Bethany at W&J Preview

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When the Bethany College football team invades Cameron Stadium Saturday night to take on Washington & Jefferson in a 7 p.m. contest, the Bison will not only be trying to break into the win column for the first time this season, but also snap a lengthy streak against the Presidents.

Last week saw BC fall to 0-3 overall and 0-1 in the conference with a crushing 44-40 loss at Grove City. Bethany led 21-0 early in the second quarter and 40-24 in the fourth quarter before 20 unanswered Wolverine points sunk the Bison. The Green and White outgained the hosts 346-318, but four BC turnovers led to three Grove City touchdowns. Head coach Tim Weaver said the outcome was surprising if you look at the stats, but the errors committed by the Bison changed everything.

"Saturday was probably the toughest loss we've had in our time here," said Weaver. "When you blow two big leads like we did, it comes down to preparing and having the team ready to finish. And that comes down to me. No excuses, it's my fault. We have a veteran group on offense and we turned it over four times. We have a veteran group on defense and we didn't get a key stop when we needed one. We needed one more turnover or one more stop to win the game and we didn't get it done.

"Overall, our game plan was really good," said Weaver. "We held them to 3.3 yards per carry and they were averaging about a yard more coming into the game. We had 10 third down stops (5-15). On offense we outgained them and scored 40 points. No way we should have lost that game if you look at the stats, but we did and it's because of our mistakes."

The Bison passing offense is off to a quick start, due in large part to senior wide receivers Johnathan Foster and Ed Holmes. Foster hauled in a two-yard TD reception last week and ranks second in the PAC with 19 catches. Holmes, who caught a career-high nine passes and two touchdowns last week, has hauled in 15 balls this season and moved up to seventh all-time at Bethany with 111 receptions.

"Johnathan and Ed are two of our leaders and both are having their best seasons, which you love to see from seniors," said Weaver. "They are models of what you want in your program. They do it in the class room, come to work every day and get better on the field every year. You can also see them working on the sidelines coaching the young guys and not just (freshman wide receiver Eric) Blinn (who has two touchdown receptions this season). They do a great job of working with all the young guys.

"Both of them are real easy to root for to have success and I want to make sure we get a bunch of wins before they leave here because they deserve it," said Weaver.

The Bethany defense continues to look for answers after another tough game point-wise, but there were strides made last week. The unit allowed a season-low in total yards and forced a pair of turnovers last week while also making four sacks. Weaver highlighted the play of senior Blake DeBord and junior Seth Cawoski inside, as well as sophomore cornerback Wyssmy Despagne, and also said the team will take a more straightforward approach this week.

"Our two defensive tackles Blake and Seth are playing great football," said Weaver. "And Wys has the ability and is playing like one of the very best corners in the league. To look at it, we've only had one really bad game as a group and that was at Randolph-Macon. We had 10 third-down stops and held Grove City to under 320 yards last week, so there are just plays here and there that we have to make.

"We've done a lot of self-evaluating after last week and determined we're doing too much," said Weaver. "That's solely on me because we have a veteran group and was thinking we could be creative. But now we have guys thinking too much, so we've really stripped it down this week and want to get back to having guys play."

W&J is 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the league coming into Saturday. The Presidents' only loss this year was a 28-24 setback to ninth-ranked St. John Fisher and they are fresh off a 17-0 shutout at Thiel last Saturday. W&J's defense allowed just 161 total yards and had five sacks. Senior linebacker John Hunter was named the PAC Defensive Player of the Week after he made eight tackles, including three and a half for loss and two sacks. The offense was solid enough, recording 261 yards and was led by RB Dion Wiegand with 84 rushing yards and one touchdown.

The Presidents' main strength for years was an explosive offense and while W&J can still get it done on that side of the ball, W&J's defense has become the staple of the program. They rank second in the PAC in points allowed (12.8) and sacks (12), third in total defense (244.2) and teams are converting a conference low 18 percent of third-down chances against them (9-51). Hunter has been a force all season long, leading the team in tackles (29), tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (three) and containing Hunter and the rest of the Presidents pass rush is a big concern for the Bison this week.

"They've shifted from spread-it-out, throw it all over the place to defense first," said Weaver. "Protecting the quarterback is an issue against them. Our pass protection has been pretty good, outside of some issues in the fourth quarter against Grove City, but we think we have those worked out. We need to establish the run game and focus on protecting the quarterback to slow the rush down."

The W&J offense can still be a force, especially with a ground game posting 154.5 yards per game. Senior TB Tim McNerney sat out last week's win over Thiel but is still second in the conference with 373 rushing yards. Quarterback Matt Bliss has completed 64 percent of his passes for 645 yards, but he was injured last week and is questionable for Saturday. Senior Alex Baroffio, who currently leads the PAC with 36 receptions for 322 yards, took over under center last week and was 6-for-11 for 72 yards and a touchdown and added 62 rushing yards.

Regardless of who calls the plays for W&J, Weaver says the Bison must stop the run this week.

"Their situation at quarterback appears like they're willing to go with two," said Weaver. "Both Bliss and Baroffio are very athletic. Bliss can throw the ball down the field well and is a threat to run. Against Baroffio, keeping him in the pocket and in our vision is job one.

"But right now, teams run on 75 percent of snaps against us, so we need to stop the run," said Weaver. "That's what our focus will be all week and we can emphasize it all we want but it will come down to beating blocks, pursuing at the right angles and making tackles."

This is the longest running rivalry in the PAC, as the teams meet for the 89th time this weekend. The Presidents have won 29 in a row in the series, so that is a streak the Bison would love to put an end to Saturday. And while Weaver, who carries a strong belief in his team into Saturday, says a win won't take away the sour taste from three losses to open the season, it will go a long way in righting the ship for the rest of the year.

"We've been looking for a win in a game like this since we got here and we can win this game," said Weaver. "We've won some games, but we haven't beaten a top team, either in conference or out. I believe in our players and what we're doing. I have no doubt we can go win this week. The biggest thing a win would do is get us to 1-1 in the league. It doesn't erase the last three games, but it would put us back on track and give us some confidence."