By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Seven FCS schools made news with upsets in the opening week, including North Dakota State beating Kansas State and Eastern Washington shocking Oregon State.
An NAIA school defeating an FCS school might be an even rarer occurrence. Pikeville did just that on Saturday, shocking Morehead State 13-10 to open the season.
Seth Millar and Marquis Terrell each eclipsed the 100-yard mark, and the Pikeville defense forced three turnovers and held the high-powered Eagles to just 10 points.
Up next for Pikeville (1-0) is Bluefield College on a rare Thursday night game slated to begin at 7 p.m. It is the Mid-South Conference opener for both teams.
“They are fast, they are athletic, they are physical,” Bluefield College head coach Ordell Walker said. “One of the things is they just didn’t make a lot of mistakes so the game stayed close and they played really good defense.
“That is probably the thing that stood out most is the running game, their two running backs went over 100 yards. We are just going to have more guys at the point of attack when you are facing good, athletic running backs.”
That didn’t happen for Bluefield last Saturday in a 57-28 opening game loss at Point. The Skyhawks accumulated 487 yards, including 226 yards and three touchdowns by Rufas Mason, while Kier Houston threw for 153 yards and two more scores.
It wasn’t the start that Walker wanted for his Rams, which fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter, and 35-0 before finally scoring at the end of the half. It wasn’t the ending Walker would have preferred either.
“Slow start, slow middle, slow end, it was slow all around,” Walker said. “It is hard to narrow down what we have to work on the most.”
Bluefield (0-1) played its first game since 1941 against Pikeville last season, dropping a 42-28 decision. While Walker expected to use that film to assist in preparation, his greater concern is with his Rams.
“It is really about getting what we do down,” Walker said. “That is the number one priority because it doesn’t matter what Pikeville can or can’t do if we can’t function on our own and making mistakes and things like that that they don’t necessarily cause.”
In a matchup of two-year programs, Point jumped on the Rams, taking a 35-7 halftime lead, and then outscored Bluefield 22-21 after the break.
“I feel positive about our ability to respond to adversity, it was certainly a bad start, not the way we would want to start a football game,” said Walker, who replaced Mike Gravier as head coach in late May. “Offensively, we found a way to make some adjustments and get some things going a little bit. Defensively, I don’t know if we were able to get stops that we needed in the first half, but as the game went on we were certainly getting better.”
Walker will stress his ‘fanatical’ approach to defense against the Bears, which has everyone running to the ball, and then making the tackles when they get there.
“When you have got more guys around the ball, you don’t have to be as good of a tackler and that is probably more of a focus for us,” said Walker, who was pleased with his secondary, including Frank Brooks, who had a pair of interceptions. “We always practice tackling, every team does that, but we weren’t running to the ball with a fanatical effort that we really would want.”
Offensively, turnovers and untimely penalties cost the Rams, who had 282 yards, including 88 on the ground by backup quarterback Armani Harris, who gave Bluefield a boost off the bench.
Marion Harris added 76 yards for Rams, while Richard Johnson had three receptions for 103 yards, including a scoring pass from Josh Erby, who started at quarterback and was 4 of 19 for 104 yards. Caleb Frye attempted four extra points and made all of them.
Erby is expected to start at quarterback again, but the Rams could use as many as three signal-caller as they did against the Skyhawks.
“We are young, we are very, very young , it is a unique offense, it is new to everybody so we are still in that learning phase so we knew there would be struggles,” said Walker, who has the offensive line focused on sustaining blocks. “I think going into the game and going into next week’s game, it is about not killing yourself so bad with the turnovers that really hurt us and the big penalties, we call those drive killers, right now we are just too young to overcome that.
“If we can eliminate those things I think we could see improvement, move the ball and put ourselves in the position to score.”
Early jitters were definitely in play for Bluefield at Point, but Walker hopes those aren’t quite as apparent against the Bears.
“There was a lot of nervousness, especially with the start offensively, we really just made a lot of mistakes,” Walker said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Point, they were better than us, but we made it look a lot easier than it should have with mistakes.
“I would definitely contribute that to some of that nervousness and that was our first time going in and hopefully we will be more relaxed this week.”
Walker was pleased with the effort and enthusiasm shone by a roster full of young players that lists one senior and nine juniors.
“You hope you don’t experience many games like that, but I think our guys responded well, we were positive after the game, we did our afterglow and invited people into our inner circle,” Walker said. “Win or lose, we are going to continue to do that so our guys responded and I was really pleased with that.
“The enthusiasm stayed up throughout the game so we are showing signs of growing up in our mental toughness. We are going to need that, this is a young team, you are going to have adversity, so expect it and be ready to deal with it and fight through it and that is really our mentality.”
Walker hopes to have a large contingent of Bluefield fans to make the short trip to Pikeville for the game.
“We are trying to make this a big deal, we are trying to get a bus to take students and some of these athletic teams,” Walker said. “We are trying to get that arranged so we will definitely have more support than in Georgia, but it was a pretty good turnout
“I really was pleased with the folks that drove down from Virginia and some of our players are from Florida so their families come up.”
Bluefield will be off after tonight until the home opener on Sept. 21 with Kentucky Christian.