By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Home games will be precious commodities this season for the Bluefield Rams, with just four on the schedule at Mitchell Stadium in 2013.
This first of those is today as the Rams (0-2) host Mid-South Conference foe Kentucky Christian (1-2). Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.
No one is happier to finally play a home game than Bluefield College first year head coach Ordell Walker, who has yet to see a game of any kind in his home facility.
“Definitely,” Walker said. “Being at home in front of your own crowd, we have got a great stadium to play in and hopefully our guys are more comfortable with the familiar atmosphere.”
Tonight will be Youth Day. All area football players, grades 12 and under, will be admitted free if wearing their team jerseys. The cost for adults is $7. All fans are also encouraged to wear white in an attempt to ‘white-out’ the opponent.
Bluefield, which is still looking for its first win since 1941, were 0-11 last year, including an 0-6 mark at Mitchell Stadium. They have started this year with a pair losses, falling 57-28 at Point and 56-13 at Pikeville.
That was followed by the Rams’ lone bye week of the season, which came at a good time for Bluefield before playing nine weeks in a row, including the next two on the road.
“Hopefully get healthy, we were banged up coming out of the (Pikeville) game so get healthy,” Walker said. “We got a couple of guys back and kind of refined some things offensively and defensively which is really important to us.
“We are making so many mistakes on both sides of the ball so it gave us a really good to reflect and maybe narrow down our package a little more so we can just play fast and free, not a lot of thinking.”
What awaits the Rams is Kentucky Christian, which sandwiched a 24-10 win over Bethel between a pair of losses to defending NAIA champion Marian, Ind. (23-0) and Reinhardt, Ga. (19-14).
The Knights are coached by Gene Peterson, who replaced former NFL receiver Mike Furrey who left to become wide receivers coach at Marshall. Other members of Peterson’s staff includes Al Clark, who was Virginia Tech’s quarterback in 1997-98, Johnnie Morant, who played at Syracuse and four years in the NFL, and Chris Schultz, who coached the defensive line and outside linebackers last year at Bluefield.
“They are pretty good, they are a little banged up, this past week they didn’t have their starting quarterback and I am not sure if he will play or not,” Walker said. “They have a tremendous defense, those guys fly around to the ball, very aggressive, hit hard, they play fast so they are going to be in every game.
“Even Marian had a tough time moving the ball versus those guys and didn’t really do much consistently offensively. We really have our work cut out for us offensively.”
They have been led on offensive by Jamuel Jones, who has run for 203 yards and two scores, while Graham Johnston and Shaun Jones are two of three quarterbacks for the Knights. Marcus Hicks has 15 receptions.
Bluefield will counter with a defense that will be missing cornerback Frank Brooks, who has two interceptions, but is out with an injury. Ernest Moore paces the Rams with 14 tackles.
“First, with defense, huge plays, we have to limit those explosive plays,” Walker said. “Those big runs, those big passes, make teams have to drive, we did a better job versus Pikeville, but it certainly was not enough.
“Tackling and running to the ball is really where that starts.”
Defensively, the Knights have been led by Jemichael Williams with 31 tackles, while James Hart has five tackles for loss and a 1 1/2 sacks. Darrell Givens has picked off a pair of passes.
Bluefield’s leading rusher is currently backup quarterback Armani Ford (111), but both Marion Harris and Adrian Pope are back after missing a game apiece. Josh Erby will start at quarterback, but Ford and Ashten Dixon will also see the field. Richard Johnson has been the top playmaker for the Rams, catching six passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
“Offensively, we cannot continue to shoot ourselves in the foot with the mental mistakes,” said Walker, whose Rams will also get the services of receiver David Gianesin and linebacker Harry Hollins, both of whom have finally been approved by the NAIA clearinghouse. “It is one thing for people to beat you physically, it is another thing when you are going to the wrong man or turning the wrong way or things like that, you don’t give yourself a chance.
“Each week that has been getting better and better, that just has to translate over to the field.”
What Bluefield must to do get off to a faster start. The Rams trailed Point 35-14 at the break, and Pikeville 28-0 at halftime in both defeats.
“That has been an Achilles heel for us these first two weeks is not starting fast and really offensively making a lot of early mistakes,” Walker said. “I think what we are seeing when we are watching film there are glimpses of ability, glimpses of sustainability as far as sustaining drives, but right now we can’t overcome a five-yard penalty or a minus-4 yard play...
“Defensively, we just haven’t been tackling really well and getting enough hats to the ball.”
Perhaps the busiest member of the Rams so far has been Daniel Griffin, the punter, who has averaged 31.3 yards on 16 kicks. Keeping him off the field would also help the cause.
“Defensively hopefully we can keep the game close, that is really our game,” Walker said. “If it is close in the fourth quarter we like our ability to finish, but we just haven’t been in that spot yet...
“If we can do that, stay in the ball game defensively and cover punts and cover kickoffs, those are going to be key things for us to have success offensively and defensively.”
Walker has been pleased with the attitude shown by the Rams in continuing to work hard to get that first win in the record books.
“I have been around teams that lose early game pretty bad, especially if you haven’t had any success in the past, guys see the road as too tough and guys start to fall away and not stay engaged and not having a sense of urgency you need to get it turned around, but that hasn’t been our attitude.” Walker said. “Our guys have continued to stay positive, have continued to show up and continued to have a desire to get better.
“I love our urgency to continue to get better, but they are responding to coaching. That is what you want every day, will you respond and fight to get better.”
An alumni tailgate party will begin in the Mitchell Stadium parking lot at 4:30 p.m. Bluefield’s new mascot, Victor E. Ram, will also make its debut tonight.
—Contact Brian Woodson