After pocketing its first win last week in dramatic fashion, the Bethany College football team will aim for its second straight win Saturday when it welcomes PAC leader and undefeated Waynesburg to Bison Stadium Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
The Bison (1-4, 1-2) looked like they would beat Geneva in regulation when junior QB Matt Grimard scampered for a five-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds to play. But the Golden Tornadoes forced overtime with a 41-yard TD pass on a Hail Mary on the last play of regulation. Bethany regrouped to pick off a Geneva pass on their first possession and then won the game in front of a frenzied Homecoming crowd on a 24-yard scoring pass from Grimard to senior WR Ed Holmes.
Grimard had a huge day in the victory, throwing for a career-best 343 yards, which put him over 5,000 career passing yards, and four touchdowns while rushing for another and would earn PAC and ECAC South Region Offensive Player of the Week. Sophomore running back Phil Acrie also set a career-high with 146 rushing yards and one TD, while the defense was led by senior linebacker Kyle Arrington with a career-best 17 tackles, the most by a Bison since 1996. Head coach Tim Weaver was obviously pleased with the result, but there were still things he'd like to see cleaned up from the Bison.
"It was good to get a win because we obviously needed one badly," said Weaver, who won his fourth Homecoming game with the Bison program. "After a couple tough losses, we got to break someone else's heart. But there is an old saying in coaching. Don't let losing magnify your problems and don't let winning disguise your problems. Even after a great team win like Saturday, there are still areas we need to address.
"We missed two kicks, we had the ball in plus territory four times and didn't score, fumbled a perfect punt snap to give them the ball at our 14 and the big one was giving up the Hail Mary," said Weaver. "All of that and we managed to win the game. To do that, you have to be a good football team and a resilient football team."
Looking ahead to the second half of the schedule, Weaver says the miscues made in the Geneva game have to be corrected, but he also says the team still has to show the type of football it can play.
"To continue to have success in the second half of the season, we have to eliminate those mistakes," said Weaver. "In evaluating the offense, we gained over 500 yards and scored 42 points, but how many points did we leave on the field? The defense did a solid job most of the day, but they gained 106 yards and scored two touchdowns on two plays, so we have to eliminate those big plays. We were very pleased with the effort and the majority of the execution last week and thrilled with the result. But we also know we haven't played anywhere close to our best football yet."
The other star of the Bison defense Saturday was sophomore cornerback Wyssmy Despagne. He was matched up with Geneva's Corey O'Patchen, who entered the game averaging six catches for 97 yards per game and held the top wideout to two receptions for 30 yards. Despagne finished the day with five tackles, two pass break-ups and the interception in the end zone on Geneva's first possession of OT to set up the final dramatic touchdown, which just continued to cement his stock as one of the top corners in the league.
"Wys is the best corner we've had here and one of the two or three best in the PAC since we've been here," said Weaver. "A big part of our game plan is done in about a minute now because we know we can put him on their go-to guy. We knew he was going to travel with O'Patchen Saturday and the numbers show the job he did. They threw to him seven or eight times and he caught two for 30. They took three deep shots and every one was well defended and Wys probably could have picked another.
"He is competitive, athletic and has good ball skills," said Weaver. "He wants to get in everyone's face, jam him and challenge him. He has no problem being put on an island by himself. He wants it and that's what you want to see from your best corner."
Also emerging with big games Saturday were a pair of wide receivers in freshman Eric Blinn and junior Chris Collins. Blinn, who is averaging 18.6 yards in his 18 catches and has 334 receiving yards, caught seven balls Saturday for 121 yards and a 60-yard TD. Collins, who missed all of last year because of a knee injury, caught a 29-yard scoring pass among his seven receptions for 81 yards. Those two, coupled with Acrie in the backfield, give the Bison a bright future at the skill positions.
"We knew Eric was a good player when we recruited him, we just weren't sure whether we'd play him at receiver or at DB," said Weaver. "But we knew from practice two that he had to play. He is well ahead of where all our other guys were at this stage in terms of knowing the offense and making adjustments. He has good speed, is a good practice player and is a great addition to an already deep and talented group.
"We were really excited to get Chris back after his ACL last year," said Weaver. "But what people don't know is he tore the other ACL in camp and is playing on it with a brace. In terms of sheer ability, he may be better than all our other guys. He worked very hard in rehab to get back, and while we're happy to have him to throw to, we're also happy for him as a person to see his hard work pay off.
"We really like what Eric and Chris bring to us and we feel they are two guys we can build around for next year," said Weaver. "Throw in Phil at tailback and we have our next generation of good skill players on offense."
The high-flying Bison offense, which ranks first in the conference with 32.4 points per game, faces a big challenge Saturday against a Waynesburg (6-0, 4-0) defense that ranks first in the PAC in total yards allowed (248.8) and rushing defense (82.8) and ranks second in passing defense (166.0) and scoring (14.5). In last week's 21-14 victory over Grove City, the Yellow Jackets allowed just 210 total yards, including only 83 on the ground. Junior safety Bryan Gary picked off a pass and had a team-high 11 stops to give him 55 for the season, while junior defensive lineman Brandon Fedorka totaled eight tackles and three sacks. That tandem will warrant a lot of attention from Bethany Saturday, but Weaver said the unit is strong from front to back.
"They have experience and talent with a lot of the same faces we've seen over the last couple years," said Weaver. "Everyone knows about guys like Gary and Fedorka, but the new guys they have are playing at a high level too. We really think that Fedorka has brought his play to the level of the elite edge defensive players we've seen in this conference like (Jacob) Bloomhuff from W&J and Tim Taylor from Thiel. At this level, you don't see a lot of defensive ends you need to game plan for, but you need to with him.
"Overall, they are multiple enough to keep you guessing, but good enough to get pressure when they only bring three or four guys," said Weaver. "They play very hard, are good tacklers and do all the fundamental things that make you good."
The Yellow Jacket offense doesn't put up eye-popping numbers, but is averaging 24.2 points per game. Waynesburg has proven to have a top ground game, leading the conference with 179.3 rushing yards per game. The two-pronged attack is led by junior Dominic Moore with 381 rushing yards and three scores, while Bertrand Ngampa has 304 yards and two scores. Tyler Fatigante was the team's starter at quarterback through the first five games and threw for 442 yards and six TDs, but missed last week's Grove City win due to injury. The top pass catchers include tight end Adam Moses with 23 receptions and wideout Christian Jackson, who in addition to catching 16 passes is the league's top punt (9.8 yards per return) and kick returner (36.5).
"One thing I like that they do on offense is play a bunch of people and get everyone involved," said Weaver. "They are committed to the run and you have to stop it. The last time we faced a challenge that definitive was at Randolph-Macon and we did not do it. Their main two backs present different challenges. Ngampa scares you because if he gets in space, he can go the distance, and Moore pounds in between the tackles.
"They also do a good job of breaking formation tendencies and lining up people where you don't expect," said Weaver. "We saw on film they used four tight ends on a play before. They do a lot of that in the red zone, which makes you go pretty simple defensively down there. But their line can be very physical and the quarterbacks understand what they have to do, so they present some different challenges."
Special teams may very well decide the game Saturday. This contest will feature the top two punters in the league in Waynesburg's Zack Rogers (40.6 avg.) and Bison sophomore Stephen Amic, who was last week's PAC and Special Teams Player of the Week as well as the punter on the D3Football.com National Team of the Week and is second with 37.7 yards per punt. But Weaver says in addition to not allowing big plays from the special teams, controlling the run game and holding onto the football will be keys for Saturday.
"One factor Saturday is to not give up big special teams plays," said Weaver. "They feast on blocked punts and big returns. Jackson is a dangerous return guy and their specialists are good. But we also need to hold them to less than four yards a carry and repeat last week's zero-turnover performance on offense."