Rafferty was 13-of-22 for 183 yards and the four TDs, while RB Eric Yates rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown to go along with his scoring reception.
Bethany returns to the gridiron next Saturday with their home opener against Kentucky Christian University, a first-year NAIA program. The Knights were 0-1 going into Saturday’s home tilt with Kentucky Wesleyan College. It will be the first game for BC at refurbished Bison Stadium, as Bethany will be trying to win their fourth consecutive home opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.