BETHANY - Any hopes Bethany College nurtured of knocking off undefeated Thomas More and having a shot at the 2010 Presidents Athletic Conference championship were put to rest early Saturday afternoon at Bison Stadium.
Ranked ninth nationally in the NCAA Division III standings, the Saints went three-and-out on their first possession but scored the next three times they had the ball and eventually opened a 27-0 lead before winning going away, 48-14.
Bethany, which had a three-game winning streak halted and fell to 4-4 overall, helped out the visitors (7-0) by throwing two picks that Thomas More defensive back Marcus Lancaster returned for touchdowns. The Bison also lost a pair of fumbles, one stopping a scoring opportunity and the other setting up a Saints touchdown.
Adding salt to the Bethany wounds were the eight times the Bison were flagged for 45 yards with many of the penalties either stopping drives or allowing Thomas More to retain possession.
Showing much angst over his team's numerous mistakes in one of the most important games the Bethany football program has been involved in for several seasons, Coach Tim Weaver pinned the blame on himself.
''This is 100 percent on me," the disappointed Weaver said. ''I have to do a better job of preparing them to play a big game. It seems like every time we get in a situation like this, we take ourselves out of it early.
''We played hard. I don't have any complaints about our players' effort,'' Weaver continued. ''We have to show that we belong playing against top notch competition. (Saturday), we showed we didn't belong.''
The Bison did have a couple of moments when they looked like they were going to get back in the game.
Late in the half, the 6-foot4, 240-pound lefty throwing Bethany quarterback Matt Grimard sparked a 60-yard, 11-play scoring drive that was helped out when the Saints were penalized for pass interference inside their own 10. Although the Bison rushing game would account for only 39 yards on 34 attempts including five sacks by the aggressive Thomas More defense, the hosts first score came when Eric Walker went in behind the left side of the line from 3 yards out. Joe St. Clair's conversion kick trimmed the deficit to 27-7 at the break.
Bethany came out with momentum in the third quarter and eventually pulled within 27-14, quickly moving 42 yards after taking over following a short Saints' punt. On the first play, Grimard connected with Alex Evans for 31 yards to the 11. Evans ran a quick hook pattern to the inside, made a nice move against the grain and headed down the left sideline before being pushed out of bounds near the goal line. An eight-yard completion to Walker put the ball at the 3 and Grimard, although hit near the line of scrimmage, used his big body to bully his way into the end zone.
This score brought the Bethany crowd back into it as well. However, Thomas Moore's standout sophomore quarterback Robert Kues quickly silenced them with his 37-yard dart for a touchdown to Luis Perez who was running free down the middle after a blown coverage in the secondary.
Less than a minute later, the final dagger was delivered by Lancaster as he again picked off Grimard and returned the ball 60 yards this time to open the lead to 41-14 with 6:52 remaining in the third quarter.
Thomas More would add another score late in the fourth quarter when Kues finished off his team's 77-yard foray by sweeping left and finding a lane to the inside that enabled him to hit paydirt from 12 yards out.
Kues was on target all day, completing 12 of 19 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He also added 60 yards rushing on 13 attempts.
"Robert might only be a sophomore but he has shown excellent poise running our offense,'' pointed out Saints coach Jim Hilvert. ''He had to wait his turn last year to get to play but since taking over, he has been solid and he continues to get better every week.''
Hilvert admitted being concerned earlier in the week about his team playing the Bison.
''Tim (Weaver) has done an really fine job bringing that team along,'' he said. ''That three-game winning streak opened some eyes in our league. We were fortunate to get that early jump on them. Their quarterback is so big and strong. He's going to be tough for anyone to deal with the next three years.''
Thomas More's early jump began just one play after taking over at the Bethany 46 following a punt. Mercier Doucett, 5-9 junior wide receiver, split the Bison secondary with post move that saw him get free for the first touchdown of the day. He hauled in Kues's perfect toss at the Bethany 20 and went in untouched with 12:05 remaining in the opening quarter.
Another Saints' speedster Kendall Owens returned a punt 44 yards to the Bethany 31and four plays later, Kues found Perez for the first of his two TD grabs, this one on a well-executed out move for the final 10 yards.
Grimard fumbled while exerting extra effort on a running play and the ball was covered again in Bison territory at the 28. Thomas More picked up a vital first down when Bethany jumped offside on a third-and-three call. Domonique Hayden then went off the right side from the 16 for the TD. Dustin Zink's successful conversion kick with 6:16 still remaining in the first quarter put the Saints on top 21-0.
Thomas More then made it 27-0 in the second quarter when Lancaster stepped in front of Grimard's attempted bubble screen pass at the Bethany 12. After making the pick, he cruised into end zone.
The main accomplishment for Grimard came late in the first half when his 17-yard completion to C.J. Thomas put the plebe QB over the 1,000-yard passing plateau for the season. Grimard entered the game having thrown for 946 yards. He wound up with 21 completions in 38 attempts for 227 yards.