Blinn driving Bethany's strong start

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Eric Blinn has accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Midway through his junior season, Bethany’s star wide receiver has already broken two school records.

A week ago, Blinn became the all-time leader in receptions, pushing his total to 177 in a 33-27 Presidents’ Athletic Conference win over Waynesburg.

Over the weekend, Blinn brought another record to its knees, setting the record for most yards by a receiver with 2,626 as the Bison (4-1, 3-0 PAC) took down Case Western Reserve 25-14.

When you consider that Blinn has only played in 25 college games, the records are even more impressive. Blinn takes pride in what he has accomplished for a Bison team off to its best start since 2001.

“The (records) definitely mean a lot,” Blinn said. “This is a program that has had a lot of successful wide receivers. It’s been a goal of mine to break those records. It feels good to be among the best in school history.”

One would think Blinn would be surprised by achieving so much. But that isn’t the case.

“I work hard in the summer, especially in the weight room,” Blinn said. “I wanted to be as prepared as I could be for the season.”

It’s paid off. Blinn is once again the Bison’s leading receiver, making 51 catches for 536 yards and four touchdowns.

A year ago, he was a first-team all-PAC selection, grabbing 95 receptions for 1,300 yards. Both are single-season season records. He also led the league in catches and receiving yards.

Blinn played in 10 games as a freshman, tallying 50 passes for 790 yards.

Bill Garvey is in his second season at the helm of the Bison and was the team’s offensive coordinator prior to becoming the head coach. He always knew Blinn had the potential to be special.

“We knew what kind of talent he had when we recruited him, and he has been a very good player since day one,” Garvey said. “He is competitive and his success is a credit to his work ethic.”

There are a lot of examples of Blinn’s willingness to work hard. He not only practices hard, but he spends a lot of time watching film, doing all he can to figure out how to make plays against defenses that are geared up to slow him down.

But one of the best examples of his work ethic took place over the summer.

“A lot of guys made fun of me because I looked like I was slow,” Blinn said. “I went to a speed training facility in Pittsburgh over the summer and worked a lot on my speed. It’s definitely made a difference.”

One of the biggest differences for the Bison this year is its experience. It finished 4-6 overall and 4-4 in the league last year, losing four games by less than 10 points.

This season, Bethany, winner of four consecutive games, has won both of its games that have been decided by less than 10 points.

“Our experience has played a big role,” Garvey said. “We haven’t had the seasons we’ve wanted the last couple of years, but the days of us being an easy game for anyone are over. The experience we have has helped us win some of the closer games. We feel good about the progress we have made.”

Garvey said the loss to national power Mount Union in the season opener was a good experience for his team and helped prepare it for the challenges ahead. It didn’t matter that Mount Union rolled to a 58-7 win.

“A lot of people thought we were crazy for playing them,” Garvey said. “But we approached it like any other game. Mount Union is the program you want to be like, and our guys got an idea about what it takes to be the best.”

The Bison averages 367 yards per game and allows 362.6. Brian Vales has thrown for 947 yards and seven touchdowns while Brandon Hill has paced the ground attack with 334 yards and four touchdowns.

Blinn has been the top target in the passing attack and expects to continue in that role the rest of the year. The defense has been anchored by Nadim Raddar, who has racked up 48 tackles and 8.5 sacks. Larry Kpadehyea is second with 47 tackles.

“Everyone on both sides of the ball has really come together to play as a team,” Blinn said. “No one is selfish. We are all excited about the success and have to continue to stay focused.”

Blinn said consistency is the key for the Bison to making a run at its first PAC title and first playoff berth since 1980.

“We have to be consistent. That is something we haven’t had in a while here,” Blinn said. “We have to continue to play hard and make sure we are doing our jobs every day.”

Impressive effort

Freshman running back Nick O’Neal made his presence felt in Marietta’s 47-37 come-from-behind win over Wilmington.

O’Neal rushed for 286 yards and five touchdowns as the Pioneers earned their first Ohio Athletic Conference win. O’Neal scored three times in the fourth quarter, including on a 4-yard touchdown run that put Marietta on top for good.

Prior to Saturday, the Texas native had not rushed for more than 63 yards in a game and only scored one touchdown. The victory ended a two-game losing streak for Marietta (2-2, 1-2 OAC), which is averaging 177.5 yards per game on the ground and 341.8 yards per game overall.

Special performances

Albion stepped it up on special teams against Hope Saturday in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association opener for both teams.

Seth Hubbard was the hero, blocking a game-winning 28-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds of the fourth quarter and then getting his hands on an extra-point attempt in overtime as the Britons hung on for a thrilling 37-36 Homecoming win.

Hubbard, a senior defensive linemen, has made five tackles, but his special teams heroics were huge against Hope. Albion improved to 2-2.

Not only was Hubbard’s effort special, but quarterback Dan Bona turned in a special effort as well. He completed a school-record 39 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns. Bona has thrown for 1,061 yards and eight touchdowns and has helped Albion win its last two games.

Tough day

Brandon Sklenar turned in a solid effort against DePauw, but the Denison quarterback was unable to help lead the Big Red to a North Coast Athletic Conference win over the Tigers.

Denison (2-3, 1-3 NCAC) was looking for its second consecutive win but suffered a 27-15 loss on the road instead.

Sklenar was 21-of-39 for 180 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 60 yards. Sklenar, in his second season as the starter, has thrown for 1,305 yards and six touchdowns. But he has thrown 10 interceptions despite completing over 60 percent of his passes. Sklenar, who is second on the team in rushing (330 yards, four touchdowns) has helped the Big Red average 433.8 yards per game.

Tomcats’ tremendous trio

Taylor Fink, Ryan Radke and Branden Dice proved to be a tough trio to stop as Thiel rallied for a 21-20 Presidents’ Athletic Conference win over Saint Vincent. Thiel trailed 14-0 before battling back to snap a three-game losing streak.

Fink rushed for 147 yards and Radke churned out 148 yards on the ground. He also completed seven of his 20 passes for 62 yards, connecting with Rich Smallwood on a 7-yard touchdown pass. The effort by Fink and Thiel marked the first time since 2012 that two players have rushed for more than 100 yards in a game.

Brandon Dice also aided the effort as he scored his first two career touchdowns, including the game-winner with 14:52 left in the fourth.

Radke (436 yards, four touchdowns) and Fink (332 yards, one touchdown) rank first and second in rushing. Radke has thrown for 750 yards and seven scoring strikes for the Tomcats (2-3, 1-2 PAC).

Poll points

Third-ranked Mount Union set a school record with eight rushing touchdowns as it crushed Capital 75-0 in OAC action. The Purple Raiders, riding an 87-game regular season win streak, were led by Brandon Williams, who scored three touchdowns and rushed for a career-best 107 yards. ... Mark Myers threw a four-yard scoring strike to Aramis Greenwood late in the fourth quarter to lift No. 6 John Carroll to a 17-10 win over Ohio Northern. Greenwood finished with nine catches for 138 yards as the Blue Streaks avoided the upset. ... Austin Brown came up with a career-best 17 tackles as No. 10 Wabash topped Wooster 35-16 in a pivotal NCAC game. The Little Giants held the Fighting Scots to 281 yards, including just 48 through the air. ... No. 14 Wittenberg forced seven turnovers for the second time in three weeks as it drilled Hiram 48-0. Nick Gibson led the Tigers with 11 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. … Pete Coughlin tied a school record with six touchdown passes as he led No. 22 Washington and Jefferson to a 51-28 win over Thomas More in a pivotal PAC battle. Coughlin threw for 383 yards as well, the most passing yards by a quarterback this season in the league.

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Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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