Column by BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The football doesn’t stop at Mitchell Stadium this weekend when Graham and Bluefield — or Beaver-Graham, depending your allegiance — comes to an end.
A game 71 years in the making will take place on Saturday when Bluefield College resurrects its program against the University of Pikeville. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.
This is an important week for the Rams. Not only is it the first game since 1941 — a 30-7 win over Rio Grande that was also played at a 6-year-old Mitchell Stadium — but Bluefield will have the football scene to themselves.
The Mountaineers, Hokies, Thundering Herd and Mountain Lions aren’t playing. That means this could be Bluefield’s best opportunity to lure fans who might come back again later in the season, even if their favorite team is playing elsewhere.
“I think it is going to be exciting, I think we play exciting football, our scrimmage showed that this past Saturday,” said Gravier, whose Rams showed balance, running the ball 54 times and throwing it 53. “I think we moved the ball up and down the field and made plays on defense as well which is important for us too.
“I think it is going to be something new, it is going to be fresh, and I just think it is going to be an exciting time, and it is an affordable afternoon for fans.”
For a little more than a cost of a delectable No. 1 combo at Chick-fil-A, college football can be yours. The cost is just $7 per fan, and $3 for students (through high school). Season tickets are $35 or $15 per student, which is the savings of one full game.
The reward in week one — which will include several special ceremonies — could be a high-scoring affair with the Bears of Pikeville, with footballs flying through the air and lots of points on the scoreboard.
Tazewell product and former major league pitching star Billy Wagner will toss the coin prior to the game.
“I hope it is only high-scoring on one end,” said Gravier, with a smile, “but it should be an entertaining game because if they are throwing the ball like we think they are going to and if we can mix it up as well, it should be a lot of offense.”
Pikeville head coach Dudley Hilton understands the significance of the game to Bluefield, but has tried to avoid that subject and just get his team ready for the season to begin.
“We really haven’t talked about it too much because we have been through the two-a-days and trying to get ready for the season and it so happens it is against Bluefield and it will be their first game,” said Hilton, a high school coach for 36 years, who is in his second season at Pikeville.
“We really haven’t put the emphasis on that because we feel like we have too much work to do that it didn’t matter who we were playing as long as we get ready to play our first game.”
The odd part of about this matchup is the lack of knowledge of what the other teams wants to do. Bluefield knows that Pikeville averaged 30.4 points a contest last season — they gave up 33.0 — and like to throw the football, led by quarterback Trevor Hoskins, who threw for 2,654 yards and 27 touchdowns last year, including six scores against West Virginia Tech to earn NAIA player of the week honors.
Still, the Rams are limited since there was no film exchange between the clubs. Hey, the last time Bluefield played football, who would have thought to tape it?
“We don’t have any film on them, we are going in blind based on what we see by statistics,” Gravier said. “They sent up their 2-deep and they line up in a 4-3 defense so we know that by the way they design it, but we are both going in blind.”
Pikeville is more blind. There is no film because Bluefield hasn’t played a game that mattered since before the onset of World War II. The Bears are young, with just four seniors, but the Rams have no seniors and only one junior — Greg Hampton, a transfer from Alfred College in New York —who is one of three quarterbacks slated to start the season for the Rams.
“A big game like this, something you don’t know on, you have got to make sure you are disciplined and being where you are supposed to be,” said Hilton, whose top defensive player is his son, linebacker John Dudley Hilton, who led the Mid-South Conference in solo tackles as a freshman.
“We know they played some (club) games last year and we know they recruit just like us. They have got scholarship players and they are basically a young football team where we are still a young football team, we basically have just got four seniors ourselves.”
Gravier, who is also serving as offensive coordinator, wants a team on the go, that likes to move the ball on offense, but with a balanced attack of run and pass. He does expect to put points on the board, which is always helpful to get crowds out to the games.
It might not be the 9,500 to 10,000 fans expected to fill Mitchell Stadium for the G-Men and Beavers, but that is understandable in a community that has a reputation for supporting the high school variety of the sport.
Gravier is hoping that a Bluefield College game could eventually gain a similar type of support.
“I think the Bluefield-Graham game may be (bigger) because it is two local teams that is obviously going to bring a bigger crowd,” Gravier said. “I am hoping that eventually Bluefield College will be Tazewell and Mercer County’s team as well so they come will out here and support us just like they do their high school teams.”
Who really knows until the gates are opened on Saturday. The area has proven they will support football, to a point. The Bluefield Barons were a hit for a few weeks a few years ago, but the interest dwindled just as quick.
This isn’t the Barons. The Rams are for real and here to stay, and Gravier is hoping to pick up Bluefield football fans along the way.
He’s not talking about the Beavers.
“A lot of people have said they are coming out and talked about it and I am encouraged by that,” said Gravier, who threw out the first pitch at a Bluefield Blue Jays game on Monday. “We were at the baseball game last night and a lot of people were mentioning they were planning on coming to the game. Again I hope that people can buy into Bluefield College being the regional college team as well.”
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at email@example.com