Never let it be said that Bluefield’s Fred Simon, even in his 34th season as coach, is inflexible.
When his son, Freddy Simon, an assistant on the Beavers’ coaching staff, came up to his father in the off-season with the notion of switching the team’s run-based I-formation offense to a pass-friendly spread attack, Fred Simon didn’t flinch. He listened.
And now, nearly 3,000 passing yards and 12 wins later, the Beavers are back in the Wheeling Super Six.
Junior quarterback Carson Deeb has thrown more passes at Bluefield than anyone since Kennedy Award winner Will Cole in 2008, energizing the offense and making good use of a bevy of gifted receivers. Deeb has completed 166 of 246 attempts for 2,601 yards and 32 touchdowns against just six interceptions.
“It’s a tribute to my son,’’ Fred Simon said. “He looked at our team this summer and where we might be strong, and he worked his tail off getting them ready. Once he explained it to me I said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ I like what you’re telling me, but I know it’s going to take some work because we’re accustomed to the I. But watching his work in action, so far it’s been really good for us.’’
It’s certainly a lot different look for the Beavers than their last two teams that made it to Wheeling Island Stadium.
Two years ago, Chandler Cooper threw for 710 yards and nine TDs as Bluefield went 14-0 and captured the Class AA title. Kennedy Award winner Mookie Collier ran for 2,234 yards and 33 TDs and fullback Truck Edwards powered his way for 1,148 yards and 22 scores.
Last year, when the Beavers ended the season by falling to Fairmont Senior in the state finals, Cooper threw for 1,177 yards and 19 TDs, but the bulk of the offense still went through running backs J.J. Davis (1,356 yards), Juice Edwards (1,223) and Arnold Martin (866).
Now, though, Deeb has been getting it done with his arm, and the Beavers rack up nearly 44 points per game.
“He has a good arm,’’ Fred Simon said, “and he’s gotten better fundamentally, too. It’s a combination of working and having a good attitude to get better.’’
Bridgeport coach John Cole, whose team faces Bluefield in Friday’s 7 p.m. finals, thought he knew a little about the way the Beavers’ offense functioned because the Indians had faced them each of the past two seasons in the playoff semifinals. And now they throw the spread at him instead of the I-formation.
“In some ways, they’re the same with the makeup of their team,’’ Cole said, “because they have a lot of athletes and a lot of players with size. That seems to be the constant the past few years. What’s different offensively is that they’re a spread offense.
“I don’t know if that’s good or bad, because they’ve always lined up and come right at us on offense. They’re doing that still, but in a different way. Davis is a back who’s very dangerous, but the quarterback does a good job running that kind of offense, and that’s probably why they do it. They have a lot of athletes who stretch you vertically and catch the football.’’
Deeb’s corps of receivers includes Juwuan Green (40 catches, 704 yards, four TDs), Brandon Wiley (38 catches, 582 yards, 10 TDs), Jahiem House (37 catches, 579 yards, 11 TDs) and Jacorian Green (35 catches, 435 yards, four TDs).
Martinsburg mightThere’s no doubt that Martinsburg is on a roll that no one has ever seen in West Virginia’s largest classification, with seven AAA titles in the past nine seasons. But this season is beyond impressive, even for the Bulldogs.
They’re 13-0 and outscoring opponents 62-7 on average. That includes nine games against teams that made the playoffs in their respective states — teams like 12-win Salem, Virginia, 11-win Academy Park, Pennsylvania and 11-win Parkersburg South.
In three playoff games this season, Martinsburg has thumped Preston 84-0, Spring Mills 70-0 and South 77-20. Fans around West Virginia have to wonder if it’s going to be more of the same at noon Saturday when the Bulldogs meet Cabell Midland (13-0) for the Class AAA crown in Wheeling.
Knights coach Luke Salmons said his team, by and large, ignores the chatter expecting another one-sided game.
“We don’t think like that,’’ Salmons said. “I know it sounds weird compared to what other people say, but if we had that mindset, I’d never be the coach at Cabell Midland and wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. Our kids in the preseason heard people say they wouldn’t finish in the top 10. Usually when they get challenged, like last week when everybody told them Spring Valley would beat them, I didn’t have to say anything to them. You could just see it — they had something to prove.
“Our kids don’t ever talk about other teams. This group watches film, prepares and focuses on what they need to do. They don’t think like that. They’re very mature for their age, where they don’t get overexcited, overnervous or overpressured. Playing a game like this is what you want. There’s not one doubt in my mind we’ll go up there and play.’’
Martinsburg coach Dave Walker realizes that when the majority of a team’s games get out of hand, it could lead to overconfidence. Not to mention that many starters don’t get to play much more than a half when it does happen.
“You always worry about that,’’ Walker said. “Our job as coaches is to worry about practice being fast enough to where they get that competition. We want to make our kids [tough] at practice, and we want our practice to be at a fast pace so that we don’t lose that conditioning, but we’re still being competitive.’’
Familiar ... just not hereSomehow it doesn’t seem possible that the Class AA finals of Bluefield versus Bridgeport is a first-time pairing at the Wheeling Super Six.
After all, the Beavers have made the trip to the Northern Panhandle 12 times since the state finals were moved there in 1994, and for Indians, it’s a sixth visit. But until now, they’ve never met each other — at least in this setting at Wheeling Island Stadium.
They have, however, met three times since 2013 in the playoff semifinals — with the home team winning each time. Bridgeport prevailed 42-21 in 2013, then went on to beat Wayne for the AA title. In 2017 and 2018, Bluefield won 37-14 and 35-14, respectively, and then split its back-to-back meetings with Fairmont Senior in the finals.
“We were always in the same half of the bracket,’’ said Bridgeport coach John Cole of multiple meetings with Bluefield in the semis. “I wasn’t really shedding too many tears this year when we finished [as the No. 2 seed] and saw they were on Fairmont’s side. We’ve been on the other end of the stick the past two years and had to make that trip down to Bluefield, and it’s a tough one. A three-hour trip and you’ve got to play good, quality teams it seems like Coach Simon always has.
“They’re still a real good football team. Obviously, for them to go into Fairmont and beat them, they’re a real good football team. It’s athletes and size, but we’re happy to be there. I think we can play well. I think we’ll go up and do our best.’’
Class A collisionOne of the keys in the Class A clash between No. 1 seed Doddridge County (13-0) and 11-time state champion Wheeling Central at 7 p.m. Saturday figures to be how well the Maroon Knights play defense, especially against Bulldogs’ All-State running back Hunter America.
America, who won the Curt Warner Award last year as the top running back in West Virginia, has run for 2,050 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. He’s just 115 rushing yards shy of reaching 6,000 for his career and has run for 76 TDs.
Behind America’s advances, Doddridge averages just over 40 points per game. Central, however, has banked on defense much of the season, especially in the playoffs, as it has limited Tolsia, Ritchie County and Pendleton County to a total of three TDs in three postseason games.