Bethany vs. W&J Preview

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After getting an unscheduled week off last Saturday, the Bethany College football team will return to the field with a stiff test Saturday when Washington & Jefferson invades Bison Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff in the league opener for both squads.

The Bison opened the season with a 28-7 victory at Allegheny Sept. 3 and were slated to take on King's last Saturday in the home opener. However, due to flooding and a mandatory evacuation of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which shut down their school, King's was unable to make the trip out and the game was postponed. The possibility remains that the teams will make up the game Nov. 19th if neither Bethany nor King's makes the postseason, but that is little consolation to ease the disappointment of having a final tune-up for conference play eliminated.

"Not getting to play last week was disappointing in a whole bunch of ways," said Bison head coach Tim Weaver. "Any time you miss a chance to play it's tough because you only get 10 a year and it's not like you can just reschedule it up on Tuesday. We also really felt like playing a second game and getting to put kids in game situations one more time would be very beneficial heading into conference play.

"And strictly from a football lifer standpoint, we are creatures of habit and our whole routine was smashed," said Weaver. "But I was very happy with and proud of our players for how they handled it. We went full pads for practice Friday, which we never do, and full pads on Sunday, which we never do. Our guys didn't get pouty, got their focus back quickly and we went back to work."

There were upsides to having the weekend off according to Weaver, including being as close to 100 percent healthy as a team can be a couple weeks into the season and getting in some extra work in studying this week's opponent.

"Obviously we were able to control our injury situation, so we will be healthy," said Weaver. "We also gave everyone off all day Saturday and anytime you can give the guys a chance to clear their head and act like college kids, it can be a good thing because you don't get to do that often during the grind of the season. And from a coaching standpoint, we had all day Friday to watch W&J on film and were able to steal a couple extra days prep-wise, so there were positives."

The extra preparation couldn't have come at a better time for Bethany than leading up to W&J. The longest running series in the PAC has been controlled by the Presidents lately, as they hold a 68-20 advantage all-time against the Bison and have claimed 28 straight decisions. Unfortunately for BC, many of the contests have been decided early, as W&J has scored an average of 40 points in the first half in the last three games.

That story was true in last year's game, as the Presidents bolted out to a 45-0 halftime lead and went on to a 59-21 triumph at home. Quarterback Matt Grimard (Lowell, Mass./Dracut) rushed for 129 yards and one TD and threw for 140 yards and another score, but also threw two interceptions and W&J gained 497 yards of total offense in the victory.

As Weaver and his staff have rebuilt the Bison, they have torn down many walls that impeded the progress of the program. The losing streak to W&J is one that remains standing and Weaver says his team is moving past the psychological impact the streak has had.

"That has been our challenge and we addressed it briefly on Sunday and moved the focus to ourselves and what we need to do," said Weaver. "One key for us is we have a more experienced roster and we know that none of the previous games have any impact on this one. I do hope that every kid who puts the pads on Saturday night wants to be on the team that ends the streak.

"When you look at last year, we beat Waynesburg and they took W&J to overtime, so there is no reason for W&J to be up on us 45-0 at halftime," said Weaver. "But now after Sunday, our focus is on the 2011 W&J team, their personnel and this team."

The 2011 W&J team brings a 1-1 record into Saturday's affair. After opening the year with a 40-0 victory at Juniata, the Presidents suffered a 20-19 defeat to #25 Delaware Valley Saturday. Making his second career start, junior QB Matt Bliss threw for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with his top target being Adam Dominick, who hauled in seven aerials for 105 yards. However, the W&J offense was hurt by three turnovers, six sacks and a 0-for-12 conversion rate on third downs. The team also suffered a missed extra point and a pair of missed field goals from 31 and 21 yards.

The Presidents' miscues Saturday were a combination of Delaware Valley's efforts and unforced errors, but Weaver doesn't expect the same fortunes this week unless Bethany can create big plays.

"Saturday was a great learning lesson that no team is good enough to overcome turnovers and missed extra points, things you take for granted," said Weaver. "(W&J's) last interception was the only real unforced error though, so Del Valley had a lot to say about what happened with the other ones. Del Valley did a great job pressuring Bliss and it's tough for any young quarterback if they can't get comfortable in the pocket. But W&J has a great coaching staff and they know how to bounce back."

The Presidents' defense has been strong the first two weeks. They held Juniata to a paltry 68 yards of total offense in week one and although Del Valley totaled 375 yards last Saturday, W&J did have six sacks and forced a trio of turnovers. Through the first two weeks, the Presidents have allowed teams to convert just 17 percent (5-29) of third down chances.

Linebacker Neil Sorice is a key man for the Bison to contend with Saturday. He was named PAC Defensive Player of the Week after amassing 17 tackles, the most by a President since 2003, one sack and one forced fumble. His 25 stops for the year are the most in the league and far ahead of W&J cornerback Nathan Melhorn (15) and safety Matthew Gal (13) for the team lead. Weaver says moving the ball against a good fundamental unit like the Presidents will be a challenge.

"Schematically, they are not the same but they are similar to Allegheny in they are well-coached and they don't beat themselves often, so you must execute," said Weaver. "They tackle very well, understand their coverage schemes and have a strong, aggressive front group. They don't need to rely on blitzes to generate pressure, but when they bring people, it is very effective. And watching them last week, Sorice had one of the best games by a PAC linebacker I've seen since we've been here."

If the Bison are going to start out 2-0 and win an opening game in PAC play for the first time since 2001, Weaver says the game obviously can't follow a similar script as previous W&J match-ups and the team must execute both offensively and defensively on the most important down.

"Very simply, if we want to win Saturday, it has to be a game at the end of the first quarter, which we haven't been able to say the last few games with them," said Weaver. "We also have to find ways to make enough plays on third down on defense to get them off the field and in the passing game on offense to maintain possession."