By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Mike Williams had heard about the Beaver-Graham football game prior to becoming part of it. Those descriptions didn’t do it justice.
“When I arrived here, everybody was talking about the Graham-Beaver game, and the game itself really far exceeded my expectations in the description of it,” Williams said. “I would say it is the single largest event in this part of the state. Anywhere you can 10-to-15,000 gathered in a community this size is really impressive.”
Definitely. A large audience will gather at Mitchell Stadium tonight for the annual season opener between the G-Men and Beavers. Bluefield holds a 62-22-2 edge over the years, but Graham is looking for its second straight win in the series, with that last happening in 2002.
As is usually the case, Bluefield appears to be the favorite, but what anyone else thinks doesn’t bother Williams or the G-Men.
“That underdog feeling evaporates with each week and year that goes by, certainly two years ago nobody expected a whole lot, and last year we were significant underdogs,” said Williams, who is 1-1 in two games with the Beavers. “It doesn’t matter a whole lot to us what other people think about us, we know what we have got and we feel good about what we have got.”
Williams has laid out his plan for success for the G-Men.
“Offensively, we need to get first downs and take care of the football, and that would be true in any game,” Williams said. “Defensively, the big thing is we have got to be patient.
“Our kids need to understand that sometimes the offense makes plays on you, sometimes they get drives, sometimes they do things well, but be patient with them and it will all work out all right.
Both teams will have newcomers at quarterback, with Colby Hill taking the reins for the G-Men, while R.J. Bourne will toss the ball for the Beavers.
Williams doesn’t think Hill — who is one of the area’s best basketball players — will be bothered by the atmosphere surrounding the game.
“Being in the spotlight is not new to him,” said Williams, of Hill, who shared quarterback and receiver duties last year with Spencer Sheets. “He has been under the Friday night lights, he has been in the limelight of basketball for two years so this is just sort of the next step in his career.
“The nice thing about Colby is he is a smart kid, he is a straight-A student and those kids are able to operate out of the position pretty well.”
While Bluefield will put speedy D.J. Stewart and converted signal-caller D.J. Edwards in the backfield, along with former Graham fullback Corey Coppola, the G-Men will counter with a trio of backs looking to replace the production of 1,000-yard rusher Cody Hatfield.
“They have some fast kids, the big thing on offense is you have got to get first downs and you have got to hold onto the football,” Williams said. “If you can do those two things you give yourself a chance.
“If you turn it over and you are 3-and-outs, it can make for a long night.”
Charlie Benfield, who played receiver last year, and former Bluefield product Kyshon Lee will see action at tailback, with Dylan Cook replacing Michael Thompson at fullback.
Hill’s top target will include much-improved sophomore Bryce Farris, along with Adam Carbaugh and the freshman duo of Ben Meade and Dequan Booker.
“We will probably split the carries up a little bit,” Williams said. “(Charlie) played tailback earlier in his career so that not totally a new position for him. Dylan has had a good offseason and preseason as well.”
Graham could be spurred an experienced and strong offensive line, spearheaded by three-year starters Chase Asbury at center and Daelan Caffe at guard. Tight end Mark Large has started for two years, as have guard Channing Mooney and tackles Colin Beavers and Canann Looney.
“Tackle to tackle they have all started so we have all six of them back, we are pretty experienced at the spot,” Williams said. “As a unit they are a pretty seasoned group of guys and they have sort of been there and done that.”
That unit will line up against a defense that struggled at times to stop the opposition last season, but that was news to Williams, whose G-Men defeated the Beavers 23-21 last year, but only 14 of their points came on offense.
“They played us tough last year, some of that stuff you can throw out the window for a rivalry game,” Williams said. “You would be surprised with how an offense or defense will step up in a game like this...
“Their defense will be tough, I think they are playing a little bit better than they did a year ago. I think their defense maybe had its struggles down the road, but they played a tough game against us and they look a little bit better than a year ago.”
Defensively, the G-Men will try to contain the Beavers, who are fast, but young on the offensive line, with Cody Gore the lone returning starter. That concerns some, but not Williams.
“A lot of people get caught up in who graduated and who is coming back and all that, but Bluefield is a well established program,” “Williams said. “They are not going to fall off the earth, they are going to graduate some kids and be competitive the next year.
“We expect a tough game, there may be some new starters, we have some new starters, that is how high school football is so they will be tough competitive kids.”
Graham will play without leading tackler Hunter Cook, who was ejected from the playoff loss to Union last season and has to sit out one game. That also doesn’t phase Williams, not after Graham won last season despite having to replace Caffee — who was injured in a lawnmower accident the week of the game — with Looney, who was then a freshman.
“Having kids miss for injuries or suspensions or whatever the case may be, that is part of the game,” Williams said. “We have got a large enough number of players able to play varsity that if these things come up we will be in good shape.”
Carbaugh, Asbury and Lee will be the linebackers, while the defensive line is experienced, led by ends Jarrod Richmond and Ethan Stirewalt, tackles Adrian Gray and Jake Tibbs and nose guard John Jennings.
The secondary will include Benfield at safety, while the cornerbacks will be youngsters in Farris and Meade. Samuel Stowers returns as kicker and punter for the G-Men.
“It is going to be a tough matchup, they have got some real good football players, they are well coached, they have got a good combination of size and speed,” Williams said. “This will probably be one of our toughest matchups that we see all season.”
Bluefield has the speed and explosiveness to be a high-powered offense, something Williams hasn’t had to remind his G-Men.
“Anybody they plug into those wing spots seem to be fast, they do have good team speed, that is kind of what they are known for,” Williams said. “The Bourne kid at quarterback, he is a really good thrower and is deceptively well on the run.
“The wings they have, Edwards and Stewart, they are the caliber of players, they can break one at any point so they are pretty potent on offense.”
Now in his third season with Graham, Williams won’t be caught up in all that surrounds the biggest game of the season. Neither will his players.
“Certainly I am more seasoned to the game as a coach and I think our kids, where a lot of them have played early in their careers, I think they are more seasoned to the game,” Williams said. “A lot of these seniors played quite signicantly as sophomores and certainly played as juniors last year.
“We all come in this together as a little more seasoned group in general.”
Both teams have been involved in preseason scrimmages, but none of that matters tonight. Finally, it’s for real.
“We tell our kids and coaches that scrimmages are just a practice against another opponent so it is not the same,” Williams said. “This is our first real look at live competition, we are excited, you never know what you have got until you line up so we will get a look at it Friday.”
—Contact Brian Woodson