By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
That first win continues to be elusive for the Bluefield Rams.
It doesn’t get any easier this week, as the Rams (0-9, 0-4) travel to Columbia, Ky. to face Mid-South Conference foe Lindsey Wilson (7-2, 2-2), the 18th ranked team among NAIA teams in America, which slaughtered Union 72-9 last week.
Meanwhile, Bluefield — which lost to Union 45-35 — trailed just 21-7 at the break at Georgetown, but six turnovers led to an eventual 49-7 defeat, the 20th straight setback for the Rams.
“Another huge challenge,” Bluefield head coach Ordell Walker said. “The great thing is you are going to be tested and you know that as you improve you are going to be able to play with anybody in the country, not just teams just in your conference just because they are so good.”
Especially the Blue Raiders, who are scoring 40.6 points a game, reaching 35 or more six times this season. Brandon Cesap has thrown for 2,557 yards and 31 touchdowns, while Rome Cotton has run for 960 yards and eight scores. Four different receivers have at least 20 receptions, and three of them have scored at least six times apiece.
“They have a very, very good offense, really good balance,” Walker said. “Their tailback is pretty good, their outside receivers make big plays one on one, they certainly present a challenge for any defense in this league.”
Bluefield’s secondary, which has been by Frank Brooks (56 tackles, 3 interceptions), Michael McGrue (36 stops) and Anthony Rivers will be challenged by the Blue Raiders.
Rivers had a pick and fumble recovery last week, and the Rams finished with 5 1/2 sacks against the Tigers. Walker hopes to make the Blue Raiders work their way down field instead of allowing explosive plays.
“We have to pressure the quarterback, that is going to be key,” said Walker, who hopes to have linebacker Ernest Moore back from injury. “Can we get sacks like we got last week and then force the ball underneath, a no deep balls kind of deal.
“We have to limit those and give ourselves a chance to force them to punt... That is certainly things we are looking at, finding ways to force them to try and nickel and dime up all the way down the field.”
Offensively, the Rams have been plagued by turnovers, including six last week, with second half miscues resulting in 21 third quarter points for the Tigers, who led just 21-7 at the break.
“We were very encouraged, we scored and we had a chance right before half where we were 10 yards from field goal range so we were having some momentum offensively so we really felt good going into halftime,” Walker said. “We thought we could put some things together and maybe close this gap a little more, but we just sort of self-destructed.”
Walker hopes to have the services again of leading rusher Marion Harris (440 yards, 3 td), who missed last week’s game. Bluefield may try to get the ball to receivers Rodrell Smith (26-318, 3 td) and Richard Johnson (15-260, 2 td) to make big plays against the Blue Raiders.
Sam Wilson, Michael Brooks and Jerry Long have 54 tackles each for Lindsey Wilson, while Avery Ford has five interceptions and Andrew Wahl has collected 8 1/2 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks.
“We have to be able to establish an inside run versus their defensive structure,” Walker said. “That is going to be really important, and manufacture ways to get explosive plays, making a 5-yard catch and turning it into a 15-yard gain so the pressure is not on our quarterback to make so many plays for us.”
That could help alleviate some of the turnovers that have hampered the Rams hopes all season of sniffing that elusive first win.
“They are good people and I don’t take any credit away from anyone that has beaten us,” Walker said, “but certainly there are more situations where we had an unforced error than just them overwhelming us and forcing a mistake.
“That comes with experience.”
Walker has continued to see the Rams progress throughout the season, and is waiting for his squad to peak all at the same time.
Perhaps, this is that day. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m.
“The stage that we are at with our program, every bit of improvement is good, we are seeing how the gap is,” Walker said. “We have got a ways to go, but probably not as big as maybe our scores sometimes indicates, especially with the unforced errors...
“We continue to see a lot of improvement in a lot of different areas, but it is just everybody playing well at the same time is what we kind of lack.”
Bluefield will conclude its next season next Saturday by hosting No. 2 Cumberlands, Ky.