By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
D.J. Stewart rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns and the Bluefield Beavers held off a tough Nicholas County Grizzlies team 26-14 in the rain at Mitchell Stadium in a West Virginia Class AA quarterfinal contest Friday night.
With the win Bluefield advances to meet either No. 2 Bridgeport or No. 7 Fairmont Senior in next week’s state semifinals.
“They (Nicholas County) are good defensively. They’ve got some big guys,” said BHS head coach Fred Simon. “They did a nice job of stuffing us, we didn’t move them off the ball, but again we made plays when we had to. Frankie (Desiderio) came through for us with some clutch field goals and helped us get through.”
It was the big plays that got Bluefield rolling. Jordan Masterson blocked an Austin Hill punt on the fourth play of the game and Brandon Lilly pounced on the pigskin at the Grizzlies’ 27.
Corey Coppola rambled 20 yards to the seven on the first play from scrimmage and after a one yard Coppola run Stewart carried it the final six yards for the score. Francisco Desiderio’s kick made it 7-0 with 9:44 showing on the first quarter clock.
Bluefield’s defense kept Nicholas County in check through the first period, not allowing the Grizzlies to pick up a first down and turnovers plagued the visitors.
Randall Maxey recovered a fumble late in the first quarter but Bluefield’s ensuing drive ended with Brian Morris punting. On Nicholas County’s first play the ball squirted loose and Carlos Reed recovered it for the Beavers on the Nicholas County 39.
A pass from R.J. Bourne to D.J. Edwards for 28 yards gave the Beavers a first and goal. Stewart later ran four yards for his second touchdown of the game. Desiderio’s kick was blocked and the Bluefield lead was 13-0 with 9:32 left in the first half.
The teams traded punts before Nicholas County got the ball at its 36 with just over five minutes left in the half. A 12-yard pass from Tyler Sagraves to Joe Amendola gave the Griz their initial first down at the Bluefield 45. Later in the drive a 19-yard pass to Amendola moved the ball to the Beavers’ 20. With time running out in the half Sagraves found Josh Gregory in the end zone for an eight yard scoring strike. Hill’s extra point was good and with 33 ticks left on the clock before halftime it was 13-7 in favor of Bluefield.
Hill’s kickoff came from midfield due to a holding penalty on the extra point. The ball reached the end zone for a touchback, giving Bluefield the ball on its own 20.
Bourne took the snap, handed off the Stewart who darted around the right end and raced down the far sideline. Wade Leggett gave chase and got a hand on Stewart at the Nicholas County 15, but Stewart shook him off and sped into the end zone for an 80-yard score. Desiderio’s kick was good and Bluefield carried that 20-7 lead into the intermission.
“That was a great play,” Simon said. “There was good blocking and Stewart followed his holes real well and we got in the end zone. It was big. Huge.”
The first play of the second half saw Leggett pick off a Bourne pass at the Grizzlies’ 44.
“We came out in the second half wanting to throw a little bit and the first thing we do is get it picked,” Simon said.
Using the legs of Mayes and a 28-yard halfback pass from Jacob Hopkins to Jared Price, Nicholas County went on the march. Mayes’ 10 yard touchdown run capped the drive and Hill’s kick brought the visitors to within six at 20-14.
Bluefield answered the bell. Starting at its own 46 after a pooch kick, Stewart raced on the first play to the NC 33. The Beavers moved to the 21 before the drive stalled and Desiderio booted a 34 yard field goal, his seventh of the season.
Defense and turnovers came to the fore for both teams. Bluefield fumbled at the Nicholas County 28 and on the next play the Beavers’ Dakoda Smalls picked off Sagraves at the 29. Bourne connected with Edwards for a first down at the five, but on three plays the Beavers could not gain a yard. After a delay of game penalty Desiderio kicked his second field goal of the game, a 27-yarder that gave Bluefield what proved to be the game’s final points with 10:15 left in the fourth.
Nicholas County drove deep into Bluefield territory late in the game, but an incomplete pass in the end zone on fourth and eight from the Beavers 10 ended the Grizzlies’ chances. Bluefield ran out the clock to end the game.
Simon commented, “Sometimes when you get in the playoffs defense are going to have to win. You’re not going to score every time you get the ball. They didn’t, we didn’t and you just have to find a way to win and that’s what happens.”
Stewart led all rushers with 156 yards on eight carries. Bourne was 5-of-8 passing for the Beavers.
Mayes carried 27 times for Nicholas County and gained 69 yards. Sagraves was 10-of-22 passing for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Nicholas County head coach Gene Morris said, “We just had too many turnovers, things like that. They (Bluefield) hit a big play on us at the end of the half. We had a little momentum going at the time. I thought defensively we played just as well as we could play. We had a little trouble moving the football. You’ve got to tip your hat to Bluefield, they did an outstanding job and have a good football team.”
Nicholas County finished its season with 9-3 record. Bluefield improved to 10-2 and will play the winner of today’s game between Bridgeport and Fairmont Senior. Should Bridgeport win, the Beavers would travel to play the Indians, while a Fairmont Senior victory would mean a game at Mitchell Stadium next weekend.
At Mitchell Stadium
Nicholas County.............0 7 7 0 — 14
Bluefield........................7 13 3 3 — 26
B - D.J. Stewart 6 yard run (Francisco Desiderio kick), 9:44
B - Stewart 4 yard run (kick blocked), 9:32
NC - Tyler Sagraves 8 yard pass to Josh Gregory (Austin Hill kick), 0:28
B - Stewart 80 yard run (Desiderio kick), 0:14
NC - Wil Mayes 10 yard run (Hill kick), 9:11
B - Desiderio 34 yard field goal, 5:22
B - Desiderio 27 yard field goal, 8:49
RUSHING: NC - Mayes 27-69, Sagraves 8-(-5), Totals 35-64; B - Stewart 19-156, Coppola 9-36, Bourne 5-8, Reed 4-10, Totals 38-210.
PASSING: NC - Sagraves 10-22-82, Hopkins 1-2-15, Totals 11-24-97; B - Bourne 5-8-75, Edwards 0-1, Totals 5-9-75.
RECEPTIONS: NC - Amendola 3-34, Price 2-34, Mayes 3-17, Gregory 2-23, Hopkins 1-9; B - Edwards 3-64, Lilly 1-11, Coppola 1-0.