— Game one is in the books.
Finally, more than two years after football was resurrected during a press conference at the former Pocahontas High School, Bluefield College has played a game that counts for the first time since 1941.
It resulted in a loss, but opportunity was there to start victorious.
“When you let one get away from you it kind of hurts,” Bluefield College offensive coordinator Mike Compton said. “The good thing is the guys in the locker room saw how bad it hurt.”
The Rams lost 42-28, but led early 7-0 and were tied at 21-21 at the break. Mistakes occurred, but that is going to happen when Bluefield has 77 players on its roster, and 72 of those are freshmen.
“Today was a good learning experience, unfortunately we didn’t come out with a win, we made too many mistakes,” head coach Mike Gravier said. “I don’t think we got our butts kicked. I think we just made some mistakes and poor fundamental technique things that you expect from young guys and you have to brush up on it and correct it and move on.”
They will have to.
“This game is over with now. We can look at tape and fix our mistakes that we did today, but today is gone,” Bluefield running back Marion Harris said. “The game is gone. We’ve got to focus on next week and improve what we’re doing for next week.”
Next week brings three-time NAIA national champion Georgetown, which reached the national semifinals last season. The Tigers, who train on the same facilities used by the Cincinnati Bengals during training camp, have won the last two Mid-South Conference titles, and enter this season as the fourth ranked team in America.
“We have Georgetown next week, they are ranked No. 4 in the country, they will be a much better team,” echoed Gravier.
No wonder any thoughts of Pikeville ended soon after this loss.
“It’s already in the back of my head. We’ve got to prepare for Georgetown next week,” Bluefield’s Jonathan Toe said. “They’re ranked pretty high, so we’re going to get ready for them [so we can] go out there and give them a good game.”
Bluefield’s first game was good. It was entertaining, the crowd — estimated anywhere from 1,000 to 4,500 — was loud, enthuasistic and cheered every move on the field in front of them.
“We appreciate the turnout, it was great, it is nice to play in front of a crowd and hearing cheering and stuff,” Compton said. “We have got a tough Georgetown team coming in and we have got a lot of work to do and a short time to do it in, but we will be ready and correct the mistakes.”
Many observers didn’t think Bluefield would come close in their first game, but the Rams expected to win. They could have won this one, but Pikeville made key plays, returning an interception and punt for touchdowns, and Rams also had three turnovers.
“I think they were ready, I think our guys were prepared and we knew they were going to play hard and that is what we expect our guys to do,” Bluefield head coach Mike Gravier said. “I don’t know if it was nerves so much, especially with the way we came out, we moved the football pretty well, kind of like we thought we could and played well defensively.
“Once the mistakes happened it started to snowball a little bit.”
Gravier was quick to point out that the mistakes that cost the Rams from what would have been a perfect way to start a new season could be fixed.
“The thing I told the guys is everything that happened here today is fixable, Gravier said. “We can fix tackling, we can fix the special teams, we can fix turnovers. It is not like they came in and physically blew us down the field, it is all things that we can make better.”
Getting better was what several members of the Rams did last fall when Bluefield’s football team played a club schedule, either against other teams or themselves. Much of that time was spent beating up on each other, but it was all worth it when the Bears came to town.
“It was tough, it was redundant, but we got through it and it made us all better,” said starting guard Hayne Darby, a transfer from Bridgewater, who played for Compton while at Patrick Henry in Glade Spring. “I know I wouldn’t be the same player I was without that year this year.”
Darby was one of many youngsters that Compton is working with in trying to develop an offensive line that can compete against Mid-South Conference teams, all of whom will be older and more experienced.
“This is good, now our guys know the speed of the game and what they are going against, it is kind of like being thrown in the fire,” Compton said. “We have got a bunch of young guys, 17, 18-year-old guys going against older guys so it is like being a first round pick.
“If you are ready or not, you are going to be ready.”
Pikeville didn’t begin its football program until 2001 so the Bears know a little something about what Bluefield is trying to do. Dudley Hilton, in his second at the Kentucky school, will be watching to see how the Rams do as the season continues on.
“It is tough, I don’t know how much depth he has got, we are hoping to have a good football team and I feel like we have a good football team so he should win some games,” Hilton said. “In this business you have attitude problems, you never know with kids.
“We won, but did we learn anything today? (Gravier) has probably learned more out of it then we did because his kids will take it a little bit harder and they will stay hungry and as long as his kids stay hungry they will beat somebody.”
Hunger isn’t a problem at Bluefield. The Rams could taste victory on Saturday, but let it get away. No more attention on being the first game since in 1941.
Now it’s just football.
“A lot of pressure is off, but a little bit more is on now,” Darby said. “We need a win, more than anything.”
Brian Woodson is the sports editor with the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@ bdtonline.com