By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Finally, a break from the Mid-South Conference.
That doesn’t mean it gets any easier for the Bluefield Rams.
Up next is a visit to Southern Virginia, which is 4-2 on the season, scoring 35 and 34 points during its current two-game win streak.
At least the Rams — who have kept the highways warm this season — only have a two-plus hour drive to Parry McCluer High School in Buena Vista where the Knights play their home games. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.
“Our alumni department is doing a good great of promoting this game so we are inviting Virginia alumni to come out,” Walker said. “We are expecting a good crowd, that is only a couple of hours away so that is different to get up early and driving in the morning.”
Bluefield (0-7) had its closest call of the season in last week’s 45-35 loss to Union, a game in which the Rams had the lead for the first time this year.
“We certainly were confident and it was great to see us come out and kind of start fast offensively, that is something we have really been trying to improve,” Walker said. “It was great to see the offense be a little bit more consistent and the defense started good pretty good and getting stops.”
Southern Virginia, whose only losses have come to Methodist (33-20) and The College of New Jersey (7-2), defeated Newport News Apprentice last week 34-7. The Knights are scoring 24.7 points a game, while allowing just 19-7.
“I see a team that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, they have done a great job of taking care of the football,” Walker said. “They play really good defense, very multiple on defense and things that we talk about they have been able to do, not giving up big plays and they find a way to get stops.”
Bluefield, which had two 100 yard rushers last week — Adrian Pope (155) and fullback Sam Bennett (141) — was so good on the ground against Union that quarterbacks Josh Erby and Armani Ford completed just 1 of 8 pass attempts for 13 yards.
Walker would like to get such talented athletes as Rodrell Smith — who touched the ball once against Union for a 29-yard touchdown on a reverse — and Richard Johnson isolated against the Southern Virginia defense. Dakoda Windsor paces the Knights with 50 tackles and 9 1/2 stops for loss.
“They really fly around the ball, aggressive style on defense, and do a good job of gang tackling and not getting themselves in situations where they have to play one on one,” said Walker, who, like any coach, would like to cut turnovers down to zero. “That is going to be the schematic battle for us, can we get our guys one on one with them in space and then can we win those one on one battles.”
Offensively, the Knights are paced by quarterback Andy Jones, who has thrown for 762 yards and five touchdowns and receiver Dee Sanford, who has 24 receptions and four scores. Jerry Washington has played in just three games, but is averaging 128.7 yards on the ground.
Bluefield, which has been led by Frank Brooks with 45 tackles and three interceptions, does expect its banged-up starting linebackers, Cordell Johns and Ernest Moore, to be back on the field.
“Offensively, their quarterback and they have a really good receiver, those two guys are kind of the big playmakers for them,” Walker said. “They do a good job of being consistent in their running game and forcing you to pay attention to that and then do a great job with No. 12 (Jones) and No. 80 (Sanford), getting some big plays in the passing game...
“We have to be able to tackle well and make them drive and not give up the home run plays. If we do that we like our chances to keep ourselves in position to win the game in the fourth quarter.”
Bluefield, which has lost all 18 game since reinstating its program last season, will face a difficult three-game gauntlet after this one, playing three Mid-South clubs ranked among the top 20 teams in the NAIA ranks.
Walker is focused on the Knights, and not what is to come.
“We try not to, certainly to the players, look too much into who we are playing and just really control what we can control, but certainly this is the next test,” Walker said. “It is not Mid-South competition, although they are really good and have been playing well and they will be confident and the same thing for us.
“We have been playing well. We just haven’t finished things off, but we have reason to feel confident and reason to feel good about the matchup and breaking through.”
That would certainly make the bus trip back to Bluefield more enjoyable than the other four this season.
“I am excited, certainly the 2 1/2 hour bus ride is better than a nine-hour bus ride coming back,” Walker said. “It goes faster when you play well so that is the big thing. The ride will be a lot better coming home when we play well.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org