In its regular-season opener a year ago at home against Strong Rock Christian, not much went right for Bethlehem Christian Academy, as the Knights managed only 88 yards of offense and were defeated overwhelmingly 49-0.
But with a much more experienced team that is entering its second year under head coach Bruce Lane and returns several starters on both sides of the ball, BCA feels much better about its chances as it gets set to visit the Patriots in Locust Grove Friday, Aug. 20, to kick off the 2021 season.
Lane saw some positive results, as well as some areas in need of improvement, during the Knights’ preseason scrimmage against Providence Christian on Aug. 13. BCA trailed 24-15 at the half before both teams’ backup units played the third quarter and the junior-varsity squads largely took over in the fourth, with the Storm pulling away for a 38-22 victory at Victor Lord Park.
“Our kids have worked extremely hard,” Lane said. “We were encouraged by our performance Friday and are looking forward to seeing improvement in those areas that we struggled. The mistakes we made were definitely correctable.”
By far the worst part of Friday’s scrimmage for BCA, though, came late in the first half when senior linebacker/defensive end Trevor Slaick suffered a serious leg injury while joining in on a stop and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. It was a gut punch, Lane said, for the Knights, who will be without Slaick on the field as he spends the next several months rehabbing in hopes of being ready for BCA’s baseball season in the spring.
“When you have a close-knit group like this one and one of your teammates gets injured, it has an effect on you,” Lane said. “I thought the kids bounced back really well in the second half. That’s a tough blow losing Trevor because he’s a great leader for us. Right now, we’re praying for him to recover and progress to where he can have as normal a senior year as possible. He’s been a real utility guy for us on both sides of the ball and a mainstay in our special teams, so that means some guys will have to step up in that regard, and we’ll just have to take it one day at a time.
“I think where it truly hurts us is his leadership ability. Obviously his athleticism is a big loss, but he’s the kind of guy who loves his teammates and wants to see them succeed. We’ve really got to have guys step up right now, but he’ll still be around the team and give us everything he has and I think our kids will respond well to that.”
As for last week’s scrimmage itself, the action went back and forth throughout the first half, with both teams exchanging touchdowns quickly to open the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Matthew Miller, who scored all three of Providence’s first-half touchdowns, caught a tipped screen pass from Connor Jones out on the edge and raced 65 yards untouched to help give the Storm an early 8-0 advantage. BCA responded, though, as promising sophomore Joshua Adams ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run to make it 8-7 with 10:41 left in the opening quarter.
The Knights had a chance to take the lead early in the second quarter after junior Ben Reed, the team’s new starting quarterback, found senior standout receiver Ty Whiting on a big pass play down to the Storm 8-yard line. But a couple of plays later, Reed had a pass tipped and intercepted, and that set the stage for an 89-yard touchdown drive by Providence, which was capped when Jones found Miller again from 23 yards out on a third down-and-long play to make it 16-7 with 4:38 left in the half.
The teams needed just a little over a minute to exchange touchdowns again. Whiting caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Reed after the Knights quickly moved into the Providence red zone with the help of a pair of personal-foul penalties and a defensive pass interference call. Reed then connected with Jay Fulford on a two-point conversion to make it 16-15 with 3:49 to go in the half.
But the Storm came right back. After a pass interference against the Knights moved the ball to midfield, Miller bolted free again for a 50-yard touchdown run, and Providence converted another two-point conversion to go up 24-15. Miller put an exclamation mark on his impressive first half with an interception on BCA’s final possession of the half. The backup units each scored a touchdown in the third quarter before Providence came away with one more in the final period.
“We saw some good things Friday, but one of the things that was a little disappointing was giving up the big play,” Lane said. “That first play that went for the touchdown, we got hung up inside and took poor angles to the ball. Those are things that we have to and we will get better at. Offensively, there were too many penalties. Hopefully our guys will continue to mature in the roles and our decision-making will be better on plays. Just don’t try to do too much.
“I don’t think there were a lot of physical errors, just a lot of mental errors — things we have to make sure we don’t have if we want to be successful Friday night.”
BCA now turns its attention to Friday night’s opener when it’ll face a Strong Rock team that is coming off a 4-6 season but lost a significant amount of its offensive production to graduation.
Senior quarterback Brady Sanders does return to lead the Patriots’ run-heavy offense with senior Aaron Bright back as the team’s leading returning rusher and likely to take on the bulk of the carries following the graduation of 1,000-yard rusher Jackson Wilkerson.
Senior linebacker Will Turner is among the top returning defensive players for Strong Rock.
“We haven’t heard a lot about them and are going into the first game leaning on using a lot of intuition,” Lane said. “We’ve got to prepare for a little bit of everything, and that’s often part of playing the first game. They’ve got the same coach, so we feel like they’ll be really similar and don’t anticipate any major changes.
“We feel like we’re in a much better position this year to play really well against them, but we’ve got to continue to get a little bit better every day.”
Kickoff Friday is set for 7:30 p.m.