WHEELING — Former NFL head coach O.A. “Bum” Phillips could probably relate to the James Monroe football program.

Phillips built his Houston Oilers into a contender in the late 1970s but could never get past divisional nemesis Pittsburgh. After losing to the Steelers in the ’78 AFC championship game, Phillips uttered the memorable statement about his team knocking and beating on the door for the last couple of years leading up to that game. “Next year, we’re going to kick the dang door off the hinges!”

James Monroe coach David Witt can relate.

“Yeah, that’s for sure,” Witt said. “The thing we try to instill in our kids is to go out and battle with your daggone heart and soul. If you win, then that’s great. If you lose, you hold your head up high and be proud of your effort. That’s what we did out here tonight.”

Over the past five seasons, the Mavericks have been knocking on the door, looking for that elusive first Class AA championship. On Friday night, James Monroe finally made it to the hallowed ground of the title game at Wheeling Island Stadium — only to face a familiar opponent in the Bluefield Beavers.

Bluefield has played the role of the Steelers over the past few seasons to the Mavericks’ role as the Oilers. Friday was no different as the Beavers downed James Monroe 20-12.

James Monroe had put together a 36-3 record over the past three seasons coming into the title game and a 52-9 record over that five-year span. But the Mavs never advanced past the semifinals until this season.

“People talk about getting over the hump to get here,” Witt related. “I told somebody the other night, ‘We won 36 games in the last three years, that doesn’t sound like a football program trying to get over the hump to me. It sounds like one that’s right there every year and consistently plays on a high level.’ That’s due to the hard work of our kids.”

Indeed, the Mavs came to play. The first half belonged to them.

James Monroe controlled the clock, holding the ball offensively for 20 minutes and 51 seconds, while taking a 12-7 lead to the locker room at halftime.

Taylor Robertson marched the Mavs 73 yards for a score to open the game. Robertson connected with Ernie Tincher for a 25-yard pass play for a 6-0 lead. The PAT kick bounced off the right upright.

Mavericks kicker Logan Ray would redeem himself, though, kicking field goals of 22 and 37 yards in the first half.

The second half, though, belonged to Bluefield as Will Cole tossed two TD passes and the Beavers’ defense stiffened, holding the Mavs without a score.

Another heartbreaker for the Monroe County faithful.

So, will the Mavericks kick the hinges off next year? Witt made no such bold predictions for his squad.

“We don’t ever make any predictions,” he said. “A new year will come along and a lot of stuff can happen between now and then. But we’ll come back in week one next year and we’ll be ready to battle whoever it is that we’re playing. We’ll go a game at a time and a week at a time like we always do.”

Still, don’t be surprised if James Monroe returns to Wheeling next year carrying a sledgehammer.

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