By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It all began 102 years ago, Beaver vs. Graham on the gridiron. Tonight Bluefield’s two high schools meet for the 87th time at Mitchell Stadium with bragging rights for the next 12 months on the line.
Last year Bluefield missed a potential winning field goal with just seconds remaining in the game, ending the Beavers three-game winning streak against their crosstown rivals.
Beavers head coach Fred Simon accepts full responsibility for the outcome and believes that this year will be different.
“The way things happened last year, at the spur of a moment certain players couldn’t play because of a ruling that caught me off-guard, I didn’t handle it very well and I think the team in turn reflected that,” Simon commented. “I think we’ll be ready for anything, no matter what — rain delay, lightning delay, whatever. I think mentally I’ll be a lot better prepared for that, but I think the players were hurt by that last year.”
Bluefield holds a 62-22-2 advantage in the series that has been billed by national organizations such as ESPN and Great American Rivlary Series as one of the outstanding high school rivalries in the United States.
Simon shared some of the exciting moments he has witnessed as a player, assistant coach and head coach, which spans more than 40 years.
“There have been some super games. In ’97 we had to drive down near the end of the game to score and we won in our championship year. In ’84 with Coach (John) Chmara, we stopped a two-point conversion at the end to beat Graham by one point. My sophomore year I scored a touchdown. I was so excited I spiked the ball. I got hit late going down, hit a guy and got kicked out of the game. That’s kind of crazy,” Simon related.
“There have also been some heartbreaking games too that you can’t get out of your mind. We got beat on a last-second pass one year, maybe ’93 when Keith Pruitt was our quarterback. Then there was the Will Cole situation in 2008, the way the game ended, and then last year the way it ended. There have been some super memories and some crushing memories that go both ways.”
Bluefield will unveil a new-look offense tonight as two-year starting quarterback D.J. Edwards moves to running back and R.J. Bourne takes the snaps. Bourne, a more pocket-oriented quarterback, will have Edwards and D.J. Stewart in the backfield along with fullback Corey Coppola and receivers Brandon Lilly and Justin Carter.
The offensive line will have Matt Belcher at center, Cody Gore and D.J. Sims at guard, Justin Lightfoot and Jordan George at tackle.
Defensively look for Coppola, Gore, Sims and Lilly to be up front with Brenden Wheeler, Jordan Masterson, Daniel Barker at linebacking spots. Carter and Stewart will be on the corners with Edwards at safety, a position where he earned first team Class AA All-State honors in 2012.
Italian exchange student Francesco Desiderio will handle the placekicking and kickoff duties, while Bryan Morris will be the punter.
Simon said the whole Beaver-Graham experience is unique and one in which the players understand.
“We’ve had ex-players come in and talk, ex-teams have been honored, so most of our players have a decent memory of the rivalry,” Simon said. “They have an idea of the tradition and what’s behind this. They have a good idea.
“It’s neat because of the social setting, the tailgating, everybody comes in from both communities. You see a lot of old friends and family and enjoy each other and it’s just nice to hold the bragging rights of the game. I think it means a lot to us, period, to win the game.”
Simon addressed what he thought was key to Bluefield picking up a win.
“Don’t turn the ball over and play hard,” Simon pointed out. “Just don’t turn the ball over. I think we turned it over a lot last year and it hurt us. We can’t do that.”
Kickoff of the 87th Beaver-Graham game is set for 7:30 p.m. at Mitchell Stadium.
— Contact Bob Redd at