By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The first season of football at Bluefield College since 1941 ended just like it started: with a loss.
Bluefield College led 14-10 late in the second half, but didn’t score again, as Campbellsville defeated the Rams 23-14 in the Mid-South Conference season finale on Saturday afternoon at Mitchell Stadium.
“It is disappointing, but honestly it went fast,” Bluefield head coach Mike Gravier said. “To go 0-11, it went really fast.”
The Rams (0-11, 0-6) finished the campaign with an 0-11 record, but Bluefield freshman quarterback Cory Mabry expects better results in 2013.
“We have been out for what, 74 years now,” Mabry said. “It will take some getting used to, but next year it will turn around.”
Campbellsville (3-8, 2-4), which was able to avoid its second four-game losing skid of the season, took a 17-14 lead into the half, added two long field goals after the break and held the Rams out of the end zone.
“Coach (Gravier) is doing a great job, the kids played hard today,” Campbellsville head coach Perry Thomas said.
“You can see the fundamentals growing and eventually those freshmen and sophomores will become juniors and seniors and that is when things take off.”
Bluefield didn’t lead at the half all season, but came closest in a season-opening loss to Pikeville and in this one when the Rams scored with 6:20 to play to take the 14-10 advantage in the second period.
“It would have been nice to go into halftime up, but we didn’t score any more points so it is kind of a moot point,” Gravier said. “They did a good job, and we had some opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them. We had some big plays and then we would have some big plays in reverse.
“I thought the kids played hard, honestly it was one of our better efforts.”
Campbellsville took a 3-0 lead on its opening possession on a 33-yard field goal by Casey Clarke, a former soccer player, who was 3-for-6 in the game. He also connected from 55 and 43 yards and missed from 55, 51 and 51, all of which had the distance but missed their mark.
“We have got a nice weapon with our field goal kicker,” Thomas said. “He kicked a 55-yarder, missed a couple more, but that is all right, that kind of separates the game a little bit when you can do that.”
The Tigers added a second score on a 1-yard plunge by Bryan Parnes to take the 10-0 lead, and they were driving for a third touchdown early in the second quarter, going for it on 4th-and-1 from the Bluefield 4.
However, Bluefield Beavers’ product R.J. Buford sacked Parnes and forced a fumble that was picked by Tarrell Starckey and returned 81 yards to narrow the margin to 10-7. Starckey led the Rams with eight tackles, while Buford had two tackles for loss and a sack.
Bluefield would take the lead on its next possession, with Marion Harris starting the drive with a 59-yard run, and Mabry added a 13-yard pass to Rodrell Smith to move the Rams to the 10.
“I thought Bluefield had a great game plan,” Thomas said. “They executed some things, and the quarterback, his speed was better than we anticipated and he hurt us a little bit with the ground game.”
Three plays later, Mabry got loose in the backfield and ran to the left corner of the end zone for the 14-10 lead. Harris led the Rams with 88 yards on the ground, while Mabry added 62, most of which came in the second half. Mabry also threw for 107 yards, including four catches for 66 yards by Rodrell Smith.
“Really only one or two other times was it, but I don’t think we pressed at all,” said Gravier, of leading at that point in the game. “We just didn’t get the breaks and that is going to happen.”
Campbellsville, which received 126 yards rushing from Seth McFerrin and 285 yards passing by Parnes, was able to move down the field prior to half, helped by acrobatic receptions from Jarrod Harrington, who finished with nine catches for 159 yards. Bobby Kelly caught five balls for 51 yards.
“I asked early in the game is every quarterback going to have a career day against us, it seemed like that was happening early on,” Gravier said. “(Harrington) made some tough catches, you can’t always fault the coverage on that because our guys were there and they just made plays.”
Parnes completed consecutive passes for 11, 12 and 12 yards to move the Tigers to the Bluefield 13, and that was soon followed by a pass into the end zone that was bobbled and then held onto by Steph‘Von Haynes as he was falling to the ground for the 17-14 lead with 6 seconds left in the half.
“We felt like we needed something to kind of separate the thing and that gave us a little momentum going into the half because they had a little momentum,” Thomas said.
Campbellsville added to that surge after the break when Darius Skinner picked off a Mabry pass and Clarke soon followed with a field goal that was good from 55 yards for the 20-14 lead.
Clarke attempted four field goals in the second half, making two, including a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter for the final margin with 12:39 on the clock.
“I told their coach you have got a heck of a weapon,” Gravier said. “You get to the 35 yard line and you know you have got a chance to score, that is a good feeling.”
Mabry tried to bring the Rams back, largely with this legs, but was picked off twice in the second half, and Bluefield couldn’t convert twice on fourth down conversion attempts, and punted on its other two possessions.
“It was fun, but it was tiring, we were just taking a beating, but we will get better next year,” said Mabry, who took over the starting quarterback position late in the season from Greg Hampton. “I figured as a freshman I wasn’t going to come in and start, but I figured I would just work hard and see how it goes and it turned out good.”
Campbellsville was led on defense by Blake Young with eight tackles, while Skinner had both interceptions for the Tigers, who will lose nine seniors to graduation.
“We have a tough record this year, but (the seniors) turned the program around,” said Thomas, in his fifth year at Campbellsville. “We have had three straight winning seasons before this season, the talent level is down a little bit, but because of those senior’s leadership, our guys still battled their hearts out.
“We don’t lose because of effort. We lose because people are better than us and I am very proud of the legacy that they have laid down for this program.”
That could also describe the first season under Gravier, whose Rams will now begin the offseason work needed to get better in 2013.
“I think we have got some pieces to build on, we have got good kids, they play hard,” Gravier said. “We have got to get stronger, we have to work harder in the weight room. They get a couple of weeks off, but we have got to hit it hard before Christmas and the rest of the year.
“Now they see what they compete against.”
— Contact Brian Woodson