BETHANY - After suffering its third conference loss by less than five points, the Bethany College football team will go back on the road in search of a PAC win this afternoon with a trip to Westminster. Kickoff in New Wilmington is set for 1.
The Bison (1-5 overall, 1-3 PAC) had Waynesburg on the ropes for the entire game, but after building a 21-7 lead, the Yellow Jackets rallied and used a 26-yard field goal with 16 seconds left to escape with a 23-21 victory. The loss gave Bethany three conference losses by a total of eight points. Junior QB Matt Grimard threw two TD passes to senior WR Ed Holmes and ran for another and senior WR Johnathan Foster snared 10 passes, including his 100th career reception.
As well as the Bison played to lead unbeaten Waynesburg the entire game until the very end, there were also a bevy of mistakes that cost BC chances to put the game away. It's been the story of the year for the Green and White and leaves what Weaver feels is his best squad since taking over with far fewer wins than anyone would like.
"Last week was exactly what our season has been so far, one play short against a good team," coach Tim Weaver said. "We made a couple really costly mistakes, missed a couple tackles and missed a couple extra points. As we told the team Sunday, there were a whole bunch of things we could have done and we didn't do them.
"I still really feel we have the best team since we've been here," Weaver said. "We don't have as many wins as we have in years past, but we've played better, been more competitive and been in position to win every game, which we haven't been able to say before. It's frustrating to the players and to the coaches. I've coached with good teams and bad teams and this is the most challenging season I've had."
In last week's game, the Bethany passing game totaled 261 yards. Not only is the unit prolific, but it also ranks first in the PAC in pass efficiency. Grimard's completion percentage of 61.1 percent is the second-best in the conference and shows a marked improvement from his 55 percent as a freshman. According to Weaver, the efficient passing game is not only a credit to Grimard, but also to the receiving corps and the game plan the team executes so well every week.
"I've always believed pass efficiency is a team deal," Weaver said. "We've had far fewer dropped balls, as our wide receivers are playing at a very high level. Matt has improved and become more accurate, and he can still get better. He's also taking care of the football and hasn't turned the ball over since the pick against W&J. I think it's also due to the consistency in the coaching staff. We stay with what we do, we believe in it and we don't reinvent ourselves all the time.
"Another factor is the emergence of Phil (Acrie, sophomore running back)," Weaver said. "Whenever you are balanced and are a threat to run the ball, it helps out the entire offense."
The Bison rush defense continues to be in the spotlight, as Waynesburg rolled up 325 yards on the ground last week. It marked the fourth time in six games a BC opponent has racked up over 240 rushing yards, so the Bison coaching staff has been feverishly trying to find answers.
"Our problems in the run game go from week-to-week," Weaver said. "Against Randolph-Macon and Waynesburg, we just didn't defend it well, but the other games, we did well except for a couple big plays. It's a team defensive concept and it start with the coaching staff. If we play against a Wing-T or a triple option and they just out-scheme you, that's one thing. But last week, both teams had 10 in the box and they just smashed us.
"So we go back to the film, as a team and as a staff, and try to figure out how to put guys in the best position to make plays," Weaver said. "We work on how to take good angles to the football and shed blocks, good fundamental points we stress every day.
"Since we simplified after Grove City, we've played better and our points against have come down, but we're still not playing well enough for 60 minutes," Weaver said. "We've evaluated practice film this week and we've looked far different versus Westminster's run game than Waynesburg and that's encouraging."
Westminster's season story is very similar to the Bison's. Its three losses have come by a total of nine points, including a 24-21 defeat at Washington & Jefferson last week. The Titans (2-3, 1-3) led W&J 14-10 at halftime, but could not hold onto the lead. Quarterback Dak Britt had a hand in every Westminster score, rushing for a pair of TDs, including a 61-yard touchdown jaunt, and threw for the third.
The Bison run defense will be tested against Westminster, who ranks third in the PAC with 166 yards per game on the ground. Junior RB Tyler Banks is third in the PAC with 74.6 rushing yards per game and he has four touchdowns. Fellow back John Proano can be dangerous as well with 128 yards this year and he rushed for a career-high 144 yards in a win over Bethany last year. Britt also has rushed for four scores while gaining 315 yards on the ground. Through the air, he has thrown for 752 yards and seven touchdowns with his top targets being Geno Pasquinelli (19 receptions, 201 yards, two TDs) and Collin Wallace (15 receptions, 260 yards, two TDs).
According to Weaver, this Westminster offense really came to light in last year's game at Bethany, when the Titans rolled up 296 rushing yards in a 30-27 victory. And the addition of the 6-1, 205-pound Britt behind center makes it a very dangerous offense to deal with Saturday.
"You look back, their whole offense was installed in our game last year with the sweeps and misdirections," Weaver said. "With Britt, Proano and Banks, they have three playmakers in their run game. They create a good balance of inside runs with outside runs. With how many different things they do, they'll make us simple, which is fine. But also, with the way they spread you out, it's about leverage and angles.
"Schematically, they are similar to Waynesburg in they run to set up the pass," Weaver said. "They are not as successful with the pass as they have been in the past, but they are still dangerous throwing downfield to big receivers in Pasquinelli and Wallace. They are big, strong targets who can go get the ball.
"But with Britt, he had a 60-yard touchdown run against W&J and a 50-yard run to keep them in it against Thomas More," Weaver said. "He is always a threat to go the distance every play."
On the defensive side, Westminster has one shutout to its credit and held another team to just six points. The Titans rank third in the conference in rush defense (113.8) and although teams are passing for more than 195 yards per game against Westminster, they do rank second in the PAC with eight interceptions. Safety Kyle Allen is an established playmaker and has three pass break-ups and two blocked kicks this season. The top tackler is linebacker Derrick Orloski with 49 hits, including eight for loss.
"They are really solid and have a bunch of guys back," Weaver said. "They are only giving up 16 points a game. They are sound, disciplined, good tacklers and have good players at every level. Allen is one of the best defensive backs in the conference."
The season certainly has not had the start that the Bison envisioned, but Weaver says the entire program is still committed to finishing the campaign well. They are continuing to work hard through the week and a strong ending to the year would be an appropriate way to send out the senior class.
"I gave the players and the staff a ton of credit," Weaver said. "They are committed to winning a bunch of games down the stretch and are still practicing hard. There is an awful lot of football to go with half our conference schedule left. We can still finish in the top half of the league and get the seniors some wins before they are done."