Berth in Class AA State Title Contest on the Line as Tribe Heads South for Semifinal Battle with Bluefield

By Jeff Toquinto on November 24, 2017 via Connect-Bridgeport.com

It didn’t take long for Bridgeport High School football Coach John Cole to confirm everything he’s heard about Bluefield. When watching game film of the Beavers, it jumped right out at him almost immediately.
 
“They’re really good and they’re really fast,” said Cole. “They are the real deal.”
 
Whether the 11-1 and No. 3 Indians can deal with them and advance for a chance at a tenth state championship will be determined this evening as the Tribe will visit Mitchell Stadium to face No. 2 Bluefield in the Class AA semifinals. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
 
“It doesn’t take long to see why they’re unbeaten,” said Cole of the 12-0 Bluefield squad. “There’s a lot to face with this team, but the speed is a big one.”
 
When you’re talking about the Beavers, speed and running back Latrell “Mookie” Collier go hand in hand. The senior’s statistics on the offensive side of the ball are pretty eye-popping.
 
For the year, he’s carried the ball 119 times and had 1,742 yards. The fact that he has 28 touchdowns is likely the second most impressive thing behind the fact Collier averages 14.6 yards per carry.
 
“Collier is definitely legit and he comes at you with their offense from under center. He hits the hole quick and really yard. For a kid to have that type of speed and skill is impressive and they do a lot of it with traps and off tackle plays,” said Cole. “To make matters worse, he’s not alone. They’ve got the best one-two punch I’ve seen.”
 
The other part of the equation is Jason “Truck” Edwards. Edwards, also a senior, comes in at 5’11 and 218 pounds.
 
“Truck is one of their inside linebacker and he’s just a handful at fullback. He seems like he’s running downhill when he gets it and usually gets a lot of yards,” said Cole.
 
Cole isn’t exaggerating. Edwards actually gets the ball just as much as Collier, but relies on power more than speed. He has 962 yards on 125 runs. He’s netting an impressive 7.7 yards a run and has scored 19 times on the year.
 
So how do you stop them?
 
“If we let Collier get to the second level, bad things are going to happen. It’s that simple. If we don’t wrap up Truck, bad things are going to happen,” Cole said. “Collier is a game breaker and we know he’s going to get runs and gain yards, but we need to limit that and not let him get the best of us at the point of attack.”
 
Cole said although under center, Bluefield is very much like Bridgeport. They will run the ball and come right at you.
 
“They go pro-style with a two-back set and unbalance with a one-back,” said Cole. “We think that’s going to be about it because they’ve had so much success there’s no need to do anything different. They don’t have a ton of formations and they’ve won a lot of games before halftime. We expect them to come right at us with their running game and likely will tell us to try and stop them.”
 
Running isn’t the only thing the two teams have in common. While the Beaves have thrown the ball roughly twice as much as Bridgeport, don’t be confused that they’re going to air it out.
 
For the year, Bridgeport has completed 13-of-32 passes for 249 yards that includes four touchdowns with no interceptions. Bluefield has completed 39-of-62 passes (roughly five attempts per game) for 711 yards with nine touchdown and two interceptions.
 
Junior Chandler Cooper will be the signal caller for the Beavers. He has completed 37-of-58 attempts for 693 yards with all the team’s scores and interceptions.
 
“They’re quarterback is smart and throws when they need to do. They’ll even move Collier out if they need to,” said Cole. “They just don’t throw a lot because it’s not been necessary.”
 
Cole said Bluefield also has talented linemen. He said junior Deiyantei Powell (6’5, 239) jumps off the page. He said he appears to be a force on the offensive and defensive lines.
 
It will be necessary for the Indians to try and control the line of scrimmage, set the edge and make plays. That means ends Chapin Murphy and Christian Olivio and tackles John Thomas and Jimmy Allison will have to handle their jobs and, if not making tackles, allow the linebackers and secondary for Bridgeport do that part of the defensive job.
 
That standard strategy has worked this year. Senior John Merica from his secondary position and sophomore linebacker Trey Pancake lead the team in tackles with 50 each.
 
Josh Osborn and Brent Sinsel are right behind with 49 and 48 stops this year. Jake Bowen and Cody Spring round out the team’s tacklers who have more than 40 this year with 46 and 43, respectively.
 
Murphy leads the team with 5.5 sacks, but may see limited opportunities to bring down Chandler. However, he also leads the team with 9.5 tackles for loss for 47.5 yards in losses.
 
Offensively, Bridgeport has some weapons as well. Bowen has become an absolute beast in recent weeks and has 1,749 yards on 191 carries for a 9.2 yards per carry average with 25 touchdowns. In the last five games, Bowen has amassed 1,063 yards for an average of 213 yards per game.
 
For teams keying on Bowen, they have to worry about Merica and quarterback and rising junior D’Andre Holloway, who has continually taken on more of the load. Merica has 774 yards on 113 carries (6.8 per carry) with 17 touchdowns, while Holloway is up to 434 yards on 62 runs (7.0 yards per carry) with two scores.
 
“If we can get those two to the second level we feel good about their chances of making big things happen, too,” said Cole.
 
The Beavers, said Cole, come at you defensively with a base 4-4. He hopes his team is prepared for it.
 
“Weir and Winfield used the same scheme,” said Cole. “They play their base and they’ll pinch and slate a little more with their front than we’ve seen and their backers to make plays. They’re just good no matter where you look on both sides of the ball.”
 
Bridgeport goes into the game in relatively good health. Senior Brice Haines has been cleared after an early season injury, but Cole didn’t know if he would go in the game.
 
“We’re in good shape other than having a couple of guys limited due to their ankles,” said Cole. “I expect a good game because I really think if you look at the four left in ‘AA’ that you have the four best teams left. This is going to be super competitive.”
 
Veteran Bluefield Coach Fred Simon also expects a solid game. He told WVVA-TV he knows what the Indians bring to the contest.
 
"They are fundamentally sound. They are hard-nosed players that play hard and give it all they got.  A very good football team and one deserving of a semifinal game,” said Simon.
 
The game will pit two of the most successful programs in the state against one another. Bluefield has 10 state titles to its credit, while the Indians have nine.
 
The two teams have only played twice – both in the postseason. Bridgeport won in the 2013 semifinals at home, but lost in the 1995 quarterfinals at Mitchell Stadium by a 14-7 score.
 
Bridgeport is 5-4 in semifinal games since the playoff field expanded to 16 teams in 1991. The Tribe is 0-2 on the road.
 
The Indians will depart for Bluefield for the three-hour-plus trip at noon today. For those not taking the trip, they can listen to the contest on 103.3 WAJR FM. Chris George will be filling in for Travis Jones, who has radio work commitments in Florida, to handle the play by play, while Ryan Nicewarner will handle the color commentary. Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.
 
Editor's Note: Photos of Bridgeport High School coaches and players, as well as photo of Bluefield Coach Fred Simon (next to last), by Ben Queen and Joey Signorelli of www.benqueenphotography.com.


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