At least the Beavers should be able to make it on time.
Bluefield traveled the three hours last season to Charlotte Latin and returned with unpleasant memories and a 31-14 loss to the Hawks.
“Last year the bus ride was awful,” Bluefield head coach Fred Simon said. “We got down there late and I think that hurt us, we could never get in gear.”
The Beavers only have to travel a few miles tonight to Mitchell Stadium to play the Hawks. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
“They are a well-coached team and they make very few mistakes...,” Simon said. “This year if we play our game without turnovers and if everybody plays hard I feel like we will definitely have a chance.”
While Bluefield has plenty of tradition, including 10 state championships and more than 600 wins in school history, the Hawks (4-0) have created their own dominance in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association (NCISAA).
The Hawks are 84-15 since 2005, having played in eight straight state title games, winning four of them, including three in a row from 2005-07. Charlotte Latin is 12-0 against non-North Carolina teams.
“We can’t turn the ball over and we just have to play the best we possibly can,” said Simon, . “Everybody needs to play as hard as they can and the best that they can.”
Charlotte Latin, much like another past Bluefield opponent, Charlotte Country Day, is a private school that can recruit athletes. Bluefield won’t play Latin in the future, with Gate City expected to fill that date in the calendar beginning next season.
“They have a few private schools down that way and all of them can recruit,” Simon said. “They have got a nice team, they have got kids that want to be there and they are intelligent kids, similar to Charlotte Country Day, but it is a nice game for us to have.”
The Hawks, who lost 17 seniors off last year’s club that finished 8-3 and fell in the state semifinals, are led by Denzel Pearson, a talented back, who ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-13 win to open the season against North Cross out of Roanoke, Va.
“He does a nice job of running the ball and they do a nice job of passing, they just mix it up,” Simon said. “They are spread the whole time, but they come out in about a different formation on every play.”
Latin has also defeated Airborne for Christ (39-6), Carolina Pride (35-20) and Baptist Hill, S.C. (28-21). Other players to watch include receiver Carson Song and linebacker/offensive lineman Louis Stephens, who is just one of six seniors that play for Latin for Larry McNulty, in his 27th year as a football coach.
“They have good size, they have a sophomore that is 275 and other than that they are...similar to us,” Simon said. “I think we may have a little more bit speed than they have.”
Bluefield (2-1) has plenty of speed to burn, led by junior tailback Montel Leggett (408, 7 td), quarterback D.J. Edwards (257, 4 td), Johnny David (17-154, 1 td) and D.J. Stewart (13-139, 1 td).
What Simon likes most about his many weapons is their willingness to block for each other and share the glory that comes with success.
“It is more than just the offensive line, the backs are blocking and the receivers, they have all really come together as far blocking for each other,” Simon said. “The receivers have had to learn that it is not about catching passes, it is about blocking.
“The passes come, but what everybody has done for me from what I have seen, it has been their choice and they have done a nice job of basically coming together and blocking for each other.”
Edwards has thrown for 126 yards, while David, Justin Carter and David Woodrum lead the Beavers with three receptions apiece.
“We are probably more run-oriented, but we are developing a passing game and little by little as we keep working we are able to throw if we need to,” Simon said. “We saw that last week, but with all the weapons we have got we have got a pretty good running team too.”
The Beavers have scored 106 points in two wins over Princeton (52-44) and Greenbrier East (54-19) after the season-opening loss to Graham.
“The second game we just had to come together as a team and do what we could to win and I thought we did that,” said Simon, who collected the 200th win over his career at Bluefield last Friday. “Against East we are starting to get everybody together to play as far as getting everybody on the team able to play and I thought that helped.
“We are still making some improvements, but I think we are getting a good team effort on offense as far as blocking for each other and not really caring who is getting credit for what. Defensively, we have got to improve, our defensive line has got to get better.”
That includes Julius Thomas, Cody Gore, D.J. Green, Shawn Pennington, Brandon Lilly and D.J. Sims, although that isn’t the only position that must improve.
“I don’t know if we got worn down (against Princeton), but our linebacking crew wasn’t what I would expect them to be either,” Simon said. “With the addition of Corey it has helped our linebackers.”
The defense has received a boost from the addition of Graham transfer Corey Coppola, who finally got to play against Greenbrier East, and led the Beavers with 10 tackles. Thomas added nine, while Edwards and David had eight apiece.
“When you are 6-4, 210, that is a lot nicer than a freshman that is 150, that is a little better for you,” Simon said. “(Corey) is a first class kid, he works hard, he listens, he tries, he is going to get better, he is a team player.”
Bluefield struggled with turnovers in the loss to Graham, losing the ball four times and still nearly won the game. Simon continues to emphasize the need to secure the football.
Do that and mix in the speed that the Beavers have and Bluefield could be tough to beat.
“Turnovers in crucial situations can hurt you, turnovers period can hurt you so we have got to hold on to the ball,” Simon said. “If they will all continue to block for each other I think we can make it hard on other teams.”
As for a bus trip prior to this game, Simon isn’t too concerned with problems on the road.
“At least we will be on time,” he said. “If our bus messes up we still ought to be able to get there on time.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
At least the Beavers should be able to make it on time.
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