On Sept. 29 the Bluefield Beavers’ playoff hopes were pronounced dead after a 44-16 loss at Independence that dropped them to 1-5.
Overcoming a season-ending injury to their all-state running back and a brutal start against one of the most difficult schedules in Class AA, the Beavers have overcome the odds to become the first team since 2012 to make the double-A playoff field with five wins.
The unfortunate part for the Beavers is for the second consecutive year, if they have any hope of returning to Wheeling for the first time since 2019 they’ll have to do so the hard way. After slipping in as the No. 14 seed last season, their improbable run to the semifinals ended with a 34-20 loss at Independence.
Now the Beavers will have a chance to avenge that loss as well as their one from earlier this year as they make their third trip to Coal City in the last 12 months.
“I think they’re a really good football team,” Bluefield coach Fred Simon said. “They’re well-coached, play hard, pretty physical with a good running back and a quarterback that can run. They’re just a heckuva a good team. I wouldn’t mind to have traveled around to some different places to play since we’ve already played Independence but when you get in the playoffs you’re just happy to get in and that’s who we’ve got. We’ve just got to give it our best and here we go!”
Being happy to get in is consistent with the message Simon has delivered since the preseason and for good reason. The Beavers’ loaded schedule has featured a pair of undefeated teams in Indy and Graham, Va., a pair of triple-A playoff teams in Princeton and Beckley, an Oak Hill team that was the first team out in Class AAA and a Ridgeview, Va. team that was undefeated before rolling into Mitchell Stadium two weeks ago.
If anything the Beavers have seen almost anything that can be thrown their way on the road to Wheeling.
That helps them should they advance. While most coaches wouldn’t look ahead, Simon naturally has browsed the bracket. Should Bluefield win Friday it will likely travel to Fairmont Senior, the same team that ended its season in 2020. Call it a revenge tour of sorts.
“We can only go one team at a time and we’ve got to get by a heckuva football team in Independence before we can think about anybody else,” Simon said. “I do think this side of the bracket’s tough but again who knows what the other side’s got because I haven’t seen them and don’t know much about them. I do know you’re going to get a lot out of Independence and I think Fairmont will win and you’ve got North Marion there too. I think this side of the bracket’s tough because I know the teams. I don’t know much about Winfield but they’ve got a 9-1 record and played a tough schedule. They’re all good at this point and everyone’s got a chance and that’s how you got to look at it. We’ve got to give it our best shot with whoever we play.”
The Beavers will take to the air during their stay in the postseason as they have all year.
Bluefield QB Caleb Fuller finished second in the area with 1,687 passing yards to go along with 14 passing touchdowns. His top target has been receiver R.J. Hairston who has 664 receiving yards on the season. He’s complemented well by Brayden Fong and Sencere Fields who both have over 300 yards receiving, presenting Fuller with options. They’ll be tasked with getting open against Indy’s duo of first-team defensive backs in Trey Bowers and Cyrus Goodson.
“I think their two corners are as good as anybody and I think the safety’s good,” Simon said. “They matchup well against teams that pass and they’re good against the run. John has a good football team. It’s going to take a hell of an effort and a hell of team to beat them. You just have it some years and he’s got a hell of a team.”
On defense the Beavers will have to find a way to slow down a Patriot attack that can move through the air or on the ground at will. Running back Judah Price broke the regular season record for most points in a single season with 300 and has rushed for nearly 1,800 yards this year. Quarterback Trey Bowers has thrown for over 1,300 yards and poses a threat as a runner with 10 rushing touchdowns and 4.5 speed.
Throughout the season stopping the run has been an Achilles heel for the Beavers, one Simon hopes is shored up this postseason.
“I think we’ve tackled a little bit better but Oak Hill ran the ball quite a bit,” Simon said. “The other teams we’ve played against have passed more and we’ve done okay against that but a running team like Independence, you don’t see them week in and week out. That’s what’s unique about them and they’ve got a great running attack and know how to execute the offense with it and they’re old. They’ve got seniors that have been there with them and starting for maybe two or three years. They’re a seasoned team and that’s what makes them the team they are.”
The Beavers will open postseason play Friday at 7:30 at Independence.
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