By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It was as close as Bluefield College has come in a late-game situation to smelling that first victory.
A 3-yard scoring pass from Ashten Dixon to Richard Johnson pulled the Rams within 19-10 with 2:45 left in the third period last Saturday against Cumberland, Tenn.
“Certainly we felt good about being in the game going into the half and certainly going into the fourth scoring right before the fourth and being a two-score game and having the momentum,” Bluefield College head coach Ordell Walker said.
That’s when Cumberland went to adjustment mode, with the Bulldogs putting the ball in the hands of back-up quarterback Broc Loveless.
“They made some adjustments and really finished the game well for them offensively,” Walker said. “It kind of caught us off guard, the quarterback ran the ball a little more so that was a good adjustment by them,
All Loveless did was score on three consecutive possessions, from 46, 13 and 23 yards to help Cumberland pull away for the 40-10 win.
“We showed progress, we have to be excited about that, but at the same time still hungry about finishing now, how to finish games,” Walker said.
There were positive signs for the Rams. Marion Harris ran for 121 yards on just 15 carries — this from a team with no back with 100 yards combined in the four previous games — while Ashten Dixon took over at quarterback and threw for 132 yards, a touchdown and one pick.
“A lot less mistakes, obviously we were able to establish the run a little bit,” Walker said. “The first back to go 100 yards, I didn’t go back and look at the stats, but likely the first since the ‘40s the last time they played football.
“That is good for him and that is the kind of team we feel like we can be offensively this year. We feel like we should be able to run the ball a little more than we have. We need to have balance so that is good, Ashten did some decent things into the passing game, which also helps the run game .”
Dixon, who was injured during the second game of the season at Pikeville and missed the entire following week of practice, was able to make plays for the Rams with his arm and legs.
“He really established himself, he is relatively healthy, he brings a lot with his ability to run the ball, but also he can pass so he is probably the best dual threat guy we have,” Walker said. “We feel like we are more efficient with him, but that position in general just because of our age, there is still a long ways to go.
“We can manage the game, seemingly more effectively, with him out there.”
Bluefield (0-4) went the short pass route against the Bulldogs, with Dixon averaging 8.3 yards a completion, led by Rodrell Smith, who had five receptions, but just 16 yards.
“Our philosophy is to take what the defense gives us, we actually attacked early and had a big play and then we tried throw another big play and I think they made a decision you are going to have to run it or throw it underneath, we are not giving up a big play,” Walker said. “I think with the offense being so young, we have to be efficient and so it is really difficult for us to want to take more shots with lower percentage plays when we haven’t been that consistent.
“If they are going to give us five, let’s take five and let them change what they are doing and then we can challenge them.”
Defensively, Bluefield allowed 402 yards, but after a touchdown on the opening drive, the Rams limited the Bulldogs to 12 points until the three-touchdown spree that began with 1:24 left in the third quarter and ended with 3:43 remaining in the game.
Ernest Moore continues to lead the Rams in tackles, recording 10 against Cumberland, while Frank Brooks had 10 stops and his third interception of the season.
“The opening drive of the game they went right down the field and scored, but we responded and played relatively well through the middle parts of the game,” Walker said. “I was definitely pleased and continue to talk to those guys about how the final score is not showing it, but you have got to see the development and we are getting better.”
Bluefield did win the turnover battle, forcing two and having just one of their own, although the Rams did recover all five of their fumbles. One of those miscues did lead to a first quarter safety for the Bulldogs.
“That was drive killers, not in the sense that it gave them the ball right away, we gave up two points on a safety, that was on a fumble that we recovered and got tackled in the end zone,” Walker said. “Our defense got a couple of turnovers so that certainly helped us, picking up a fumble and running it back a little bit, getting an interception, so that helped, we have got to have more of that.”
After losing the three previous games by 28, 43 and 31 points, and with no realistic chance of victory, Walker saw a different situation against the Bulldogs, at least until the 11-minute stretch when Cumberland pulled away.
“As we continue along on the process, we are going to see more results, and we have, but now it is finding a way to finish the game,” Walker said. “When the game is close it is always a game of adjustments and momentum and we just couldn’t sustain that momentum and make the necessary adjustments to the new things they were doing in the fourth.”
While Cumberland — which started the season ranked among the top 25 NAIA teams in America — is just 2-2, the Bulldogs have played a tough schedule, including a lopsided loss to FCS foe Tennessee Tech.
Playing well against them definitely gave Walker some positive signs to share with his Rams.
“They are a pretty good football team...,” Walker said. “Any positive thing that you see, you have got to point it out and you have got to hold onto it. Again, you can’t just focus on that final scoreboard, that is just going to get in the way of your attitude and effort to continue to push on.
“We continue to point those things out and it is helping us continue to fight and have an urgency to get better every day.”
Up next is a visit to Bethel in McKenzie, Tenn., the fourth road trip of the season already for the Rams. The Wildcats will seek its first win of the season with Bluefield serving as their homecoming guests on Saturday.
Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m.
At least Bluefield does have the following two weeks to remain at home, beginning with homecoming next Saturday with Belhaven, followed the a visit from Union on Oct. 19
“This will be our second longest trip and that is kind of annoying, but we really enjoy getting on the road, experiencing new places, new campuses, different parts of the country, hanging out in the hotel is always fun,” Walker said. “I always enjoy those things, get to hang out with the staff a little bit, but it would certainly be nice the next two weeks to get in my own bed for a game, and homecoming is always exciting.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com