By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Close but no cigar.
The Bluefield College Rams battled the Union College Bulldogs Saturday night at Mitchell Stadium, but the Bulldogs held off a Rams charge late and claimed a 45-35 Mid-South Conference win.
“I think we continue to build confidence,” said BC head coach Ordell Walker. “We see that we’re getting better, getting the stops and making explosive plays. Hopefully it creates that sense of urgency that every day, every practice, every rep it’s critical that we get better. That’s what it’s creating in us, a sense of urgency to just get better. We’re going to break through.”
The Rams took their first lead of the season on their second possession of the game. Adrian Pope took the handoff carried it off right tackle and raced 62 yards untouched down the near sideline for the score. Caleb Frye kicked the point and Bluefield was ahead for the first time in 2013.
Defense was strong for the Rams as they stopped the Bulldogs for the third straight time. After punting the ball to Union, the Bulldogs struck paydirt on a 30-yard pass from Chandler Whittlesey to Jared Smith. Alex Sigmon’s kick knotted the contest at seven.
Bluefield held Union to 36 yards rushing and 55 passing in the first quarter.
BC retook the lead early in the second period. Key in the six-play 67 yard drive was a 44 yard run by Sam Bennett down to the Union 11. Marion Harris took it in from eight yards out for the score and Frye’s kick made it 14-7.
Union pulled even midway through the quarter when Whittlesey again went to the air, this time connecting with Domonique Jefferson for 24-yard scoring play. Sigmon’s kick tied the game at 14.
Bluefield wasted little time retaking the lead. Getting the ball on its own 17 after the kickoff, Bennett scooted around left end and went untouched into the end zone 83 yards away. Frye’s kick sailed wide left, but BC was again ahead, 20-14.
Union then had its longest drive of the night, staking up six plays and going 70 yards to retake the lead. Zack Martin’s two yard run tied the game and Sigmon’s kick put the Bulldogs up by a point with 3:31 left in the half.
A turnover and short field led to the Bulldogs’ final score of the first half. Armani Ford’s pass was picked off at the BC 42 and returned to the Rams 27. After holding Union on three plays, the Bulldogs came out for a field goal attempt from the 27. Dipping into the bag of tricks, Holder Levi Wilson passed to Jefferson who jogged into the end zone for the score, surprising everyone including the officials who huddled and then confirmed the touchdown.
“I don’t know how many years we’ve been doing that, but fortunately Bluefield didn’t cover us and we had it open and took advantage of it,” said Union head coach Tommy Reid.
“I was a little bit nervous. I didn’t know if the throw was going to get there or not. I told our holder that was the ugliest touchdown I’d ever seen in my life, but the end result is what mattered. It was certainly a big play for us and gave us momentum.”
Bluefield took the second half kick and drove to the Union 39 before Ford threw his second interception of the game. Union went from its 44 to the BC 27 before the drive failed, thanks in part to a stiff Rams defensive effort that included a Robert Boatright sack of Whittlesey. The Bulldogs settled for a 33 yard Sigmon field goal.
After failing to move deeper into Union territory after Frank Brooks returned the kick from the eight to the Bulldogs’ 42, Daniel Griffin’s punt pinned Union at its own two yard line. It only took two plays, however, for Union to get out of the shadow of its own goal post and have a first down at the 33.
Facing a third-and-five from the 38, Whittlesey threw a swing pass to Jefferson who raced down the sidelines before being knocked out at the Bluefield 20. A few plays latter Whittlesey hit Jared Smith in the end zone for the score and Sigmon kicked the extra point to make it 38-20.
A personal foul moved the Rams to near midfield and Graham High’s Lamont Edwards ripped off a nine yard run to the Union 42. On the next play Pope burst through the untouched and did not stop until he reached the end zone. Quarterback Joshua Erby ran for the two-point conversions.
The third quarter ended with Union at the Bluefield 35, having driven from its own 11 after the Rams’ score. On the second play of the final quarter Brian Clark ran 40 yards for the score.
Down 45-28 the Rams did not quit as they marched down the field on the legs of Edwards, Bennett and Pope until the Rams faced a fourth-and-five from the Union 29 at which time Rodrell Smith took a reverse pitch and ran around right end for a touchdown. Frey’s kick made it a 10-point game, 45-35.
The Bluefield defense again rose to the occasion when Devin Dean picked off Whittlesey at the BC 22 and returned it to the 44 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Pope ripped off an 18 yard run that took the ball to the Union 36. Erby later ran for a first down at the 23. The drive ended when Bennett lost the handle on the ball and Devonte Riley fell on the loose ball at the 23.
Union’s Clark led all rushers with 185 yards on 18 carries. Whittlesey carried 16 times for 136 yards and completed 9-of-18 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns.
Pope topped the rushing column for Bluefield with 155 yards on 13 rushes with two TDs, closely followed by Bennett with 151 on eight carries. Edwards carried seven times in the second half for 52 yards.
“The offensive line really did a good job of creating holes,” Walker said. “They (Union) were switching in and out of different defenses which allowed different backs to do some good things.
“It was great to see Sam (Bennett) explode and Marion (Harris) explode for some long runs. It’s certainly about the offensive line.”
In the passing department Erby completed 1-of-5 for 13 yards and Ford was 0-for-3 with two interceptions.
Union amassed 544 total yards, while Bluefield racked up 433.
While Bluefield’s defense did allow more than 500 yards in the game, Walker said the unit had its moments.
“We ran to the ball well and I felt like we controlled things at different points of the game really well,” Walker said. “I really loved how we ran around the ball, got a lot of hats to the ball, but we missed some critical tackles in some critical situations that probably could have kept the score down a little more. We’ve got to improve there.”
Reid had compliments for the Rams’ runners.
“I think Bluefield did a great job offensively,” Reid said. “We knew coming in they had some talented skill guys and they certainly proved that, they had some big plays. Fortunately we put a lot of points on the board and did a nice job managing the clock and I’m proud of our effort.”
Bluefield dropped to 0-7 and 0-3 in MSC play while Union improved to 2-5 and 1-1.
in conference games.