Last year proved to be a humbling experience for Bluefield’s football team, and the Beavers are doing something about it this season.
After a rare swing and a miss on the postseason in 2016, Bluefield has risen to the No. 1 spot in the Class AA playoff ratings and takes a 6-0 record into Friday’s showdown against visiting Point Pleasant in a game that’s sure to shake up the field of top playoff contenders.
The Big Blacks (5-1), whose only loss came in their opener to defending champion Mingo Central 36-34 on a game-ending Hail Mary, stand No. 8 in the AA ratings. The top 16 in each class qualify for the playoffs, and the top eight get to choose home field in the opening round.
Friday’s big game certainly marks a return to form for the Beavers (6-0), who had gone to the postseason 13 times in 14 seasons before last year’s absence, owing to their 4-6 record.
“I think we all learned a lesson — it hurts,’’ said Bluefield coach Fred Simon. “We weren’t pleased with our record. I thought we were at least a playoff team — maybe not good enough to beat a Mingo Central, Fairmont or Bridgeport. But to not get in woke us up — it hurt our players, it hurt our coaches. So we pretty much buckled down, and we all wanted to change our attitude.’’
The key player so far for the Beavers has to be speedy senior running back Mookie Collier, a member of Bluefield’s record-setting 4x100- and 4x200-meter state champion relay teams at last May’s state track meet. Collier scored all four touchdowns in the Beavers’ 28-14 win against Richlands last week, rushing for 215 yards and three TDs and catching a 51-yard scoring pass.
“Mookie’s been a good outside runner,’’ Simon said, “and Truck Edwards has done a nice job on the inside for us. It gives us a 1-2 punch, and we like that part of the game.
“Plus, our defense has been playing better than we did last year. We’re more pleased with what’s been going on this year.’’
The Beavers, who allowed 31 points per game last season, are permitting just 12.5 this year. That’s certainly caught the eye of Point Pleasant coach David Darst, whose team put up 516 yards of total offense in last year’s 45-24 conquest of the Beavers — the teams’ first meeting since 1984.
“They’re a whole different team than they were last year,’’ Darst said. “A different-type team.
“I thought we did a good job handling Collier that night. We knew where he was most of the time and kept an eye on him. We have to keep him contained, and limit his touches and not give up big plays. Our defense has always had that bend-but-don’t-break mentality. We just have to know where he is and play good, solid defense.’’
Collier had his moments in last year’s game, carrying 12 times for 150 yards and one TD and catching eight passes for 115 yards and another TD, but was stopped for a 1-yard loss on a fake punt in the fourth quarter that helped the Big Blacks break open a 24-all score with the game’s final three touchdowns.
On the season, Collier has run for 891 yards and 14 TDs and Edwards has added 458 yards on the ground with six TDs. The Beavers average 309 rushing yards per game.
Point Pleasant’s offense, meanwhile, has flashed a lot of balance, led by junior quarterback Cason Payne, who has thrown for 1,009 yards and 12 TDs and run for 533 yards and nine scores. Justin Brumfield leads the Big Blacks on the ground with 692 yards and eight TDs.
In last year’s game with Bluefield, Payne threw for 179 yards and two TDs and ran for 87 yards and two more scores.
“Their quarterback is really good,’’ Simon said. “I think he’s a player. And they’ve always been physical on the offensive and defensive lines. It’s a typical Point Pleasant team. Their kids play hard, they’ll compete with anybody and you’d better be ready to play against them.’’
For the Big Blacks, it’s the third time this season they’ve squared off with a top-10 team. The week after losing to the Miners in their opener, they edged current No. 7 James Monroe 20-14. The Mavericks knocked off Point in last year’s playoff quarterfinals.
Darst knows it’s a win-win situation for his program to play games such as these. If the Big Blacks win, they get a flurry of ratings points. If they don’t, they find the areas in which they have to improve to compete for the top spot.
“We hope it is [a win-win],’’ Darst said. “Of course, you don’t want to get beat by 50. But it’s who I have to play is what it amounts to for me. It just happens to be another top-10 team. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get in there, play good, solid football and see where we’re at. If they’re one of top teams in the state, we hope we can hang right there with them.
“Our kids get excited to play games like that. The Mingo Central game here? Shoot, they were ready to go. Sometimes we don’t get excited to play, and don’t play as well. Our kids want to play this kind of game.’’