By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
No one wants to be the first one.
Bluefield head football coach Mike Gravier knows that no team wants to be the squad to lose to the Rams, who are 0-7 and are still looking for their first win since they last played football in 1941.
“I think we are at the point of the season where we are going to get everybody’s best because nobody wants to be that first team to lose to us,” Gravier said. “It is almost like you are playing an undefeated team.
“You want to give your best and try to knock them off, and now you have got a winless team and nobody wants to be that first victory.”
Belhaven will try to push Bluefield to 0-8 when the Rams take on the Blazers (2-5, 1-2) today in a Mid-South Conference road game in Jackson, Miss. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. EST.
Bluefield (0-7, 0-2) actually left on Thursday evening for an 800-mile drive. The Rams stopped in Chattanooga to break up the trip, and then continued on Friday. There will be no driving break after the game.
“We are going to break it up into two days on the way,” Gravier said. “Unfortunately one on the way back.”
It would be nice to come home happy. Belhaven is 2-5 on the season, having scored 70 points against Campbellsville and 52 at Virginia-Wise, but then lost at home last week 13-10 to Kentucky Christian.
The Joseph Thrashed-coached Blazers includes 6-foot-10, 325-pound offensive tackle Matt Hall, who started 11 games last season for Mississippi in the SEC, along with defensive back Isiah Wiley, who started the last six games last year for the USC Trojans.
No wonder Gravier is a little surprised by their record, which included three losses to start the season.
“Watching UVa-Wise I was like ‘Wow, these guys are really a lot better than I thought they would be’ or they were a lot better than they traditionally are, but I don’t know, because they do have some good players,” Gravier said. “They are kind of like us, they are really up and down.
“Kentucky Christian has got some good defensive players, don’t get me wrong, but to score 52 against Wise and not many against them, I am sure they are scratching their heads too.”
Bluefield can only hope the Blazers don’t find the answers today. The Rams lost 35-21 last Saturday to UVa-Wise, but were within 28-21 and driving before a lost fumble stifled that momentum.
The Cavaliers added a late touchdown to make the margin 14.
“Just the fact that we did fight back, the kids fought hard, even to the end when they scored their last touchdown, it took them four tries to get in from the 1 or 2 yard line,” Gravier said. “They stood firm as long as they could and the kid just found a crease.”
“At that point a lot of teams would have just gone through the motions and folded and let them score.”
Gravier expects the Blazers to run the football, led by Kadero Edley (496 yards, 3 td), oftentimes behind Hall. Alex Williams (782, 4 td) and Raymond Cotton (361, 1 td) have both seen action at quarterback. Their favorite targets have been Kylan Pollard (22-413, 3 td) and Bobby Thigpen (20-252).
Tarrell Starckey leads Bluefield with 66 tackles and eight stops for negative yards. Zachariah Hudler paces the Rams against UVa-Wise with 7 1/2 tackles.
“We know what they are going to do...,” Gravier said. “Watching the Wise game it was inside zone, inside zone all day long... that is what they want to do. Their little running back is pretty good, you get him in the open field he is going to be tough to catch.”
Gravier isn’t all that concerned with the massive bulk of Hall. Size isn’t always the best attribute for a lineman.
“The big thing is you can get underneath him easier...,” said Gravier, who coached teams in the past with a linemen who were 6-11 and 6-10. “Those guys still had issues, it is a little bit harder for those bigger tall guys to get low.
“When he is playing in the SEC he is blocking guys that are 6-6 or 6-7 so the disparity is not as much, but when you are blocking a 5-foot-11 guy, that is a little bit tougher.”
Bluefield continues to be led on the ground by Marion Harris (399, 2 td) and Josh Wells (338, 1 td). Rodrell Smith (31-210, 4 td) is the top receiver, while the Rams’ will give Cory Mabry his first start of the season, replacing Greg Hampton at quarterback.
Gravier brought in Mabry in the second half against UVa-Wise and the freshman from Fort Chiswell gave the Rams a spark, completing 8-of-12 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 20 yards.
“Every time he has gone in he has added a spark, he adds a little bit more athleticism than Greg did,” Gravier said. “The big thing Greg had over him was really experience, that is really why we stuck with him as long as we did. When you are 0-7 it is time to try something new.”
Mabry, who was playing for the Pioneers in Fort Chiswell at this time last season, isn’t expected to be bothered by starting at the college level.
“Cory is a kind of a loosey-goosey kind of kid, and I don’t know how nervous he actually gets because he is that way,” Gravier said. “He has got a little swagger to him, which I kind of like.”
What Gravier really wants to see is a good effort in all three phases of the game, from the start to finish.
“It is the same thing every week, we just need to be consistent, that is the big thing,” Gravier said. “We haven’t had four quarters of consistency yet this year and we have just got to be able to put that together.”
Bluefield will take next week off before hosting Lindsey Wilson for homecoming on Oct. 27. Gravier and the Rams could use a little break.
“This is a good time to have an open date because it is obviously late in the season so we are going to give them Monday and Friday off next week and just hit real hard Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” Gravier said. “We will give them some time away from us.
“That may be as healthy for all of us just not to have to see each other’s faces for a couple of days.”
Radio coverage will be provided by WHIS 1440 AM starting at 2 p.m.
—Contact Brian Woodson