November 29, 2007
It’s Bluefield’s balance vs. JM’s ground assault in AA title game
By Rick Ryan
Assistant Sports Editor
Bluefield and James Monroe look to take different paths to get to the same goal Friday night.
The top-ranked Beavers will likely mix the run and pass to move the ball in the Class AA championship game, while the No. 3 Mavericks hope to do the same with their [single-wing]three-man gang of ball-carriers. Kickoff is set for 7:30 at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Bluefield (12-0) will be making its eighth title-game appearance since the Super Six moved to Wheeling in 1994. For James Monroe (12-1), it’s the first finals trip ever.
The Beavers can attack defenses in a variety of ways — from shifty tailback Shaun Brooks (1,254 yards, 16 touchdowns) to fullbacks Jake Lilly and Marcus Patterson to the big-play connection of quarterback Will Cole to wide receiver Ansel Ponder.
Cole has thrown for 1,381 yards and 18 TDs, with 10 of his scoring strikes going to Ponder [pictured] (47 catches, 696 yards). Lilly and Bowes have run for five TDs apiece.
“That’s true, they are a well-balanced team,’’ said James Monroe coach David Witt. “When you start talking about their offense, they have the capability of coming out and throwing it and beating you, or coming out and running it and beating you. They definitely have the weapons and the capability to take advantage of either situation.’’
Bluefield coach Fred Simon said his team always strives for offensive balance, and this is one of the seasons it’s been achieved. Four running backs have at least 42 carries, and three receivers sport 14 or more catches.
Simon knows it a lot easier to move the ball if the defense doesn’t know what’s coming.
“Exactly,’’ he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a weakness here or there, and use them all to our advantage.’’
James Monroe’s defense figures to present a challenge to the Beavers, who were held to 243 yards and had three turnovers in a 14-7 win over the Mavericks on Oct. 26. Bluefield averages 34.6 points and 355 yards of offense.
Cole, in particular, will be throwing against a Mavericks defense that allows only 41 percent completions and has picked off 26 passes while giving up just six TD tosses. Linebacker Daniel Pritt leads the defense with 109 tackles.
“They do a nice job defensively,’’ Simon said, “stopping the run and the pass. The last time we played, it was a tough, physical game. They were close to blocking a punt that could have changed the game. I still don’t know how we got it off.’’
The Mavs, meanwhile, will try to control the clock and the line of scrimmage with their relentless running attack.
James Monroe could finish the season with three 1,000-yard rushers. Taylor Robertson (1,750 yards, 28 TDs) and Nick Kisiel (1,002 yards, 10 TDs) have already reached that plateau, with Ernie Tincher (926 yards, 12 TDs) right behind.
“Those three complement each other really well,’’ Witt said. “All three of them help make each other better. You can’t necessarily sit in there [on defense] and say, ‘We’re going to take this one kid away and basically shut them down.’ It’s definitely an asset.’’
Robertson has connected on only 14 passes all season (averaging a whopping 28 yards per completion), but when you average 330 yards on the ground per game as the Mavericks do, you don’t find the need to pass too often.
“They’re right side, left side, up side,’’ Simon said, “and they do a great job blocking. Their linemen really come off the ball well. They’ve run their offense so much that it’s second nature to them. They’re very smooth on offense, very disciplined.’’
However, Bluefield’s defense, like James Monroe’s, can be very stingy, having allowed an average of just 10.8 points. For the second straight season, Lilly leads the Beavers in tackles from his linebacker spot. This year, he’s been charted with 1431/2 total tackles.
“On the defensive side, they run real well,’’ Witt said. “They’ve got great speed. On defense, they always say if you take one false step, you can’t make the play. But they’ve got the speed to help make up for it.’’
Kicker Asher Sexton ensures that the Beaver also have solid special-teams play. He handles punting duties and has booted 45-of-55 extra points and four field goals. Logan Ray has made 54-of-65 PATs for the Mavs.
To contact assistant sports editor Rick Ryan, use e-mail or call 348-5175.
The Charleston Gazette