Bethany vs. Westminster (Pa.) Preview

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The Bethany football team (2-2, 1-2) will start the second half of its season and celebrate Homecoming this Saturday by hosting PAC rival Westminster (2-2, 1-1) at Bison Stadium for a 2 p.m. kickoff.

The Bison return home after two straight road games and are looking to rebound following a 23-7 loss last Saturday at Waynesburg. The Yellow Jackets churned out 210 rushing yards and although BC outgained their hosts 348-313, the Green and White came up empty in five trips to the red zone. The lone touchdown came on a 33-yard scoring pass from sophomore QB Matt Grimard to junior wide receiver Johnathan Foster.

The Bethany defense, which limited Waynesburg to just 110 total yards and three points in the second half, was led by senior DE Kasib Taalib-Din and junior DT Blake DeBord with eight tackles each. Bison head coach Tim Weaver liked his defense's effort in the second half, but said it was a forgettable game all around for the team.

"Give them credit because they out-prepared us before the game and out-physicaled us during the game," said Weaver. "They had a simple game plan and executed it. I liked what our defense did in the second half though. I was asked what adjustments we made and simply, the answer was none. We just lined up right and tackled better. The last touchdown they scored, we handed to them because we didn't have people lined up right and they didn't have to block us.

"The offense had a really bad day," said Weaver. "We didn't block well, we had open guys and missed them, and we dropped good throws. There were a lot of opportunities missed and it's on the staff to try to find more answers in those situations.

"It was just a bad day all around and a lot of it is on me as a head coach to have them ready," said Weaver. "Everyone talks about being up to play a game, but you also have to relaxed and ready to perform. It's on me to have them in the right mind set."

The red zone troubles experienced by the offense Saturday has been an issue for much of the season, as BC is last in the conference in red zone offense with just 10 scores in 20 trips. Last season, the Bison were one of the top teams in the league by scoring touchdowns on 76 percent of their drives inside the opponents' 20-yard line. While Weaver says the mistakes must be corrected, he doesn't see it as a permanent problem.

"Anytime you have a turn from one year to the next like this, you can't just point to one thing because it's a combination of a lot of little mistakes," said Weaver. "Teams have made adjustments to what we do and the coaching staff has to be better prepared for that. We've dropped passes and fumbled snaps, which is stuff the players have to fix. So a lot of different things have gone wrong and if it continues over a longer period of time, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We're fine, the field is just smaller and we have to execute and put players in position to execute."

Bethany's run defense had a good start to the year by holding Allegheny to 61 yards in the season opener, but in the last three games, teams have averaged 164 yards on the ground. Waynesburg is second in the conference in rushing yardage (189.8), but just like the offense in the red zone, Weaver sees the issues as solvable and also says they have to remember what they're working with in terms of game experience.

"Looking back over the last three games, W&J is a good team, hit us on an option they hadn't run before but we stopped them after that," said Weaver. "Give Geneva credit because they hadn't run the ball all year, we were really focused on keeping the ball in front of us and we were not desperate to stop the run because we were in front.

"Waynesburg was a combination on things," said Weaver. "Beginning with their first long run, we had a man in the hole and missed a tackle. One of their TDs, our communication was bad and that's on the staff, as we made an adjustment we shouldn't have. But these are all fixable problems. It's not like we are saying we can't tackle or get off blocks or one constant thing, which is good.

"The one thing as a head coach I have to keep telling myself is while we're not inexperienced, which is why we're better, we are still young," said Weaver. "Our entire secondary is going into its 15th college game and the same could be said on offense about our quarterback. We had all these returning starters and as a staff, we want to say let's do more. But what we have to make sure is we don't ask them to do too much or put too much on them in a given week."

This will be the 48th meeting between Bethany and Westminster on Saturday and while the programs have split the last four match-ups, the Titans still lead the all-time series 34-11-2. Last year, Westminster jumped out to a 10-0 lead at home, but BC roared back with 34 straight points and then held off a late Titan rally for a 47-39 triumph. Bison running back Eric Walker, who enters this Saturday's contest needing 146 more yards to become the school's all-time leading rusher, ran for 174 yards and scored twice in last year's game, while Grimard ran for three TDs and tossed two others.

Last week saw Westminster battle Washington & Jefferson to the very end before succumbing by a 20-16 score. The Titans had only 236 total yards, including -17 on the ground, but they forced five turnovers and drove to the W&J 39 on the final drive before two sacks ended the threat. Quarterback Shawn Lehocky threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns covering 16 yards to Geno Pasquinelli and 20 yards to John Baummer.  On the defensive side, inside linebacker Alex Kernicky was named PAC Defensive Player of the Week after making 15 stops.

This year's Titan team may not possess very flashy statistics in scoring offense (eighth at 15.0) or defense (tied for fifth at 22.0), but they are one of the top teams in three very important categories. They have caused a PAC-high 13 turnovers and are +6 in the turnover ratio for the year and rank second in the conference in red zone offense (91 percent) and red zone defense (50 percent), which Weaver says gives them a chance every week.

"What grabs your attention about Westminster is they are at or near the top in turnovers, red zone offense and red zone defense, three critical statistics," said Weaver. "The other numbers are nice to look at, but those other three equate to winning and if you lead the conference in those categories, you have a chance to win every game."

The Titan defense, which has picked off five passes and recovered eight fumbles, isn't just about turnovers. The unit is also limiting teams to 29 percent (16-55) conversion rate on third downs. A pair of linebackers in Kernicky (32 tackles ) and Derrick Orloski (31) are atop the team rankings in stops, but other play makers include safety Kyle Allen with 24 hits and three interceptions and defensive end Ryan Brucker with 24 tackles and three sacks. Weaver says the key to Westminster's success defensively is due to experience, with eight of the 11 starters being juniors or seniors.

"Their secondary and really the back seven are as improved a group from one year to the next as we've seen in my six years here," said Weaver. "Allen is really good at safety, (Jordon) Rooney seems like he's been a starter at corner forever and they moved Orloski from the secondary to linebacker. They are faster and more athletic and they didn't have fluky interceptions against W&J. They just made plays on the ball."

Westminster's offense has struggled getting the ground game going, posting just 180 yards in four games so far and averaging only 1.1 yards per carry. The passing game could present problems for teams, as Lehocky has thrown for 424 yards and two scores in three games. He did miss a game due to injury and his replacements Zach Hoffman and Tommy Turnbull combined to go 17-for-23 for 218 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-20 victory at Grove City. Pasquinelli is one of the top receivers in the PAC with 24 receptions for 248 yards and three TDs.

"What Westminster does well is throw it over your head," said Weaver. "Lehocky and Hoffman have great touch on the deep ball. Pasquinelli is an all-conference receiver who can go get it, runs great routes and knows how to get behind a defense. The frustrating thing for teams who play them is, you know it's coming and it's still hard to stop.

"Talk to any coach and they will tell you there is no magic defense if the offense can throw it up and catch it," said Weaver. "One thing we can do is mix up our coverage looks and we also want to get pressure on the quarterback to try to disrupt his timing and not let him get comfortable in the pocket. But in the end, we still have to cover guys and make plays."

Last week's setback really damaged the Bison's hopes of winning the PAC title. However, Weaver and his team are not looking back and are focusing on this week, as the combination of Homecoming and still staying in contention for postseason football should have Bethany ready to play this Saturday.

"Homecoming is big here, so of course we want to play well in front of all the alumni and fans that come back," said Weaver. "And while last week was disappointing, we try to be forward thinking so by Tuesday, win or lose, we are looking ahead to the game in front of us. We still have all of our goals in front of us. We put ourselves in a tough spot for our ultimate goal in winning a PAC championship and we don't control our own destiny. But it's still in our grasp to play postseason football and we also want to go out and show we are a much better football team than we showed last week."
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