By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Same story, same result. A costly fumble late in the fourth quarter snuffed out a possible game-tying drive, and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise pulled out a 35-21 Mid-South Conference victory over Bluefield College on a chilly Saturday night at Mitchell Stadium.
Bluefield (0-7) narrowed a 28-7 deficit to seven with a pair of fourth quarter scores, but a fumble by Josh Wells at the UVa-Wise 38-yard line with 6:04 ended the hopes of the Rams winning its first game since 1941.
“It is the same old story,” Bluefield College head coach Mike Gravier said. “It is just so stinking frustrating and I told the guys, I don’t want the moral victory that we played well in the second half.
“They can’t accept that, it is still a loss.”
UVa-Wise (2-5), which entered having lost five games in a row, answered a Bluefield 7-0 lead with 28 straight points to take a 28-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers had other chances, but missed two field goals, lost a fumble at the 1 and had the ball at the 1 again when the time ran out at the half.
“We faced a bunch of adversity tonight, had every reason to fold the tent there at 1-5, but we kept battling,” UVa-Wise head coach Dewey Lusk said. “What a drive we had down there at the end to seal the deal and that is what you have got to do to win a football game and that is where I am really proud of them.”
Bluefield, which scored on the first drive of the game on a 51-yard run by Marion Harris, didn’t threaten again until late in the third quarter. The Rams were paced by Cory Mabry, who replaced Greg Hampton at quarterback after the break, and will remain the starter the rest of the season.
Mabry was 8-of-12 for 77 yards and a touchdown. Phillip Callier led the Rams with 7 catches for 56 yards.
“He is an athlete, he can obviously run when he gets out of the pocket, he just need to teach him not to look at the line so much and be so skittish,” Gravier said. “He is a very good athlete and has got a strong arm, mechanically he has got some things to work on, but we will do that in the offseason. We are 0-7, might as well give him a shot.”
A 21-yard run by Mabry helped spark the Rams on a 14-play, 62-yard drive that ended with Mabry connecting with Craig Walker on a 2-yard pass on a 4th-and-2.
Hampered all season by poor special teams play, the Rams finally got their own break, with Tanner Gilleland blocking a punt by Dean Hogan, with Harry Casseus picking up the ball and running 24 yards for the score to narrow the gap to 28-21 with 9:37 left on the clock.
“I told the guys we played hard in the second half and we fought, but at the end of the day it is the same stuff that has been costing us ball games,” Gravier said. “We throw an interception, we have a fumble here, a long return on a kick. Finally we got a break on our kick and I thought maybe that was going to be a sign. Apparently not.”
Bluefield was able to force another punt and begin progression upfield, with Mabry scrambling to the Wise 38 for a first down on 3rd-and-12. On the next play, Wells went off the left side, was hit and fumbled just before hitting the ground, with the ball recovered by Wise’s Vance Gibbs at the 45.
Prior to that play, the small Bluefield crowd was cheering loudly, which had the Rams’ sidelines eager for success.
“It definitely was (fun) and it is great to see,” Gravier said. “That little bit of success that we had, hopefully we can learn from that and know that if we do play hard and persevere and do the things we are supposed to do we can be successful, but you can’t put the ball on the ground.
“That completely changed the momentum and they hit a big play.”
UVa-Wise controlled the ball from there, with Cullen LaVoi gaining a yard on a 4th-and-1 with a quarterback sneak and Michael Steele would make a leaping grab of another pass for 13 yards for another first down.
Zach Cochran, who replaced an injured Connery Swift, followed with a 26 yard run to the 2. Cochran finished the game with 165 yards on 29 carries.
Bluefield held the Cavaliers on three downs, but Cochran scored from a yard out on fourth down for the final score of the game.
“Cochran ran hard, he really did,” Lusk said, “and our offensive line played a lot better.”
Harris led Bluefield with 89 yards on the ground, including 51 on the opening drive for the score. Wise then picked up the aggressiveness on defense, recording 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, two fumble recoveries and interception by Nick Smith that set up a touchdown. Walter Mickey had 2 1/2 sacks and 3 1/2 tackles for loss for the Cavs.
“I don’t think in the whole first half after that drive we blocked a running play right,” Gravier said. “The whole first half, they were doing some twists and we worked on it during the week and it just flew their minds and we didn’t handle it well...
“The defense stepped up, other than one where they had the drive after the half, our defense is playing well. We just cannot turn over the football.”
Wise tied the score at 7-7 late in the first quarter when LaVoi connected with Julian Stewart on a 4-yard touchdown pass. The Cavaliers added two more touchdowns in the second quarter, with Smith’s pick of a Hampton pass setting up Wise at the 15. Two plays later and Cochran scored from 13 yards out. LaVoi also hit Stewart from 11 yards out.
Wise had other chances. Terrance Younger caught a long pass and ran 61 yards, but fumbled at the 1 and it was recovered by Bluefield’s Morris Mitchell. LaVoi connected on a short pass to Trey Meade on the final play of the half, and ran 45 yards, but was stopped at the 1.
Stewart had 5 catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns, while Younger led the Cavaliers with 3 snags for 92 yards. LaVoi threw for 248 yards and two scores.
“We played well, we ran the football well, we made some good throws,” Lusk said. “It is a shame we had the fumble right there at the 1-yard line going into the end zone, and then right before the half I really felt like we had a couple of seconds left, and he said we have to go by the whistle.
“I am not complaining about that, but I felt like there was a couple of seconds left.”
UVa-Wise took a 28-7 lead on the opening drive of the second half, moving 67 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 5-yard score from Cochran. The Cavaliers out-gained the Rams 463-218.
Bluefield returns to the gridiron next Saturday with an 800-mile trip to Jackson, Miss. to play Belhaven (2-4), which defeated the Cavaliers 52-14 two weeks ago.
“They are good team, they are playing well, they blew out UVa-Wise and have some good people and offensively they are pretty darn good, they run the ball well,” Gravier said. “We have just got to regroup.
“That is all part of the learning process for these guys is they have got to learn to regroup. It is a new week.”
—Contact Brian Woodson