BETHANY - The Bethany College football team (3-3 overall, 2-1 PAC) can run its winning streak to three games, which would be its longest in nine seasons, with a victory Saturday at Thiel (0-5, 0-3).
The Bison evened their record with a 47-39 victory last Saturday at Westminster, their first triumph in New Wilmington since 1940. Freshman quarterback Matt Grimard accounted for 286 yards and had a hand in five touchdowns (three rushing, two passing), while junior running back Eric Walker ran for 174 yards and scored a pair of TDs. The game saw Bethany take as large as a 34-10 lead, only to have to defend two onside kicks in the final minutes to hang on for the victory.
So while head coach Tim Weaver was happy to come out with the win, he saw a lot of improvements his team needs to make.
"It's always good to win any game, as I was told several times after last week, but I want our program to be progressing past that mind set," he said. "We want to play well in all three phases of the game for all 60 minutes, which we didn't. We just had to keep the ball in front of our defense in the fourth quarter and we didn't.
"We had a chance to pick up a first down and run out the clock to win by two scores and we didn't. We gave up a long kick return and had a long return called back because of a penalty. So there are definitely things we need to improve going forward."
After being shutout in the opening game of the year, the Bison offense has been clicking with an average of 31.2 points per game.
Part of the turnaround has been the unit's ability to convert third downs, a major factor in the team's success last week as they were 8-for-12 on third downs. That brought their percentage up to better than 43 percent over the last five contests as compared to just 37 percent conversion last season.
Turnovers have been a big problem for Bethany's opponent this week, as Thiel is tied with Westminster for the most miscues in the league this season with 15. It's a big reason the Tomcats offense is ranked last in the PAC in every major category, including scoring (3.8 per game), total offense (194.0), passing offense (126.8) and rushing offense (67.2).
After playing two different signal callers early in the year, the Tomcats seem to have settled on 6-3 freshman Andrew Smith, who has thrown for 389 yards this year, as their starter. His top target on the outside is receiver Tyler DeJong, who is averaging 17.7 yards per catch (13-230).
Weaver has a good deal of concern about facing the Thiel defense due to the combination of their experience and having the bye week to prepare.
Because of the high number of turnovers, the Tomcats are allowing 28.4 points per game, but they are second in the PAC in total defense (298.6) and first in pass defense (149.6). It's a veteran group with six senior starters, including three on the front line and two more in the secondary.
The one senior at linebacker is Bobby Shew, who has 30 tackles, but is tied for first in the circuit in stops for loss with 10. Free safety Bryan Villegas has 31 hits this year and a pair of interceptions for a unit that is third in the PAC with 11 takeaways.
"Thiel might be 0-5, but no one moves the ball on them," Weaver said.
"They have faced a lot of adversity on the field this year with the turnovers and short fields they've been forced to defend and they just keep playing well. They are strong up front, fast on the back end, have smart linebackers and are as sound and well-coached as anyone.
"Facing this team, especially with the bye week to prepare, is a great concern for us."