BLUEFIELD — With a non-league schedule that includes Northern Illinois, N.C. State and Ole Miss, no wonder the Blue Hose of Presbyterian went looking for wins when devising its slate for 2014.
Bluefield, which is currently in the midst of a 23-game losing skid, could fit that formula. Not if the Rams can help it.
“It really doesn’t change anything we do, I suspect we are the underdog in every game so for us we do what we do,” Bluefield College head coach Ordell Walker said. “We handle the process and we go in there knowing our energy, our motivation has to be internal, it won’t come from the crowd.”
While Bluefield dropped a 62-40 decision to Mid-South Conference foe Pikeville last Thursday, the Blue Hose traveled to Northern Illinois — which was a BCS bowl buster just two years ago — and returned with a 55-3 loss.
Presbyterian plays in the Big South Conference, which is a FCS (formerly Division 1-AA) league, one level below Division I, or FBS competition.
“Every football player wants to play at the highest level possible,” Walker said. “Most guys had dreams of playing Division I and playing on TV and things like that so it is a great opportunity for our guys to see how they compete against Division I players.
“I know our guys are excited about it, it is a challenge, we just like that opportunity.”
Bluefield was productive on offense against Pikeville, scoring 40 points and rolling up 504 yards, but long pass plays, special teams miscues and four second half turnovers doomed the Rams to defeat.
“We liked our production, our start and our finish was really good offensively,” Walker said. “We kind of stalled in the middle so we would like to be able to sustain that so consistency throughout the four quarters is important.
“Defensively, we saw some good things, had quite a few tackles for loss and things like that but there were just too many big plays in the passing game, that definitely has to improve quickly.”
The Harold Nichols-coached Blue Hose, who is in his sixth season at his alma mater, have grown accustomed to playing ‘money’ games, having also faced Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, California and Clemson over the last four years, which has resulted in an overall record of 11-33.
Call this visit to Presbyterian a ‘money’ game too for Bluefield, but it could also help the Rams expand their recruiting base.
“Certainly there is a little financial incentive of playing two levels up so that certainly helps the program and the opportunity to play on the bigger stage,” said Walker, who has nearly two dozen players from South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. “The challenge for our players I think is great preparation for our league...
“We love recruiting South Carolina and North Carolina, it is really not that far. It is a place we will have a footprint and this is an opportunity to showcase our brand of football, the NAIA brand in the area of the country where we don’t typically play.”
Presbyterian struggled mightily against Northern Illinois, accumulating 127 yards, six first downs and three points, while allowing 636 yards, 36 first downs and 55 points, all of which came in the opening three quarters.
That doesn’t mean the Blue Hose can’t play.
“On offense, they are very athletic, they can just flat out run, linebackers, d-linemen, the defensive backs, I think they are certainly a faster defense than Pikeville,” Walker said.
“Size-wise they are pretty similar, Pikeville might just be a little bit bigger in some ways, but offensively, their receivers are highly skilled so that is another huge challenge for us.
“They can run the ball, they are big up front and aggressive and so we are going to have to defend both phases of the offense, the passing and the running game.”
Bluefield will be led offensively by the two-headed quarterback duo of Ashten Dixon and Armani Ford, who combined to throw for 107 yards and two scores, while the running game, paced by Marion Harris and Sam Bennett, ran for 397 yards and four scores on the ground.
Walker narrowed down the keys to success for the Rams.
“Run the ball inside, don’t turn it over and not giving up the explosive pass plays,” said Walker, whose Rams will be without nose tackle Cam Carter (groin) and Robert Boatright (broken foot), but do get the services of safety LeRico Hopkins and punter Daniel Griffin, who missed last week, and the Rams paid with several miscues on special teams.
Bluefield unleashed a slew of freshmen and newcomers against the Bears, and while mistakes were made, potential was seen, and there was no denying the enthusiasm shown by the Rams throughout the game.
“That is a point of emphasis for our program, we just believe you play better when guys are excited,” Walker said. “When there is energy created from a team, and we try not to feed off the crowd because we can’t control the crowd, but we can control our excitement and it helps us stay mentally tough even as the game starts to turn in the direction that we don’t like.
“If our team and our sidelines are encouraging each other, the guys on the field feel that energy.”
Kickoff tonight in Clinton, S.C. is slated for 7 p.m.