Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 4, 2013

Bluefield speed a concern to Richlands

By MIKE DAVIS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

RICHLANDS, Va. — The first half of the Richlands football season has been laden with challenges from replacing injured personnel to getting fundamentals down for first-year starters.

Those new faces have had their hands full learning their role in the Richlands football scheme. Despite the challenges, the Blues have still manufactured three wins out of the first five games, although none have come in consecutive order.

The Tornado has wins against Gate City, Graham and Virginia High and their defeats came in week’s two and four against Union and Lord Botetourt.

Up next for Richlands is a visit tonight to Mitchell Stadium to take on Bluefield, looking to put their streak of winning every other week to rest after coming off a win against the Bearcats last week.

“The reason we have Bluefield on our schedule is we know we’re going to see speed,” Richlands head coach Greg Mance said. “They’re well coached and Coach (Fred) Simon is the all-time winning coach at Bluefield High School and that tells you he can flat out coach because there’s been some great coaches at Bluefield.

“His teams are always well prepared, they have great technique and this year, they’re athletic, with size and speed with one of the fastest teams I’ve seen in a while.”

Bluefield is coming off a win over Greenbrier East last week with a lopsided 57-18 led by Cory Coppola who rushed for 151 yards on 11 carries with three touchdowns. The Beavers scored 20 points in the first quarter with four scores coming from four different players to lead 37-6 by intermission.

The Beavers have scored 210 points this season with two other wins including Graham (60-38) and Gate City (61-7). Bluefield’s only loss came in the second week of the season with a close game with Princeton, 32-29.

“Coppola and (D.J.) Edwards are special football players,” Mance said. “You can name off players who are physical and can fly. They have great size and it’s going to be a challenge.”

Richlands enters having pulled away from a 13-13 tie going into the final period to beat the Bearcats 32-13 in their first Southwest District game of the season. Mance was pleased with the defensive effort by Richlands in slowing down Virginia High’s Justin Brown.

“You want to measure your success if you’re improving each week,” Mance said. “And the defense has done just that. We made a change (against Virginia High) and put Zeke (Vance) at corner and Frank Taylor rushing and we’ve gotten more athletic on defense.

“Zeke is athletic, he’s a hitter, he’s explosive and Frank Taylor’s coming off the edge. At linebacker, we were having trouble keeping people off of him and at end, we can line him up and let him go after it, so we’re very pleased with our defense against Virginia High.”

Colton Staten returned to form gaining over 200 yards for his best performance of the season on 28 carries with a pair of touchdown runs. Ben Brown was also key in the win with four field goals, including one from 40 yards and a pair of extra points.

“Our kickoff team has done a great job setting field position for our defense,” Mance said. “Benny Brown has five or six touchbacks in the last two games. In the win against Graham he helped us and his first three kicks against Virginia High were either touchbacks or our kick team put it inside the 20-yard line.

“That gave our defense some room and on our kickoff return, Zeke has done a great job giving our offense good field position with good returns. Special teams have done a really good job.”

While Mance has been pleased with the improvement in the ground game and special teams, he is still looking for his receivers to catch more passes from quarterback River Michaels.

“We’ve got to do a better job in catching the football,” Mance said. “We dropped a couple touchdown passes at Union and I think we dropped three touchdown passes against Virginia High. We’ve got to get the kids comfortable and working them in practice, making sure they know their routes and just comes down to making the play.”

“The kids are catching the ball in practice and on Friday night they’re thinking to much and you can’t play that way. River’s doing a great job getting the ball where it’s supposed to go.

“(Assistant coach) Adam Davis is doing a great job with the kids doing ball drills and even though they’ve been in a little rut, I expect them to come out Friday night and catch some passes.”

Containing Bluefield’s speed on defense is definitely a concern for the Blues.

“We have to make Bluefield earn what they get,” Mance said. “It’s hard to simulate speed in practice so we’re going to have to have great technique to contain Bluefield’s speed tonight.”

Richlands hasn’t played Bluefield since 2007 and 2008, which the Beavers won 16-13 and 35-14.

Mance expects to have a large contingent of Richlands fans gathered in Mitchell Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.

“Taking a crowd with us to Mitchell Stadium is going to be key,” Mance said. “The kids feed off crowd noise and it was a big part of our success against Virginia High. The crowd started making noise when Virginia High had had the ball and they two bad snaps.

“We’ll play better in an electric atmosphere.”