By Sean McNamara, For Lootpress
RACHEL – Thanks to four forced turnovers and a 21-0 scoring run between the third and fourth quarters, the 14th-seeded Bluefield Beavers knocked off the sixth-seeded North Marion Huskies, 35-21, Friday on the road in the second round of the Class AA playoffs.
Bluefield’s win resulted in the second consecutive year the Beavers (6-3) have eliminated the Huskies (8-3) from the postseason, this time setting up a semifinal matchup at Independence High School.
After playing just one game through the first six weeks of the season, and not winning their second game of the year until October 10, Bluefield coach Fred Simon is pleased to see how his team has responded to the hand it was dealt and made the most of the situation thus far.
“The kids have kept working hard and they’ve just kept getting better,” Simon said. “I’m so proud of them for what’s going on right now.”
Bluefield jumped out to an early lead Friday, receiving the opening kickoff and marching down the field with a 29-yard run by sophomore Amir Hairston making way for a 1-yard TD run by senior quarterback Ryker Brown to put the Beavers up, 7-0, following a Jackson Wills PAT.
North Marion looked like it was poised to quickly respond, taking the ensuing drive into the red zone, but a pass thrown by Husky quarterback Brody Hall was picked off in the end zone by Amir Hairston, thwarting the scoring attempt and giving the Beavers possession.
“Brody felt like he had to make a play,” NMHS coach Daran Hays said. “I think we had the underneath out – we’ll go back and look at the film – but it was third down and you have to know not to force stuff on third, but he’s in the moment and he’s competing his butt off. Mistakes happen. We just have to be more careful with the football.”
The North Marion defense tightened up, forcing consecutive Bluefield punts, but, once again, the turnover bug bit the Huskies, this time with Bluefield forcing a strip sack of Hall, with Reginald Hairston recovering in NMHS territory.
The Beavers took advantage of the short field, with Amir Hairston capping off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run, giving the visitors a 14-0 advantage early int eh second quarter.
In the game, Amir Hairston ran the ball 16 times for 139 yards, good for 8.7 yards per carry, setting the tone for the BHS offense all night.
Alongside Hairston offensively was Brown, who ran the ball for 35 yards while completing 10-of-12 passes for 105 yards.
“I think (Hairston) and Ryker both getting the reps that we never got early in the year have made them so much better,” Simon said. “They’re getting game reps and valuable experience in these playoffs. I’m just so happy that we got in and allowed these guys to get better, along with our whole football team.”
The Huskies managed to get on the scoreboard late in the second quarter, with Gavan Lemley crossing the goal line from a yard out, pulling NMHS to within a touchdown at 14-7.
Lemley was North Marion’s workhorse in the game, carrying the ball 26 times for 95 yards as part of a Huskies offense that ran the ball 47 times compared to 26 pass attempts.
“We said the way to beat them was running right at them,” Hays said. “If you look at recent history, the teams that have had some success have kind of stroked it right at them.”
At halftime, despite trailing 14-7, the Huskies outgained the Beavers in total offense, 166-115 in total yards, but the two turnovers forced by Bluefield proved to be the difference early on.
“I think our kids played quick tonight and we took advantage of opportunities,” Simon said. “We blew a couple of opportunities in the first half, but we didn’t do that in the second half. We’ll improve on that next week.”
The Huskies received the opening kickoff of the second half and put together a scoring drive that took 5:19 off the clock and culminated with a 3-yard TD run from Lemley, tying the game at 14.
“I thought the first drive of the second half we got ourselves right back into the game and we were going to be in a barn-burner,” Hays said. “Then it got away from us with the turnovers.”
The two second-half turnovers came by virtue of interceptions by Brown and Chance Johnson, bringing the total to four in the game forced by Bluefield.
With the extra possessions, the Beavers took advantage, rattling off 21 unanswered points as Brown scored on a 10-yard run in the third and Hairston and Jamel Floyd scored on runs of 2 and 4 yards, respectively in the fourth quarter.
North Marion managed on final touchdown late in the game on a 22-yard TD pass from Hall to Parker Kincell with 1:00 left, but after Bluefield recovered the ensuing kickoff, a pair of kneel downs ended the game, giving the Beavers a 25-21 win.
Led by Hairston’s 139 yards and two touchdowns, Bluefield collected 296 totals offensive yards, with Jacorian Green accounting for a team-high 59 yards receiving to go along with a three catch, 41-yard receiving game from Gaige Sisk.
For the Huskies, who outgained the Beavers 331-296 in total yardage in the game, Hall completed 9-of-26 passes for 118 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
Tariq Miller was his top target with three catches for 58 yards, while Kincell caught two passes for 34 yards to go along with five carries for 29 yards.
With the loss, North Marion ends a season that saw the Huskies host and win a playoff game on the field for the first time in two decades, overcoming a mid-season Covid shutdown in the process.
“I’m proud of them in terms of overcoming the adversity in which we were shut down because of our Covid numbers,” Hays said. “The only real two poor performances on the year were essentially the first week of the year and the first week back from Covid. Other than that I thought we played well, other than tonight.”
Now, 14-seed Bluefield will travel to No. 2 seed Independence in a semifinal matchup much closer to home than Rachel.
“An hour away or less is a heck of a lot better than four hours,” Simon said. “We’re just happy to be still in it, no matter who we have to play. We just have to make the most of it.”
The Patriots are a ballclub that Simon and the Beavers are familiar with, and they know it will be a tough task to punch their ticket to Wheeling Island.
“I know they’re a physical ball club with a great quarterback,” Simon said. “The running back is good and they’ve got some receivers who are good. We’ll have to play our butts off to have a shot next week.”
BHS – Amir Hairston 16-139 2 TD, Ryker Brown 13-35 2 TD, Jamel Floyd 4-20 1 TD, Jacorian Green 1-0, Jaeon Flack 2-7, TEAM 2-(-10). Totals 38-191
NMHS – Gavan Lemley 26-95 2 TD, Brody Hall 14-69, Parker Kincell 5-29, Malachi Funkhouser 1-18, Tariq Miller 1-2. Totals 47-213
BHS – Ryker Brown 10-12-0 105, Amir Hairston 0-1-0.
NMHS – Brody Hall 9-26-3 118 yards 1 TD
BHS – Jacorian Green 4-59, Chance Johnson 1-5, Gaige Sisk 3-41, Jamel Floyd 1-0.
NMHS – Tariq Miller 3-58, Landon Frey 3-20, Parker Kincell 2-34 1 TD, Harley Sickles 1-6.
Bluefield: 7;7;7;14 — 35
North Marion:0;7;7;7 – 21
BHS – Ryker Brown 1-yard run (Jackson Wills kick)
BHS – Amir Hairston 7-yard run (Wills kick)
NM – Gavan Lemley 1-yard run (Malachi Funkhouser kick)
NM – Lemley 3-yard run (Funkhouser kick)
BHS – Brown 10-yard run (Wills kick)
BHS – Amir Hairston 2-yard run (Wills kick)
BHS – Jamel Floyd 4-yard run (Wills kick)
NM – Brody Hall 22-yard pass to Parker Kincell (Funkhouser kick)