By BRIAN WOODSON
Homecoming at Bluefield College has rarely revolved around a football game, at least since the program was disbanded way back in 1941.
Football is back, and so is the combination of football and homecoming, as the Rams (0-8) host Lindsey Wilson (2-6) today in a Mid-South Conference game at Mitchell Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.
Wins have proven to be elusive for the Rams, but Bluefield head coach Mike Gravier agreed that homecoming with a large influx of alumni on hand would be an ideal opportunity get their first win since 17 days before onset of World War II.
Many of those alumni returning have helped contribute financially to the program and Gravier knows it is important to reward them for their generosity.
“It would be a great time to get that first victory,” Gravier said. “A lot of alumni will be coming back to the college this weekend. This is a good chance to show them the program is going in the right direction.
“Many of them are contributing for the program and we want that to continue.”
Bluefield (0-8) last played two weeks ago, dropping a 66-10 decision after making a two-day trip to Jackson, Miss., to face Belhaven. The Rams were actually tied at 7-7 late in the opening quarter, but the Blazers scored the next 59 points and finished with 555 yards on offense, compared to 195 for the Rams.
“It was a typical game for us,” Gravier said. “We started out like gangbusters, but I’m not sure what happened after that. We had a bad snap on a punt where our snapper is out...
“I don’t know if it is a mental thing, I don’t know what it is, I am still trying to figure it out.”
Up next is Lindsey Wilson, which started the season with a 2-1 record, but has dropped its last five, while allowing 40 points a game, including a 35-7 loss last week to Belhaven. The Blue Raiders turned it over four times, and had two interceptions returned for touchdowns against the Blazers.
“They are struggling like us, but turnovers have really hurt them,” Gravier said. “Against Belhaven they had two turnovers that became touchdowns. They are like us in that once something goes wrong like that it seems to snowball on you.”
Bluefield has allowed 390 points (48.8 ppg) in eight games, and have scored 132 (16.5). The Blue Raiders have tallied 27.0 points, and surrendered 35.8 points a game.
Lindsey Wilson, in just its third season with a program, has regressed somewhat, having finished 7-3 last year.
The Blue Raiders have allowed as many as 61 points, and scored 53 in a win over Pikeville. Quarterback Branden Cresap has thrown for 1,935 yards and 12 touchdowns, but also has 13 interceptions. Matt Powers (34-512, 4 td) is the leading receiver, while Rome Cotton has run for 394 yards and two scores.
Matt Corbett is 6-for-9 on field goals, while Eric Shaw has 44 tackles and Corey Lillard has nine tackles for loss and two sacks for Lindsey Wilson, which is located in Columbia, Ky.
Gravier expects the Raiders’ large defensive line to try and control the line of scrimmage, while the offense is balanced, with a tendency to throw screen passes and the possibility of trick plays.
Bluefield will turn to freshman quarterback Cory Mabry for his second collegiate start. Mabry was 14-of-30 for 103 yards against the Blazers, including one interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Mabry brother, Brett, was the quarterback for Fort Chiswell against Graham on Friday night.
“Cory did some good things and some bad things. He had one turnover, an interception where he threw the ball late, but you expect that from a freshman,” Gravier said. “That was returned for a pick-6 so that was bad, and he had some dropped balls that stalled some drive. He was fairly consistent, that was about what I expected from him.”
Mabry will be joined in the backfield today by Marion Harris (333 yards, 3 td), who is tops in the nation with 725 yards in kick returns and 17th in all-purpose yards with 1,105. Rodrell Smith is 40th in the nation with 34 receptions for 349 yards and four touchdowns.
Tarrell Starckey is Bluefield’s leader on defense with 84 tackles, including nine for loss, and his 10.5 tackles per game is ranked 11th in NAIA. Anthony Herring is second with 63 tackles, while Wesley Washington has six tackles for loss and Anthony Rivers has three interceptions.
Mason Maples is 35th in NAIA in punt average at 38.0.
Gravier likes Bluefield’s chances against the Raiders, but wants to see continued improvement and consistency from the Rams.
“We can’t have turnovers this week. I think physically we can match up with them, but we are looking for consistency right now,” Gravier said. “It isn’t about schemes, it is about us. It is about what we do, not what they do.”
Bluefield is coming off its bye week, in which the Rams worked three days on specific situations and then took a little time — players and coaches — away from the football field.
They’re back, with three games left on the slate, including next week at Cumberland, Tenn., followed by the season finale at Mitchell Stadium with Campbellsville on Nov. 10.
“It was good to have a break, and we told them now it is a three-game season,” Gravier said. “It is kind of like starting over, now we want to finish out strong.”
—Contact Brian Woodson