By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Mason Maples made what was probably the most memorable play for Bluefield College in the Rams’ homecoming game on Saturday afternoon at Mitchell Stadium.
Unfortunately, Maples is the punter.
Lindsey Wilson didn’t look like a team that had lost five in a row, scoring 30 first quarter points and rolling to a 47-13 Mid-South Conference victory over Bluefield, which is still looking for its first win since 1941.
“I just told our guys, it is like groundhog day, we wake up and we have moment in time where we just shoot ourselves in the foot and then we are okay,” Bluefield head coach Mike Gravier said. “We have got to get to a point where we have to quit doing that.”
The Blue Raiders (3-6, 1-3) are in their third season since their program was disbanded 75 years ago so Lindsey Wilson head coach Chris Oliver understands what the Rams are going through in their first year on the gridiron in 71 years, not to mention having to play in the nation’s toughest NAIA conference.
“It is a big step and it is a process that is not fast and you can’t microwave it,” Oliver said. “There is no way to speed it up. It is football, it takes 21-year-olds out there, not 18-year-olds and they will get it...
“This league is very difficult. It is the SEC of our division and it is a difficult league. There are no weeks off.”
Bluefield (0-9, 0-4) has often struggled this season coming out the halftime break, but there was no delay in this game.
“We didn’t wait in this game until we started screwing up,” Gravier said. “We just jumped out and did it.”
Lindsey Wilson scored three offensive touchdowns in the first quarter, added another six points on a blocked punt and also got a safety on a play that sidelined starting quarterback Cory Mabry with a bruised back.
“We had a good week of practice, we really challenged our guys,” said Oliver, whose Raiders were 5-6 in 2010 and 7-3 last season. “We have been going through a tough string and hadn’t been playing the way we felt we were capable of doing and the guys really answered the bell today.”
That was a welcome sign for Oliver, whose Blue Raiders outgained Bluefield 497-202 — 285 through the air and 212 on the ground — including 255-31 in the first quarter and 338-96 in the opening half, taking a 37-6 lead into the break.
Cory Davenport scored three touchdowns, two in the opening quarter, for the Blue Raiders, including a 19-yard run on the opening possession following a 31-yard pass by punter Mark Corbett on a fake punt, and also caught a 15-yard scoring pass from Braden Cresup. Davenport also had a 1-yard run for the Raiders’ final points in the half.
Cresup threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns, including a 3-yard toss to Matt Powers to end the first quarter assault, and a 37-yard completion to Shannon Coofer in the three.
Lindsey Wilson outscored the Rams just 17-13 over the final three quarters, but the 30-point deficit after the first period was too much to overcome.
“We helped them,” Gravier said. “I was telling the guys at halftime, they scored on every possession except the last one in the first quarter whether they had the ball or not. We handed them some points.”
That started on Bluefield’s first possession when punter Daniel Griffith bobbled a snap, held the ball too long and Michael Bailey appeared to literally take the ball out of his hands and run 15 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead just 4:07 into the game.
Griffith was replaced by Maples the rest of the day.
“He bobbled the snap and we didn’t block anybody so we decided to make the change right away,” Gravier said.
The lead grew to 21-0 on the Raiders’ next possession on the Cresup pass to Davenport. Lindsey Wilson had nine plays of at least 15 yards in the opening quarter, and 11 in the first half.
Players like Tarrell Starckey, the MSC’s leading tackler, Frank Brooks and Harry Casseus had good days on defense, but too often they were making plays missed by teammates.
“I see a lot of the first tackler not making the play and it taking the second or third guy,” Gravier said. “We just have to make sure that first guy is making the play because we are in position to make it.”
Mabry, making just his second start at quarterback, was left lying on the turf on the next possession when he tried to elude the pass rush near the goal line and the ball was knocked loose and went out of the end zone for the safety and the 23-0 lead.
He left under his own power with a bruised back, but didn’t return.
Another score followed off the free kick, with consecutive passes of 15, 17 and 26 yards leading to a short 3-yard pass for a score to Powers.
After Corbett missed a 34-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter, the Rams, now led by quarterback Greg Hampton, put together a 13-play, 80-yard drive, culminating with a 7-yard slant to Rodrell Smith for the touchdown with 7:37 on the clock, but Mikel Hawks missed his first extra point attempt of the season.
The Raiders added a final score before the half on the 1-yard run by Davenport.
Lindsey Wilson scored on its first possession of the third quarter on a Cresap pass over the middle to Cooper, who turned it into a 37-yard score. Corbett added a 24-yard field goal for the Raiders’ final points.
“We are happy with how they played and we need to still continue to be more consistent,” Oliver said, “but I feel like we played pretty well.”
Bluefield would score once more, thanks to a questionable play by Maples that turned into a first down and eventually led to a 2-yard scoring run by Marion Harris with 6:03 left.
“That is one of those plays where you say ‘no, no, no’ and then you start yelling ‘go, go, go’,” Gravier said.
A low snap on a punt on 4th-and-1 at the 22 eluded Maples and went into the end zone. The normal play with two Raiders closing in is to accept the safety.
“I kind of freaked out when I saw the people and honestly it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but everyone saw what was happening and they all started blocking real good and we pulled off a good play,” Maples said.
He grabbed the ball, broke a pair of attempted tackles in the end zone and several more as he ran downfield, got behind blockers and reached the 25 for the first down.
“It was not smart of me to do at all, I definitely should have gone out the back,” Maples said. “I was thinking if I could make the two guys miss in the end zone, it I got tackled it would have been a safety any way so then I saw I had a lot of blockers and they blocked everybody.”
Bluefield gained momentum from that play, finishing off an 18-play drive on the short run by Harris. Maples remains optimistic despite the winless season to this point.
“We just make little bitty mistakes, but we come together at the end of the game and they ended up scoring 10 points in the second half,” said Maples, a linebacker, who also became a punter when the coaches saw him kicking in practice. “We keep playing and that is the thing I like to see. As a team we are getting better every week.”
Up next for Bluefield is Cumberland, Tenn., which is 8-1 and ranked 20th in the national NAIA polls. They did lose 32-30 to Bethel on Saturday.
“They are a ranked team,” Gravier said. “It never gets any easier in this conference, they are all pretty decent, we just have got to fight back and competing.”
Oliver knows all about being part of a reborn program, and appreciates what he sees at Bluefield.
“We were 5-6 in our first year, and I couldn’t tell you how we won five games,” Oliver said. “I watch Bluefield and I think Bluefield is on the right track. Mike is doing a great job, sometimes that first season can be a long one, but I think they are doing something right here.”
“Definitely, it is bright,” he said. “I am really looking forward to the future here.”
—Contact Brian Woodson