After taking its bye week to digest a tough opening week loss, the Bethany College football team returns to the field Saturday with a non-conference road game at Randolph-Macon. Kickoff in Ashland, Va., is scheduled for 1 p.m.
The Bison season opened Sept. 1st with a 42-21 loss at home to Centre. Bethany looked primed to go into halftime tied at 14-14 following a six-yard scoring pass from junior QB Matt Grimard to freshman WR Eric Blinn, but the Colonels quickly drove down for a touchdown just before half and pulled away in the second half for the victory.
Bison head coach Tim Weaver, who is in his seventh season at the helm of the program, believes his team had the talent to knock off Centre, but too many mistakes ended those hopes. And the damaging errors were made in all phases of the game, including breakdowns in the secondary and against the scramble on defense, not executing offensively and allowing too many yards on returns.
"We are very disappointed we lost that game," said Weaver. "We felt we were good enough to beat Centre, but not when you make the mistakes we did. They gained half their yards on five big plays, which happen to young defenses, but we're not a young defense. We blew two coverages in the first half and were out of position on a 50-yard scramble, which are mistakes we shouldn't make. When experienced, talented guys are making mistakes like that, it's more on the coaching staff for not getting them prepared better.
"I did think we defended the run well," said Weaver. "(Monte) Scotton averaged 3.5 yards a carry against us and averaged 10 this past weekend (when he ran for 155 yards on 15 carries in Centre's 49-21 win over Rose-Hulman). Our goal was to be better against the run this year and we did that, but we need to contain the quarterback, which we weren't able to do against Centre.
"Offensively, we didn't make enough plays in the passing game to win and we didn't run it enough," said Weaver. "It was a combination of not making the throws, dropped balls and the coaching staff not putting people in position to have success. We also gave them a short field after a punt return, so we allowed too many yards in the return game.
"Centre did what good teams do," said Weaver. "They made us pay for our mistakes. But everything is correctable. It's not like we were outmanned or didn't have the talent. We just have to coach a little better and have guys with a better understanding of what their assignments are."
A mostly veteran Bison squad did look to some freshmen for lifts in the setback. Blinn caught a pair of balls, including his first collegiate touchdown, freshman linebacker Tyler Vincent made four tackles and broke up a pass and kicker Justin Evans hit all three extra points, booted strong kickoffs and combined with sophomore punter Stephen Amic, made the BC kicking games a highlight in the opener according to Weaver.
"I thought the freshmen we sent out played well," said Weaver. "Tyler played well and Eric caught a touchdown. Justin made all his extra points and his kickoff depth and placement were very good and Stephen hit two punts inside Centre's 20, so we were pleased with those two guys.
"Our other young guys had a chance to play in a JV game Sunday and many of them played well," said Weaver. "With the bye week, we were able to give them last weekend off, which was good because they've been getting after it for a while. Those two full days off helped them recharge and refocus and they've responded with a good week of practice."
The bye in week two was very different for the Bison, who the last two years haven't had the week off until late in the season. Weaver said it was a far different mentality with the earlier off week and the team kept the pads on to stay sharp and fit for the rest of the schedule.
"It's totally different having the bye in week two rather than week eight," said Weaver. "The last couple years when we've had week eight off, the focus is on rest and get healthy for the final two games. But this year, we went back to the training camp mentality. We hit a lot, conditioned and improved from where we were. Then we backed off by the end of the week, going no pads and starting to install the basic stuff for Randolph-Macon."
Like Centre, the Yellow Jackets are coming off a fine 2011 season, as they went 8-2 and finished second in the ODAC. Like Bethany, Randolph-Macon opened the season against a challenging team, falling 36-13 at Johns Hopkins. Last week saw the Jackets bounce back with a 21-6 victory over Averett. It was just an 8-6 lead midway through the third quarter when QB Zac Naccarato, who ran for a 70-yard touchdown in the first quarter, threw for a score and rushed for another down the stretch to cement the R-MC win.
Although the score looked close for awhile, the Jackets dominated throughout game, holding a 423-143 advantage in total yards and 24-8 margin in first downs. Naccarato was in the middle of the action all day, completing 11-of-16 through the air for 102 yards and a score while rushing for 73 yards and two TDs. The key cog in the Jacket running attack, which piled up 321 yards, was RB Will McGhee, who ran for 183 yards on 25 carries. The suffocating defense was sparked by DT Ian Candelaria with seven tackles and one of three Yellow Jacket sacks on the day.
According to Weaver, the key to stopping the balanced Randolph-Macon offense is containing Naccarato and the running game. The 6-2 sophomore started every game under center as freshman, ranked second in the ODAC in pass efficiency (159.7) and completed 67 percent of his passes. McGhee started his career as a running back, gaining 258 yards as a freshman, before moving to cornerback last year and making 32 tackles. Senior RB Drake Sanders is also a threat, as he gained 711 yards and scored six touchdowns to earn Third Team All-ODAC honors last year.
"They have a bunch of people back from a very good team last year," said Weaver. "The things that stick out when you watch them on film is how hard they play and how disciplined they are. They are very well coached and execute everything they do very well. They have a huge offensive line and two backs who are potential home run hitters. The quarterback started all 10 games as a freshman and can throw or run.
"I like how they set up their play-action with the run," said Weaver. "Some teams talk about running the football, but Randolph-Macon does and you have to be ready to stop it."
On the defensive side, safety Andrew Leonard has a team-best 17 tackles this year through two games after tying for the team lead with three interceptions last year and finishing second with 49 tackles. He is joined in the secondary by senior safety David Fetter, who started 18 games prior to this year and has 12 tackles and one interception in 2012. The anchor of the defensive line is Candelaria with 14 tackles and the one sack.
"Defensively, they give you a lot to prepare for," said Weaver. "They show three- and four-down fronts and some blitz, so it will be a challenge being ready for everything they can do."
Weaver said Randolph-Macon is the perfect example of the coaching cliché that a team's biggest improvement occurs between game one and game two. He also said if the Bison are to make that same jump, the execution will have to be sharp in all three phases of the game and that his team will need to ready to play in a tough road environment.
"There were three real areas we focused on heading into this game," said Weaver. "We need to see better execution offensively, more attention to detail, assignments and discipline on defense and better effort and execution in covering kicks.
"This week is another huge challenge for us, especially because they feed off their crowd and this will be a tough place to play," said Weaver. "But we're excited to show that can play better than we did versus Centre and we have a really good opponent to prove that against."