Friday, October 31, 2008

Beavers, Mavs familiar foes

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — The last time Bluefield and James Monroe faced off, it was for the Class AA state championship.

Bluefield won that one. Still, the Mavericks have earned the Beavers’ respect.

“I’m happy that we won, but if we couldn’t have won, they would have been fine as far as someone representing our state as far as state champions,” said Bluefield head coach Fred Simon, whose Beavers are 6-3 against the Mavs since 2002. “They always play hard, they’re well-coached and they’re a first class operation.”

Those clubs meet tonight in Lindside. No. 10 Bluefield (5-3) has won five straight since an 0-3 start, while eighth-ranked James Monroe (6-2) has claimed three wins in a row.

“I think they’re well-coached, they’re very opportunistic, and they take advantage of what people give them,” Simon said. “They block punts, they pick off passes, they execute their offense so they are definitely a team that has a lot of pride and just finds a way to win. They have a lot of tradition down there.”

So does Bluefield. Winners of nine state titles, the Beavers opened the season with three straight losses, but are now back in the playoff picture. Simon figures his team needs one more win to feel secure, either tonight or next Friday against South Charleston, the top-ranked Class AAA team in the state.

“We’ve got to take them one a time, we definitely know we probably need one of the two to get in,” Simon said. “Everybody knows that, but we still want to play our best and not be too focused that we have to have this. What we have to have is just good effort.”

While James Monroe is coming off a 29-0 win over Mount View, a team Bluefield beat the previous week 47-8, the Beavers defeated Scott 41-0, taking advantage of 10 turnovers by the Skyhawks. The Mavs also beat Scott 19-7, when the ‘Hawks turned it over 11 times.

Despite the 41-0 score over what was then the sixth ranked Class AA team, Simon said it wasn’t as routine as it may have appeared.

“It wasn’t easy, those guys were big and strong,” Simon said. “Fortunately we had some turnovers that helped us a lot, but I thought we beat a really good football team.

“That score is a little deceiving because of the turnovers that we got, but they are definitely a playoff-caliber team and I’m sure they’re going to do well in the playoffs.”

Bluefield will be led by Kennedy Award candidate Will Cole, who has thrown for 1,783 yards and 20 touchdowns, including last week’s 380 yards and three scores against Scott. Cole did all that while playing with an ankle sprain suffered early in that game. He didn’t play his normal safety spot for much of that contest, and won’t play defense again tonight.

“Will is a competitor, just having him out there will help us,” Simon said. “He’s going to be able to run adequately and throw well and that’s all we can ask and that’s all we want from him.”

With Cole out on defense, Damien Price will play cornerback and Marcus Patterson will take Cole’s slot as the last line of defense. That wasn’t a problem last week for the Beavers.

“We had (Patterson) in there in a different position,” Simon said, “but Marcus came up two interceptions and a fumble recovery by playing where we had him so the switch didn’t hurt us.”

Patterson has been Cole’s favorite receiver this year, pulling in 48 passes for 754 yards and eight touchdowns. Other targets include Cody Wassum (29-402, 6 td), Levi Beckett (22-264, 3 td) and Isaiah Manns (14-264. 3 td), a quartet that gave a glimpse of their potential during a 7-on-7 camp last summer at Wake Forest.

“I figured that the guys had good hands, they ran good patterns and we competed good very well down there,” Simon said. “We felt like we could definitely do it, but we didn’t throw it enough in the first couple of games. We have definitely thrown it more and it has helped our running game.”

Especially Jake Lilly. Not only is Lilly the Beavers’ leading tackler for a second straight season, but he’s run for 535 yards and eight touchdowns behind a young, but improving offensive line.

“Our offensive line has really gotten better as far as giving them time,” Simon said. “The offensive line knows they have to block, Will knows he has to get the ball to them and the receivers know they have to catch it.

“As long as everybody is working together to get that done then we have a chance of winning.”

Bluefield will have to win without Manns, who has a shoulder injury and could be out until the playoffs.

“He’s got good hands, a good blocker, and a good leader,” Simon said. “You hate to see it, but it’s an opportunity for somebody to step in and hopefully Byron Steptoe will do a good job of stepping in for him and probably Donte’ Baker on defense.”

Much has changed at James Monroe this season. Don Jackson returned to the Mavs’ sidelines, and discarded the single wing that had proven so effective under the tutelage of David Witt. Much like the Beavers, they’ve also had to replace their entire offensive and defensive line from last year’s team.

“It’s a new offense so it’s going to take them a little time to get the new offense, but they’ve done a good job,” Simon said. “I have just noticed that they keep getting better and better, they’ve gotten better every game.”

While the point production is down in Lindside, Taylor Robertson and Nick Kisiel are talented backs, having combined for more than 1,000 yards on the ground.

“They’ve started there for two and three years and they run hard and they play hard,” Simon said. “James Monroe is definitely another team that is going to be in the playoffs again and they just find a way to win and get in the playoffs every year.”

James Monroe has been stingy on defense, allowing just 49 points over the last five games, and only once has a team reached double figures during that span. Of course, Bluefield offers the type of passing game that few high school teams have to defend.

“I don’t think a lot of teams have (seen it), and that’s the advantage we have on certain teams right now because we do throw quite a bit,” said Simon, who likes what he sees from the Mavs’ defense. “They all just play together, they’re sound fundamentally, and they’re smart.

“They know how to play defense, they’ve been a good defensive team every year that we have ever played them.”

Simon expects this game to be much like the last five against the Mavericks, in which the average margin of victory has been eight points.

“We know we’ll get their best and that’s what we have to be ready for,” Simon said. “I wouldn’t expect anything less than that from them.”

—Contact Brian Woodson


James Monroe prepared for Bluefield’s high-powered attack


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Some things change, and some things stay the same.

Last year, the Bluefield Beavers football team beat James Monroe twice by a touchdown, the latter meeting coming in the Class AA state championship. Those were the Mavericks’ only two losses of the season.

“Last year was last year and this year is this year,” James Monroe coach Don Jackson said Thursday afternoon.

The two schools play again tonight in Lindside, but the Mavericks differ from last year’s team in several respects.

Jackson returned as the coach over the off-season. The single-wing offense has been replaced by a pro look with occasional options out of the West Virginia Mountaineers’ playbook. And more than a dozen of last year’s seniors have moved on.

Still, this season’s Mavericks (6-2) are ranked eighth in the Class AA computer rankings and the Beavers (5-3) are 10th. The top eight teams in each class at the end of the season get to host a first-round playoff game.

This evening’s result will have a bearing on those brackets, but Jackson is not about to look past the game at hand.

He said, “That last rating is the one that’s important. We’ve taken that approach all year long. This is a big game. The next one (closing out the regular season at Summers County) will be a big game, too.”

The current James Monroe players have grown up observing, if not playing in, close contests with Bluefield. “They’re excited about the game,” Jackson said.

As far as the 2007 results are concerned, Jackson downplayed the past. He said that as the coaches have talked with the team this week, “We haven’t played on that, hardly at all.”

The coaching staff has done its homework, however. “We’ve traded films, and we’ve scouted ’em a couple of times,” Jackson said. “They’ve got athletes everywhere. It really makes it tough to defend.”

Defense has been the keystone of the Mavericks’ success lately. In the last three weeks, the Monroe countians have won by scores of 29-0 (Mount View), 21-14 (Greenbrier East) and 10-6 (Narrows). The Mavs are giving up an average of 12.75 points per game.

The defense has made 14 interceptions and returned them for 274 combined yards.

Against Bluefield, Jackson said, “Our defense is going to have to play well. (Bluefield) has such a high-powered offense. We hope we can slow them down just a little bit.”

The offense has climbed a steep learning curve after spending the last seven years in the single wing, and that learning has continued since August.

“We’re more diverse than we were at the beginning of the season,” Jackson said. “We had people ganging up on that unbalanced line. We’ve done some things that make the defenses spread out some.”

Though there are reportedly some unused formations still in the wings, Jackson said the team is “pretty much locked in to what we’re doing on offense. We’re not going to change it that much.”

James Monroe has averaged 18.25 points per game, generating 1,150 rushing yards and 454 more passing.

Once again, the leading rusher for James Monroe is Taylor Robertson, with 571 yards on 128 attempts. Nick Kisiel follows with 451 yards on 120 tries, and leads the team in scoring with 46 points.

John Ballengee, a junior, has completed 47 percent of his passes (26-for-55) for 295 yards and four touchdowns. Kisiel has caught 13 balls for 107 yards, an 8.2-yard average per catch. Senior Jacob Williams averages 21.6 yards per catch and has scored three touchdowns via the air route.

Robertson, who ran for 964 yards in his sophomore year and for 1,871 last year, has been bothered by a bad ankle throughout this campaign. “He’s been getting better in every game,” Jackson said. “He’s been hurting in every game.”

Senior Lee Triplett, who leads the team in tackles with 119, returned for the Mount View game last week, making 13 tackles and breaking up a pass after being out with his own bad ankle.

Jackson said that Triplett “practiced well this week. He’s back to being nearly 100 percent.”

The coach noted that in a mid-September game with PikeView, he lost his starting center, quarterback and tailback. Coming up with wins despite occasional injuries has had a positive effect on the whole team’s morale, he said.

“We felt, that’s a big plus,” he said. “We’ve gotten more confident each week.”

The offensive line has not been immune to injury problems, but that seems to have straightened out, Jackson said.

“Probably the last two weeks (were) the first time we had all the starters in there together. Most of the year, we’ve had to switch people around,” he said.

Game time is 7:30 p.m. at H.E. Comer Jr. Sports Complex.

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