By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As the Bluefield College Rams walked off the field after a 42-28 loss to the University of Pikeville in the school’s first football game in 71 years, a small contingent of fans serenaded them to the locker room with a round of applause.
Bluefield head coach Mike Gravier isn’t looking for moral victories.
“That part of it is over so now we can just move on,” said Gravier, of finally playing the school’s first game after more than seven decades. “I appreciate our fans, but I told our guys this isn’t a movie, I don’t want them clapping as we are walking by honestly.
“I appreciate their desire and appreciation to do that, but we still lost, it is still a loss and it should still hurt. I want them to applaud when we are winning so that is what we are shooting for.”
Playing in front of an crowd estimated around 4,000 on a hot Saturday afternoon at Mitchell Stadium, the Rams (0-1) jumped out to a 7-0 first quarter lead, and were tied for 21-21 at the break.
Then came the long halftime break, and the Bears took command from that point, scoring 21 unanswered points on the young Rams, most of whom are freshman playing against much older and experienced foes who are used to playing 60 minutes and not 48 minutes of football.
“I think we started the game on a good note offensively, put some long drives together, but you have just got to get used to that long halftime coming out in college,” Bluefield offensive line coach Mike Compton said. “That is 30 minutes in each half, and it is a learning process, we will look at the film and correct the mistakes and get ready for Georgetown.”
Trevor Hoskins threw for a pair touchdowns, including a 40-yard third quarter strike to Shawntez Johnson. Seth Millar and Hunter Adams each had 1-yard scoring runs to put the Bears up 42-21 with 6:55 left in the game.
“I give him a lot of credit, his kids played hard and played with a lot of emotion,” said Pikeville head coach Dudley Hilton, whose Bears started its program in 2001. “I felt like we had the fork in them if we could just twist it and we would be all right, but we kept stumping our toes and they kept taking advantage of it.
“Give him a lot of credit and the team, they played hard.”
Bluefield scored first, taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 7-play, 54-yard drive, with Matt Hollandsworth scoring the first touchdown for the Rams since 1941 by catching an 11-yard pass in the end zone from Greg Hampton. Mikel Hawks followed with the extra point conversion.
That was reason for celebration among the Rams and their fans, including Hayne Darby, the starting right guard who was excited to finally play a football game that counts at Bluefield.
“It was a great feeling, I was here last year so it has been a long time in the making so I am just glad that we played,” Darby said. “It didn’t go the way I thought it would, but I am glad we went out there and competed.”
Hampton, the lone junior on the Bluefield roster, was Gravier’s choice to start at quarterback, and the Alfred State College transfer from New York performed admirably, unofficially completing 19-of-33 passes for 210 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
“Because he is a junior college kid and he has been in this situation before so I just felt that he would feel a little bit more calm,” said Gravier, whose Rams outgained the Bears 100-42 in the opening quarter. “We will watch the film and evaluate it. He was put in some tough situations and didn’t make some throws he probably should have, but we will evaluate it.
“It will be very fluid throughout the season.”
Pikeville (1-0) finally got on the board thanks to a little help from Demitri Travis, who answered a Bluefield fumble recovery by Jonathan Toe with an interception of his own. Trevor Hoskins followed that play with a short pass to Jordan Amis, who ran past defenders and dashed 57 yards down the right sideline for the score. Grayson Quick added the kick to tie the score at 7-7 to open the second period.
“They controlled the ball and we’re supposed to be known for offense and they just wore our defense out,” Hilton said. “There were just too many plays the first quarter,”
That is when the mistakes that Gravier talked about began to haunt the Rams, with Jeremy Hill catching a Hawks punt on the run and continuing on, scoring from 38 yards out, giving the Bears two scores in a span of 1:56.
Bluefield responded. Following a 45-yard kick return by Marion Harris, Hampton was able to connect with Rodrell Smith, who snatched the ball out of the air and ran the final 10 yards for a 33-yard score.
Another mistake cost the Rams on their next possession when Hampton’s pass was deflected and picked off by Trey Bartlett, who ran 80 yards down the right sideline to go back up 21-14.
“I told the guys this should hurt, honestly we gave it away, missed tackles, special teams hurt us, turnovers hurt us,” Gravier said. “Even if you are a senior-laden team you can’t win football games that way and those things hurt us. I think they feel lucky to get away from here with a win.”
Once again, Bluefield answered, with the Rams capping off a 11-play, 63-yard drive with a 1-yard run for a score by Josh Wells.
Bluefield went heavily to Wells and Harris early in the game, with the duo combining for 130 yards, including 77 for Wells and 53 by Harris.
“They are both good backs and we are going to lean on them because we have to lean on those guys for a while unless our passing game gets into motion,” Gravier said.
While the second quarter featured a combined 35 points, the third period featured three interceptions, with Pikeville scoring on its second possession of the half, with Johnson snagging a Hoskins pass, breaking tackles and staggering into the end zone for the 40-yard score.
Hoskins threw for 173 yards, two touchdowns and two picks, but Hilton said the high-scoring Bears never really did get on track.
“They did a little bit, but we didn’t throw the ball very well,” Hilton said. “We were not very sharp today, we didn’t look like a mature football team, but it was our first game too.”
The lead grew for the Bears later in the third period when Hoskins hit Amis for 17 yards and Adams got loose for 31 yards on the ground. Miller followed with the 1-yard plunge for the 35-21 advantage against a weary Bluefield defense.
“I am sure the defense did (get tired) because we weren’t doing a good enough job on the offense moving the football,” Gravier said. “They are a big key and they are going to wear our guys down and I am sure that hurt us a little bit and that is on the offense to move the football and keep them off the field.
“The offense was ready, but I think we lost a little bit of gas toward the end, but we will work on it and we will be better next week.”
The Bears scored again on its next opportunity, going 87 yards on 12 plays, led by a 34-yard run from Adams, who finished the drive with a 1-yard plunge and the 21-point lead.
Bluefield was able to score once more on a 16-yard pass from Hampton to Smith with 4:07 to play, but the clock would run out on the Rams.
“They fought hard to the end, we were trying to score and we would have onside kicked and tried to get it again and make something happen” Gravier said. “Our guys did not give up, they did not hang their heads.”
Defensively, Bluefield was led by many, but linebacker Anthony Herring’s name was heard often making tackles for the Rams, which received interceptions from Morris Mitchell and Anthony Rivers, and sacks from Harris Casseus and Wesley Washington.
“(Herring) is a freshman, his first college game and he did a real nice job,” Gravier said. “That is something to build on.”
For the Rams, it was a thrill to play football, 71 years after the school last played the sport at the same facility.
“It felt great man,” said wide receiver Michael Nesmith, who had five receptions for 86 yards. “I am just happy we are back out here on the field playing, finally playing to get a win. I am real excited, but we just have to get more work in.”
It doesn’t get any easier for Bluefield, with perennial NAIA power Georgetown — which is ranked fourth in the nation in the preseason polls — visiting Mitchell Stadium next Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We have to get ready for Georgetown,” said Gravier, with a smile. “It is like getting through preseason and going to play the Steelers.”
Just don’t count out the Rams.
We will be ready,” said Darby, with a look of confidence. “We are going to win that game.”
—Contact Brian Woodson