The numbers are staggering.
• The Georgetown Tigers enter the 2012 season as the fourth-ranked NAIA team in America.
• The Tigers have won 17 straight regular season games.
• Georgetown has won three national championships, reached the finals two other times, and have claimed the last two Mid-South Conference titles.
• Bill Cronin has posted a 145-35 record in 15 seasons at the school.
All those statistics are impressive, but none of that matters when the Tigers open their season today against Bluefield College in an MSC contest at Mitchell Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.
“Bluefield has got a game up on us, they have already been under the fire and they know how they are going to react to it and it makes it easier for the coaches to control the game because they know what is risky and what is not for them,” Cronin said. “We are just kind of feeling our way through this.
“I think every year it is a new experience, a new bunch of kids and personalities and you just never know how people are going to react to different situations.”
Bluefield was tied with the University of Pikeville in its first game since 1941 at the break in front of a crowd of 4,017 a week ago. They were out-gained 401-351, but did have more first downs (20-19) and plays than the Bears (78-61).
However, the Rams committed three turnovers, and the Bears returned an interception and punt for touchdowns to cost the disappointed Rams, which allowed three unanswered scores to open the second half.
“The mistakes that we made are fixable. It brought out the frustrations because we really thought we could have won that game,” Gravier said. “There were some positives, the guys played hard, we never quit and we moved the ball on offense and we found some guys that can make some plays offensively ... .
“Coaches do this all the time, but if we could take away three or four plays from that game we could have won it.”
Cronin, who was in Bluefield last Saturday to watch the Rams fall 42-28 to Pikeville, agrees with that assessment, and understands the task that awaits his club.
“Sometimes you assume that they will (be excited) because it is the first game, but you have got to get your players up every week,” said Cronin, whose Tigers were 12-1 last season, losing in the national semifinals. “It is always a new challenge because there are a lot of different personalities and a lot of different ways of looking at it.
“That is all part of the challenge week-to-week is getting everybody motivated to play their best.”
Georgetown will be led by sophomore quarterback Neal Pawsat, who threw for 2,406 yards, 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions last season. His leading rusher, Logan Osborne (481 yards) and receiver, Chris Gohman (36-705, 6 TD), also return.
Defensively, NAIA All-American Zach Goebel is gone, but Brock Messina had 59 tackles, including 13 sacks, 11 1/2 stops for loss, six pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
“(Neal) was thrown into the fire pretty early last year and did an outstanding job,” Cronin said. “He has got a high ceiling and has a long way to go, but he has a tendency to make good decisions which is a great attribute for any quarterback ...
“(Zach) was a guy that kind inspired everybody and gave us that shot of energy when we needed it so we are looking for somebody to fill that role for us.”
As was the case with Pikeville, Bluefield goes in blind against the Tigers, having no film to look at since this is Georgetown’s first game. Gravier does have the basics, and was able to find a few highlights on YouTube.
“They are disciplined, play hard, they don’t make mistakes, they are never going to beat themselves, and that is a sign for an established program,” said Gravier, who added that the Tigers are built more on speed than size. “Defensively, they are a 3-4 team and they pressure you on every play ... .”
Bluefield will counter with the two-headed tailback duo of Josh Wells (23-77) and Marion Harris (11-68), who combined for 145 yards against the Bears behind a young offensive line led by 6-foot-7, 320-pound Kevin Johnson and 6-2, 300-pound Hayne Darby.
“I thought they both ran well, especially in the first half, but obviously once you get behind by three touchdowns, you have to go to something else,” Gravier said. “I probably should have run early on a little bit more than I did, but they both had about 70 or 80 yards in the first half so both were on pace to get 100 yards apiece which is what you would like to have.”
Greg Hampton will get his second start at quarterback, having thrown for 210 yards and two touchdowns last week. There were also three interceptions, two of which were tipped, and one of those was returned for a score. Rodrell Smith (7-78) and Michael Nesmith (6-65) were the leading receivers for the Rams.
“He did some good things, two of the three interceptions were tipped and one of those he was drilled, but he can’t help that,” Gravier said. “He was steady, but he has a lot of improve on.”
Gravier felt the defense got tired in the second half, largely because the freshman-dominated Rams went 3-and-out on their first three possessions after the break, and the Bears took advantage.
“The offense never stayed out on the field, and those guys were pretty tired at the beginning of the fourth quarter,” Gravier said. “If you think about it, those guys played 12 more minutes than they have ever played before.”
Anthony Rivers was the defensive MVP for the Rams, collecting one of two interceptions for Bluefield. Anthony Herring was another defender who was in on numerous plays on defense.
“What stood out about Anthony (Rivers) is how much he improved from one week to the next,” Gravier said. “He was told he would have to play better and he did.”
The task ahead for Bluefield is much like it is for any game.
“We have got to stay on the field as an offense and we have to be more efficient,” Gravier said. “We can’t have penalties that pin us back and we can’t have turnovers.”
Especially against the fourth-ranked Tigers. Of course, all those past achievements are now history. This is now.
“We have mentioned what they did last year, but to us it doesn’t mean anything,” Gravier said. “This is our second game and this will only be their first so that could be an advantage to us. Those rankings are often just the same as how the season ended last year.”
— Contact Brian Woodson
The numbers are staggering.
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