September 7, 2011

Bethany Looks for 2-0 Start Saturday in Home Opener

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After an impressive performance in last weekend's opening game, the Bethany College football program will be trying to improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2007 when it hosts King's (Pa.) College in the PAC-MAC Challenge. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Bison Stadium.

This is the second and final year of the PAC-MAC Challenge, which pits schools from each conference against each other. All but one of the eight match-ups were played at the MAC schools last year, so this season, the PAC programs will play hosts to their opponents from the east.

The Bison looked very impressive last Saturday night when they went on the road to claim a 28-7 victory at Allegheny. It was BC's first win in an opener since beating Hiram 24-7 in the 2007 lidlifter and the team posted strong numbers on both sides of the ball. Sophomore QB Matt Grimard threw for 232 yards and two scores and ran for 69 yards and two touchdowns to pace an offense that gained 456 total yards.

On the defensive front, Bethany limited the Gators to seven points and 189 total yards, while also forcing three turnovers and picking up a pair of sacks. Junior CB Jeff Joyce grabbed two interceptions and earned PAC Defensive Player of the Week laurels. Bison head coach Tim Weaver said the victory was big for the program, especially to play such a solid game in the opening week in very warm weather conditions.

"Saturday night was an important win for the program," said Weaver. "I think we surprised a lot of people, not because we won, but how we won. But it was not a surprise to anyone in our office or locker room. The more we watched them, we thought we matched up well and we've had to replace a good starter at quarterback like they have to do this year and we know that is not easy.

"I was proud of our guys and how they handled the trip," said Weaver. "It was the hottest day we've been in since we reported for camp and we talked for two days about staying hydrated, stay off your feet and keep stretching, which they did like a mature football team.

"And I really liked what we did offensively," said Weaver. "Allegheny makes you execute and are great tacklers. They came up with good stuff schematically that gave our run game trouble. But we didn't panic, made adjustments and got the job done."

One part of that offense that excelled was Grimard, who completed 11 passes, including five to convert third down opportunities. Joyce's play in the secondary was just part of a big game from that group and freshman kicker/punter Stephen Amic overcame a missed field goal early to knock through all four extra points and come up with big punts, especially one in the second half that helped BC keep the momentum.

"I saw a lot of good things from all phases of the game," said Weaver. "The secondary played as well as we've seen since we've been here. Matt did very well throwing the ball downfield to convert third down chances. And our freshman kicker did a nice job settling down and not letting the wheels fall off despite some bad kicks early. He struck the four extra points solidly and had a big 46-yard punt that may have been the play of the game. It came early in the second half right after they scored and helped keep us in control of field position.

"Overall, we got three answers we needed to see, but we know we'll get more tests," said Weaver.

While it may have been easy to spot the positives from the opener, Weaver is like any coach who can spot the areas that need work just as quickly. Among those included some big penalties, including one that wiped out an 80-yard punt return for a score by senior WR Alex Evans, issues holding onto the football and some other items that Weaver and his staff are addressing as the team prepares for this week's contest.

"By no means are we a finished product," said Weaver. "We had an 80-yard punt return brought back by a penalty, put the ball on the ground three times, although we did only lose one, missed a short field goal and allowed a deep ball over our heads for a TD. We played well for most of the game and played better than Allegheny, but there is still plenty of room for improvement."

This week's opponent King's also has some improvement to do, particularly on the offensive side. The Monarchs managed just 70 yards of total offense and two of their three turnovers led directly to the only two touchdowns of the game in a 13-6 loss to William Paterson. Two fumbles on the first two drives, one that was recovered in the end zone and the other that set up a 32-yard touchdown run, put King's in a 13-0 hole and it managed just two field goals the rest of the day. Quarterback Joe Kirchon was 13-for-29 through the air, but for only 102 yards and was sacked seven times, while RB Eric Ofcharsky was limited to 38 yards on 14 carries.

Despite their struggles last week, the Bison faced a much different unit last year. Bethany managed to hang on for a 31-29 victory in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., as the Monarchs missed a last-second field goal for the win. King's compiled 307 yards in that game and scored on three long touchdown passes of 65, 46 and 62 yards and with the one score allowed by the Bison in the Allegheny win being a 31-yard touchdown pass, the team expects to be challenged again by the deep ball.

"The way we are built, the last thing a team should be able to do is throw it over our head," said Weaver. "We just need to make better plays on the ball. We certainly expect them to come after us after last year and after Allegheny got behind us, so we'll see how we respond."

The Monarch defense had major issues stopping the BC running attack last year, as Bethany chewed up 387 rushing yards, including 220 by RB Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.), the fourth-highest total ever in Bison history. The King's defense was much improved in the opener against William Paterson, allowing 173 total yards, including just 82 on the ground. Linebacker Jake Ksiaziewicz posted eight tackles, including 2.5 for loss and a sack while also breaking up a pass. Weaver says this group's improvement means the Bison will need to find a better balance offensively than what they had in last year's win.

"They are doing a lot more than last year and are clearly improved," said Weaver. "They played a very good game against William Paterson and wouldn't have allowed a point without the turnovers. As a group, they are as improved a defense as we'll see all year. They are good at mixing up their fronts, are tough and physical. We feel like we will need to have a better balance than we had last year. I think we caught them by surprise a little when we lined up and ran it like we did because we didn't do it the week before, but that won't happen this week."

This game is a big one for so many reasons for Bethany. In addition to being the home opener, the Bison can get to 2-0 for the first time in four years and also build momentum for next week's PAC opener at home against Washington & Jefferson. While Weaver says his staff has had to mention the possibility of going 2-0, he said they haven't even thought about next week and just wants to program to build off last week's big win.

"We haven't mentioned W&J even once," said Weaver. "Have we talked about 2-0? Yes, but only because it's the next game on our schedule. Our focus for them is to keep improving and find a way to maintain the level of play we showed Saturday night.

"Last year when we lost to Allegheny by four touchdowns, I told the team after the game that 90 percent of the season was still left to turn things around and have a good year," said Weaver. "This year after we beat Allegheny, I told the team only 10 percent of the season was over. Now it's up to us to keep working and build on having a memorable year or we could be satisfied with our effort last week and underachieve. Last year, we responded, so I expect that to happen again this year."
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