The Beavers will be back in Bluefield tonight. It’s been a while.
Bluefield (3-4) last played a football game at Mitchell Stadium way back on Sept. 16, a 31-14 loss to Charlotte Country Day.
That was 42 days ago.
“I just know we have been away from home for so long and finally we come home,” Bluefield head coach Fred Simon said. “You would rather have homecoming early when it could be warmer and nicer weather, but we don’t have that opportunity. We have to do what we have to do.”
The Beavers will be back tonight, hosting homecoming against James Monroe (2-6), one of many Bluefield rivals on the gridiron. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
“This as big of a rival as the rest of them,” Simon said. “It might not be quite as big as Graham and Princeton, but it is still a decent little rivalry.
“They will come up here or we will go down there, either way, they have really good fans. It is just a hard fought battle no matter what.”
Bluefield returned the field last week for the first time in three weeks and won 27-14 at Oak Hill.
“We were a little rusty tackling and offensively too, but we still overcame all that,” Simon said. “Hopefully we have improved now that we have had live contact in a game, now hopefully we will get a little better this week.”
The Beavers took a 19-0 lead at the break and withstood the loss of improved kicker Justin Mariotti to an injury.
“I think we beat a good football team,” Simon said. “I was happy and proud of our players to overcome having to go away again after a three-week layoff and pull out a win. I was pleased to get a win away from home and still have a fighting chance.”
Despite a 3-4 record, the Beavers still have hopes of a postseason berth. Bluefield is ranked 19th this week in the Class AA ratings, and the top 16 teams qualify for the playoffs.
“Just hope, that is all we can do,” Simon said. “We have got a chance, but we have got to beat James Monroe because if we don’t beat James Monroe there will be no chance.”
Simon knows that the struggling Mavericks would like nothing better than to end the Beavers’ postseason dreams.
“They would love to beat us and we would love to beat them,” Simon said. “They are going to play hard and we are going to play hard and we will see what happens,”
While Bluefield snapped a three-losing streak, James Monroe has dropped four in a row since scoring 61 points in a win over PikeView. The Mavericks have scored just 60 points since then, while allowing 152.
Simon doesn’t want the Don Jackson-coached Mavericks to get back to their normal winning ways on this night
“They are well-coached, the kids play hard, and that is exactly what they pose to us,” Simon said. “They always play us very tough, they play everybody tough, they are going to battle and we just know we have got to be ready to play.”
Bluefield benefited from the healthy return last week of sophomore tailback Montel Leggett, who has run for 591 yards and nine touchdowns this season, although most of those were early in the season.
He will be complemented by seniors Brad Fox and C.J. Manns, a duo that combined for 206 yards and two touchdowns in the win at Oak Hill. Fox had 120 of those, including a 75-yard first quarter scoring run, while Manns added a 42-yard dash to paydirt in the final period.
They were fed the ball often against the Red Devils by sophomore signal-caller D.J. Edwards.
“It’s great, we mixed it up a little bit and it was good to see Brad and C.J. get into the mix of it,” Simon said. “They are seniors and as hard as they have worked, it was their time and hopefully it continues to get better for our next two games.
“I think now we have three backs that can do it. We didn’t throw it that much (last week), but when we did throw it last week, I think we completed most of our passes.”
Defensively, the Beavers were able to contain the speedy Red Devils, led by the interior line paced by Ryan Shorter, Tanner Williams, Cody Gore, Justin Miles and Julius Thomas.
Nick Lester had eight tackles from his linebacker slot for Bluefield, while Williams had eight stops and a forced fumble. Shorter and Jeff James had seven tackles apiece, while Fox, Justin Carter and Tyler Myers had six each. Fox also had a forced fumble.
Shorter had perhaps the biggest play, picking up a loose football and running 20 yards for a 13-0 first quarter lead.
“I was happy for him, those linemen don’t get an opportunity to score very much and he came through,” Simon said. “They dropped the ball, we hit him and Ryan picked it up and took off to the end zone.”
While James Monroe does the throw the ball more than it has in the past, the Mavericks are still a ground-based attack, led by Matthew Romanello — who has run for 868 yards and 10 touchdowns — and Trevor Fullen, who has tallied 451 yards and five scores.
Romanello missed the last outing, a 49-7 loss to Class AA top-ranked Shady Spring, but Simon figures he will be back tonight. He has thrown four touchdown passes as well, while John Mustain has two.
“I’m sure (Romanello) will run hard, that is what they do, they all run hard,” Simon said. “They throw it, they have been behind and that has probably caused them to throw it.
“They will throw it too, they are adequate at throwing the ball too... We have all got to do our jobs, we have all got to tackle well.”
If it is a close game, Simon is glad to have Mariotti back on the field. He has connected on three field goals and 19 extra points this season, but missed much of the game with Oak Hill after twice getting hit in the same part of the leg.
“We were inside the 10 twice and could have got field goals that could have really helped us,” Simon said. “We couldn’t do it and that is how important a kicker is to the football team.”
Bluefield will conclude its regular season next week with a visit from Wayne, one of its many rivals across the state. That game can wait. The Mavericks are up next and the Beavers are home.
“Play, play hard, hard, hard and see what happens,” Simon said. “We have got to stop the run and the pass and just be ready to play football, but we’re just glad to be home.
“It was the 16th (when we last played here), it is definitely nice not to have to travel.”
—Contact Brian Woodson