By Bob Redd
For The Register-Herald
The Bluefield Beavers have taken their first step on what players and coaches hope is another trip to Wheeling and the school’s first football championship since 2009.
Last week in the opening round of the West Virginia Class AA playoffs, the No. 3 Beavers defeated the No. 14 Ravenswood Red Devils 31-14 at Mitchell Stadium and advanced to play No. 11 Nicholas County, 35-14 winners over No. 6 Wyoming East.
Against Ravenswood the Beavers got 172 yards and two touchdowns from D.J. Stewart. Those yards gave Stewart 1,059 for the season. Quarterback R.J. Bourne completed 13-of-21 passes against the Red Devils for 201 yards and two scores. For the season Bourne has completed 63 percent of his passes on 84-of-133 for 1,492 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Bourne’s favorite target is D.J. Edwards who has caught 47 passes for 867 yards and rushed for another 219, accounting for 1,086 yards.
Beavers head coach Fred Simon looked back at the first round game.
“All-in-all we played hard and Ravenswood is not a bad football team,” Simon said. “When you win by 17 points in the playoffs — I think most coaches would be pleased with a 17-point win. I thought we did fine. I’m pleased with the win. There are still some things we need to work on. But we’re in it another week, so let’s go.”
One of the things Simon believes the Beavers must work on is their pass defense, which caused problems last week. Due to injury, starting safety Edwards was moved to linebacker to replace Brennan Wheeler and there were some other changes in the secondary.
“I don’t know if our players had enough reps, so in defense of them, we needed a few more reps,” Simon said. “Hopefully we can correct that and if we see that again we should be able to adjust to it when we see it, or if somebody gives it to us again.”
In Nicholas County, the Beavers will be facing a team that had an 8-2 regular season, losing only to Greenbrier West and Oak Hill. Common opponents between Bluefield and the Grizzlies were River View, who the Grizzlies beat 47-0 and Bluefield topped 50-6; and Oak Hill who beat Nicholas County 47-17. Bluefield beat Oak Hill 51-15.
The Grizzlies under coach Gene Morris have a balanced offensive attack. Leading ball carrier Wil Mayes has run for 1,081 yards while quarterback Tyler Sagraves has passed for more than 1,200. In first round playoff action against Wyoming East, Mayes ran for 146 and scored three touchdowns, while Sagraves completed 10-of-14 passes for 70 yards.
Defensively the Grizzlies are a bear of a team, giving up more than two touchdowns in a game only once during the season, that against Oak Hill. The Grizzlies’ defensive unit pitched four shutouts during the regular season and allowed one touchdown in four other games. Simon knows Bluefield has its work cut out for them.
“They run a five man front and they’ve got nice size everywhere, you’re talking about 260, 270 pounders that are hard to move and are quick,” Simon noted. “Their linebackers are quick and aggressive. They have a good defense. We’re going to have to really come off the ball and stay with our men, stay with our assignments in order to move the ball on them.”
Asked if he were shocked when the lower ranked Grizzlies beat higher seed Wyoming East last week, Simon said, “I thought they were a good football team and knew anything could happen. I knew they had a chance of winning, it wasn’t a surprise.”
Simon continued by saying as teams get deeper in the playoffs, there are fewer and fewer surprises and the Beavers must be focused when they take to the field.
“I think their kids play hard and the are well-coached,” Simon commented. “Once you get in the playoffs and keep moving up, to me each week the teams become a little better because they’ve won the week before. I think it’s going to be a tough game.”
The Beavers and Grizzlies have met twice on the gridiron with Bluefield winning both games, 48-29 in 1994 and 21-14 in 1995.
Kickoff from Mitchell Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. The winner advances to the semifinals next week against the winner of the Bridgeport-Fairmont Senior contest.
— Contact Bob Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org