BETHANY - Bethany will play its final two games of the season on its home turf, beginning Saturday with a visit from Thomas More. Kickoff at Bison Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m.
The Bison (2-6 overall, 2-4 PAC) concluded their road slate last week with a 26-13 victory at Thiel, as junior quarterback Matt Grimard threw for 293 yards and one score while rushing for a pair of TDs. Freshman receiver Eric Blinn hauled in eight passes for 182 yards and the score and freshman running back Phil Acrie rushed for 55 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown scamper for the final score.
Thomas More (5-3, 5-2) entered the season as four-time defending conference champions, but a 1-3 start ended their its hopes early in the year. Of those losses, one came against No. 24 St. John Fisher in overtime, another came at No. 22 Waynesburg by four points and the third was a two-point setback in a four-overtime thriller at Geneva.
Injuries caused a lot of the issues for the Saints, as running back Dominique Hayden, the 2011 PAC Player of the Year, hasn't played since being hurt in the opening game and defensive stalwarts in linebacker Nick Gramke and defensive end Jay Volker have also sat out games.
"When Hayden got hurt, that's something that teams can struggle adjusting to," Bethany coach Tim Weaver said. "They were also unsettled at the quarterback position and, not unlike us, their defense had some injuries. Gramke missed some games and Volker was coming back from an injury. But you look at their results, they lost to St. John Fisher and Waynesburg, two Top 25 teams, by one score each, and at Geneva in overtime, so it's not like they were getting blown out."
Since that tough start, Thomas More has rolled to four straight victories by an average of 27.5 points.
"Over the last month, they are playing as well or better than anyone in our league," Weaver said.
On offense, running back Adam Rauch rushed for 92 yards against Saint Vincent and three touchdowns, giving him 11 for the season, and freshman QB Jensen Gebhardt continued his strong play, as he now has 869 passing yards and 11 TDs in five games as the starter.
"The freshman quarterback Gebhardt is really good," Weaver said. "He shows a lot of poise in the pocket for a freshman, is very accurate and has a big arm. While he's not as dynamic a runner as they've had there in the past, he is very effective when he does run it.
"They don't have a Kendall Owens on offense, but across the board, every guy is a playmaker," Weaver said. "Rauch has a bunch of 50-plus runs this year, (senior receiver Mercier) Doucette can catch a slip screen and go the distance from anywhere on the field and their other young receivers are doing a good job. There is not one guy you say you have to stop, but there is not one guy you don't worry about. They are a little deeper at the skill spots and they do a good job getting the ball in a bunch of people's hands."
With the talent Thomas More has at the skill positions, Weaver says priority No. 1 for the Bison Saturday is to limit the big play. That doesn't just go for the defense, as the Saints' six touchdowns in their last game were all on plays of 38 yards or longer. He also wants his team to be solid on special teams and not duplicate the three-turnover performance that haunted the Green and White in last year's defeat.
"Their formula to win is to play great defense, get a couple short fields and keep running their offense until someone hits a home run," Weaver said. "So we have to limit the big play by their offense and make them drive the field. We have to play error-free in the kicking game, because like they always do, they have a return here and a blocked kick there. And we need to put four really good quarters together on offense. We have to score to beat them even though they haven't allowed a touchdown in two weeks. I thought we did a good job executing on offense last year, but we have to eliminate the turnovers that cost us."