Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 17, 2013

Offensive potential, defensive improvement shown by Beavers

By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — D.J. Edwards won a state championship in basketball last March. He wants that feeling again, this time on a cold December night in Wheeling.

“I want these football players to feel that feeling because it is the best feeling in the world,” Edwards said.

The drive to what Edwards hopes is Bluefield’s 11th state football championship continued in the first of two preseason scrimmages on Saturday at Mitchell Stadium, in what has become an annual affair between the Beavers and Christiansburg.

“We needed (a scrimmage) and I think they needed one, and we love coming up here to Mitchell Stadium,” said Christiansburg head coach Tim Cromer, on how the relationship began. “We had played Graham for a while and they got away from playing us and we just picked them up and we have a great relationship with them.”

Football was in the air with a cool breeze blowing, pads popping, whistles blowing and a couple of hundreds spectators watching from the bleachers.

“It was great, they came and supported us and these guys,” Bluefield head coach Fred Simon said. “I think they are going to give them something to be proud of, they have worked hard and they are going to play hard.”

The development that was most apparent since last year’s 9-3 campaign was Edwards — who had started at quarterback the previous two seasons — moving to running back, with junior R.J. Bourne taking his place behind center.

“It was hard to start off with, but now I think I have it down, looking at the holes and hitting them hard,” Edwards said. “R.J. can throw the ball, he can get it to us, I will go anywhere and play, I want to win a state championship in football.”

Simon wasn’t surprised to see Edwards willing to do what is best for the Beavers.

“He has a great attitude,” Simon said. “He is willing to help the team wherever he has got to help, that is what makes so valuable.”

The scrimmage included a junior varsity and varsity segment for the first two hours, and then a pair of 12-minute quarters to complete the three hours on the field.

“It’s great, we have been ready to do some things,” Simon said. “We have been playing against each other and practicing and it is time to go get somebody else...I know we have got a long ways to go, but I am pleased.”

Edwards, who is also an All-Class AA defensive back, would agree, as the Beavers prepare for the season opener with Graham closing in on Aug. 30.

“It feels good, we have been hitting up on each other all summer,” Edwards said. “It feels good to come out and battle somebody else...

“They beat us up last year, we came back and beat them up this year.”

Bluefield unveiled a potent backfield combination, with the speedy Edwards and D.J. Stewart joined in the backfield by 6-foot-4, 233-pound Corey Coppola, who dashed 51 yards for a touchdown in the second of the two quarters to help the Beavers out-score the Blue Demons 9-7.

“(Corey) has got nice speed in the open field, he really does,” Simon said. “He finds an extra gear and he is a big body.”

“They are very good, they are physical, they are big,” added Cromer. “They are fast when they need to be fast, they are physical when they need to be physical. They are well coached, this is a great scrimmage for us, that is why we like to scrimmage them.”

Bourne displayed a strong arm at quarterback, although the junior signal-caller did have three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

“We moved the ball, but we turned it over,” Simon said. “We had interceptions, fumbles, every time, the first drive we had a fumble inside the 10, but overall I was pleased with what we did.”

Justin Carter and Brandon Lilly showed the ability to catch the football.

“Our snaps were down a little bit, but we found a way to overcome the scrimmage a little bit,” Simon said. “They have got a good team, they are good defensively too so we had a good scrimmage.”

The offensive line, which includes four new starters, had to deal with a solid defense that includes nine returnees, but held up well under pressure, giving Edwards confidence for the coming season.

“It will be tough to stop us. All of us are averaging up in the 200s (pounds) so it is hard to stop that running the ball,” Edwards said. “They were looking good, working all week in practice so I see improvement in the line.”

Bluefield had a 9-3 record in 2012, but the defense was torched for much of the season. The potential was there for improvement against an offense that largely stuck to the ground against the Beavers.

“I think we are (better), I think I heard a lot of pads clicking and I am pleased with that,” Simon said.

“That is all we have worked on all season,” added Edwards. “Everybody after practice, before practice, triple-overtime, all that, we are just trying to get better.”

Among the standouts were linebacker Daniel Barker, who had one of the biggest hits of the day, and defensive back Jordan Masterson, who didn’t play last year, but was all over the field making plays in this one. So was Brennan Wheeler, who has transferred back to Bluefield from Graham,

“They came in and did a nice job,” Simon said.

Christiansburg, which finished 6-4 last season, is just two years removed from playing for the Division 4 state championship in Virginia. Cromer’s defense did allow some big plays, but managed to contain the Beavers to few points.

“I was proud of our defense, our defense kind of kept us in the scrimmage, our offense got bogged down, but we are going to hang our hats on our defense,” said Cromer, whose team wore jerseys that read ‘Hit Them First’ on the front. “I am excited because we haven’t been able to do that a whole lot, we have scored a lot of points in the past, but our defense hunkered down and we are real proud of them. This is actually what we need to see.”

The junior varsity teams began the scrimmage, with Bluefield scoring four touchdowns to three for Christiansburg. Carlos Reed, who was injured in the varsity segment of the scrimmages, had two scores, while Marcus Mitchell and John Neece had one apiece. Devin Blankenship had sacks on consecutive plays for the Beavers.

Bluefield had three scores to one in the scrimmage that followed, with Edwards scoring from 20 yards, Coppola plunging in from two, and Charles Ross dashed 60 yards for another touchdown. Foreign exchange student Francesco Desiderio was two for three in extra points, and added one later on during the 9-7 two-quarter game that included a safety for the Beavers.

“They have got speed and size, that is a nice quarterback, I think their quarterback is very sound, they have two big wideouts,” Cromer said. “All they threw were hitches and slants, we jumped the hitch and got the score, but they are very, very good.”

Bluefield returns to the field on Aug. 23 at Shady Spring, followed by the season opener with Graham, with Edwards thinking state championship from now until December.

“That is my goal, leave it better than you found it,” Edwards said. “We want to win it all, undefeated the whole season.”

If that means giving up the reins at quarterback to help the team, that is fine with him.

“If you make plays they are going to still talk about you so it is all right,” he said, with a smile.

—Contact Brian Woodson

 bwoodson@bdtonline.com