It’s the pedigree against the pups Friday when No. 14 Bluefield travels to Coal City to take on No. 2 Independence in a Class AA semifinal game.
The game will kick off at the Black Friday Special time of 1:30 p.m. at George D. Covey Field.
Bluefield (8-2) will be playing in its fifth straight semifinal game, while Independence (10-0) will be playing in its first semifinal since 1986 and its first in the 16-team bracket era which began in 1991.
Since that time Bluefield has been to 12 state championship games, winning five titles – the last coming in 2017 – and they have gone a combined 57-19 in that time. No other program has that many in that period, including Class AAA Martinsburg, which has had illustrious numbers like eight state titles since 2010 and is in position to make it nine.
But Bluefield has had more staying power over the years than any program in the state.
It is that history that Independence will go up against on Black Friday.
“I’m sure it’s an advantage for them,” Independence coach John H. Lilly said. “Their kids have been there, and their coaches have been there, and they have a routine and they’re used to it and it works for them. Our kids, they respect it, but our kids have been pretty successful in a lot of sports, too.”
Bluefield coach Fred Simon agreed that the past doesn’t mean anything right now.
“We are proud of the things we have accomplished, and it never gets old when you get a chance to represent your school, but it’s a different year," Simon said. "They have a great program. John is a great coach, he’s always done a great job, they have a good staff, and they have good kids.”
Lilly said he tried to get the point about history across to his players as they broke after practice Thanksgiving morning.
“It’s like I told the kids today,” Lilly said. “We aren’t playing the Bluefield Beavers in 2015, we’re not playing the Bluefield Beavers in 2000, we’re playing tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what team is the best team, it’s whatever is the best team tomorrow, that’s the one that counts."
Independence senior Atticus Goodson, who has rushed for 1,507 yards and 26 touchdowns this season and is 108 yards from 5,000 for his career, agreed with his coach.
History, he believes is, well, in the past.
“We’re good at football and they're good at football,” he said. “Yeah, a little bit of experience will help you and take you a long way. But at the end of the day, we just have to play.”
When it comes down to it, between the lines is where it will all play out.
Bluefield seems to be peaking at the right time, after a slow start that was not helped by Covid. The Beavers lost to Princeton on Sept. 3 and then had a long layoff before facing rival Graham on Oct. 8, losing 31-6.
The Beavers did not win their first game until the next week.
“We went into that game with no practice, we’d been off, quarantined, and that’s probably not the best way to go into a game against a team like Graham (which is undefeated and still alive in the Virginia playoffs). At one point you're wondering if you are going to get enough games in to even qualify for the postseason. I felt like if we could get there, anything can happen.”
Independence, too, had a long layoff that cost it a game against Poca, which is still alive and faces Fairmont Senior Friday.
Now the Beavers are rolling, and will attempt, for the first time in their playoff history, to go for the postseason road sweep. Rated No. 14, they have battled Point Pleasant and North Marion away from Mitchell Stadium. This trip will be a little shorter.
Bluefield is averaging 36.1 points per game, 214.1 yards rushing and 170.0 yards passing per game.
Amir Hairston leads the rushing attack with 970 yards on the ground, and he has 11 touchdowns. Quarterback Ryker Brown has 368 yards rushing and Jamel Floyd 255.
Brown, who transferred to Bluefield from James Monroe as a freshman and had to wait his turn to play quarterback but has filled several roles over the years, has thrown for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
He has a 72 percent completion percentage.
Jacorian Green, the Class AA 200-meter champion, is the top receiver with 31 receptions for 584 yards and seven touchdowns. Jaeon Flack has 26 receptions for 313 yards and four touchdowns and Chance Johnson 19 for 208 and three touchdowns.
Speed is the Beavers' thing. And they have lots of it.
“They have great speed,” Lilly said. “They have the fastest kid in the state. He’s got the championship to prove it. We haven’t faced a team like that. That’s the one thing you can’t simulate in practice is that speed. We have good speed, but we don’t have 20 guys with that speed.”
There is a tendency to want to keep that speed off the field and pound the ball. Lilly said it’s fool’s gold.
“That’s a trap,” Lilly said. “Everybody that plays them tries to do that and they are used to people trying to do that. Your 10-0 for a reason, you’re in the semifinals for a reason so we’re going to do what we do. And I’m sure they will do what they do. And I think it’s going to be a good game. We’ve got some toys and we’re going to play with them. You know, in two years we may not have those toys.”
In addition to Goodson, a Kennedy Award candidate, the Patriots have dual threat Judah Price, who has 802 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns and eight catches for 251 yards and four touchdowns and he has two punt returns for a touchdown.
Quarterback Logan Phalin has 495 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, Tyler Linskwiler has 422 and five touchdowns and Trey Bowers, mainly a receiver but the backup quarterback as well, has 213 and four rushing touchdowns.
Phalin has passed for 1,198 yards and 20 touchdowns and in one year as a starter has only thrown two interceptions, a 10-1 touchdown-interception ratio.
Cyrus Goodson has 20 receptions, 487 yards and seven touchdowns and Bowers 20 receptions for 478 yards and seven touchdowns.
The winner will play the Poca-Fairmont Senior winner next Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Class AA state championship game at Wheeling Island Stadium.