The Bethany football team will try to win its third road game in as many tries this season Saturday when the Bison travel down to Waynesburg for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff against the Yellow Jackets.
Last Saturday saw an impressive performance from Bethany (2-1, 1-1) in a 48-27 triumph at Geneva, the first BC win over the Golden Tornadoes since 1973. The Green and White rolled up 445 yards of total offense, led by sophomore quarterback Matt Grimard, who threw for a career-high 274 yards and rushed for another 49 as he earned PAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Special Teams Player of the Week accolades went to senior WR Alex Evans, who was Grimard's top target with five catches for 108 yards and one TD and added a 65-yard punt return for a score as well. Add in a defense that forced one key fumble and had three sacks and Bison head coach Tim Weaver said it was a solid all-around victory.
"The win over Geneva was good because it was our second win over a quality program that we really respect, which says a lot about where we've come from," said Weaver. "It wasn't error-free, but it was a good team win in which we made a lot of big plays in all phases of the game. The defense gave us a short field with Kasib's (Taalib-Din) sack fumble to set up our second touchdown and had a three-and-out to force the punt that Alex returned for the score. The two times we had to punt were both put inside their 20.
"Our offense obviously really clicked, going on long drive, but also hitting on some big plays," said Weaver. "There were plenty of mistakes though and we'll have a chance to work on those in practice this week, but overall, it was a good team win."
The three sacks by the Bison last week gives them 10 for the season, second-most in the PAC. Taalib-Din leads the way with four sacks and the BC defensive line boasts nine of the 10 sacks. Weaver said the Bison are leaning on the guys up front to generate their pressure and they will have a tall order in front of them Saturday, as Waynesburg has allowed just two sacks in 81 pass attempts, the fewest in the conference.
"We've had a really good mix of three- and four-man rushes," said Weaver. "Kasib's sack fumble Saturday came on a three-man rush. We now have players who can make plays and guys who can win one-on-one battles. And when we've needed it, Ryan (Lieb, BC defensive coordinator) has done a good job picking spots to blitz, like getting a key third down sack against W&J with Demetrius (Wellington, freshman DB).
"We also have Blake (DeBord), Zach (Burton) and Michael (Roberts) with sacks from the tackle position, so when you start getting production from inside guys and the ends like Kasib and Prince (Aguzie), you have a chance to be a really good defense," said Weaver.
The Bison's downfall the previous week in a 31-14 loss to W&J was penalties (10) and turnovers (four). The offensive line had the majority of the penalties, but their play improved significantly and a change in philosophy by Weaver also shows how far the program has come.
"The best thing of the whole night against Geneva was that our emphasis to the players was to eliminate the kind of mistakes we had against W&J," said Weaver. "And we went from seven deadball fouls to zero and four turnovers to one, with at least half of that falling on the coaching staff. In the past when we've met on Sundays, I've made guys run for penalties and turnovers, but after W&J, I decided to stop that. We discussed the importance of eliminating those kinds of errors and I decided that our program is mature enough now to cut out mistakes due to fear of losing instead of fear of running.
"I think we got that message last week and the credit goes to the leadership on the team," said Weaver. "And our offensive line was a key part of that, cutting out the mistakes from the previous week and playing a very strong game."
Waynesburg will present a serious challenge to the Bison this week, sporting a 2-0 record in the PAC. Last week, the Yellow Jackets (2-1) overcame a litany of mistakes which included 14 penalties and two turnovers to defeat Grove City 32-26. The running game, which is second (183.0) in the PAC behind only Bethany (199.3), pounded out 199 yards, including 112 from Bertrand Ngampa. Senior Josh Graham is in his first season as a starter under center and although he only threw for 160 yards last week, he did fire a 37-yard scoring pass to Jeff Young for the go-ahead touchdown with 8:49 to play.
Ngampa leads the Jackets' ground game with 273 yards and a 5.4 yards per carry average, while Justin Falcon has gained 108 yards in two games. Graham has struggled with accuracy, completing just 48 percent of his passes, but has thrown for 401 yards and four TDs. He also has three solid targets in reliable tight end Adam Moses (nine catches, 114 yards, 1 TD), the 6-4 wideout Young (9 catches, 110 yards, 1 TD) and the speedster Christian Jackson (nine catches, 88 yards, one touchdown).
According to Weaver, the Yellow Jackets' shift to a run-first attack is also opening up opportunities for their passing game.
"They probably have the best group of backs we've seen this year and probably dating back to Thomas More last year," said Weaver. "Ngampa, Falcon and (Jamelle) Bowers are all solid and they are physical up front. They are like any other team who goes through replacing a long-time starter at quarterback. They struggled in the opener at Christopher Newport (a 12-7 loss), looked at the film, made some adjustments and are averaging nearly 40 points in the last two games.
"What their run game also does is it brings more people into the box and causes one-on-one match-ups on the outside for wideouts who are all problems for us," said Weaver. "Jackson is very fast, their other guys are tall and can go get it and they have a good tight end you have to pay attention to."
The Waynesburg defense has been very good in all three games, They come into the Bethany game ranked first in pass defense (100.3) and total defense (239.0) and second in scoring defense (15.0). Defensive backs Ryan Williams (28 tackles) and Bryan Gary (21) are the top tacklers and defensive lineman Daryl Moore Jr. is a force inside with 20 stops. Dealing with a stingy Yellow Jacket defense is nothing new for Weaver and the Bison.
"A good defense has been their calling card and it's no different now," said Weaver. "They don't give you points or yards or anything. They are aggressive and physical, bring pressure, have an athletic secondary that doesn't let you get behind them. And Moore is as good a defensive tackle as there is. They can be relentless."
Bethany has won the last two meetings between the schools at Bison Stadium, but trips to Waynesburg have not been kind to BC recently. The last time the Green and White emerged from Wiley Stadium with a victory was in 1996 and in Weaver's two games on the BC sideline at the Yellow Jackets' home have resulted in 41-15 and 52-13 losses. If Bethany wants to break that string, following the same recipe that has resulted in two victories so far this year will be key.
"We've also had issues playing at their stadium, which has been a house of horrors for us recently," said Weaver. "We've played well on the road so far this year, so we need to keep that up. First thing we have to do is stop the run, which is easier said than done because no one has done it yet. We have to continue to find a balance offensively and not have a breakdown on special teams because every point will count in a game like this."