Indians' Hopes of Playing for Class AA State Title Come to a Close as Bluefield Runs Way to 37-14 Win

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

It’s one of the oldest sports adages out there - speed kills. On this evening, Mookie Collier proved it to be true.
 
Bluefield’s senior tailback ran for nearly 300 yards and added four touchdowns in one of the most dominant displays against Bridgeport’s football teams in years. The result was a 37-14 win by the Beavers in the Class AA semifinals this evening at Mitchell Stadium.
 
“I don’t think so,” said Bridgeport Coach John Cole on whether he’s seen a back as fast as Collier this year. “He hits the hole at the point of attack and if you’re not there at the point of attack, or have alley or backend players to match that speed and be there when he cuts, and he can cut on a dime, (you’re in trouble).”
 
By night’s end, Collier had 294 yards rushing on just 18 carries. He had touchdown runs of 55, 67, 25 and 45 yards as he got to the second level and simply blew past whatever Bridgeport defense was left.
 
The total was the most allowed by Bridgeport in at least 20 years with statistics only going back to 1997. It also shattered the postseason mark of rushing yards allowed to a single player of 247 by Blake Ravenscroft in a Class AA semifinal loss to Keyser in 2012.
 
The setback closes No. 3 Bridgeport’s season at 11-2. Bluefield moves to 13-0 and advances to next Friday’s Class AA title game at Wheeling Island Stadium against the winner of Mingo Central and Fairmont Senior. That game is Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
 
Despite Collier’s numbers, it took a huge second half to finally put the Indians away. Leading just 12-7 to start the third quarter, Bluefield took the opening kickoff of the second half and returned it all the way to the Bridgeport 31-yard line.
 
The Indians, as would be the case several times in the game, forced a fourth down only to watch Collier spoil it. On a fourth-and-four from the 25, Collier took the toss sweep to the right and went untouched for the touchdown and an 18-7 lead with 9:45 after a failed conversion run.
 
After forcing a three-and-out on Bridgeport’s first possession of the second half, the Beavers went right back to work. And this time they went to Truck Edwards, the Bluefield fullback who was the thunder to Collier’s lightning.
 
Following a 42-yard  run by Collier to put the ball at the Bridgeport two, Edwards waltzed in for the score and what would be a 24-7 lead at the 7:40 mark  of the third period following another failed two-point conversion attempt.
 
Bridgeport appeared dead in the water as it was stuffed on a fourth down attempt on its next series near midfield as Bluefield began another march toward the end zone.  For the only time in the game – not counting the last drive before halftime – the Tribe’s defense stopped Bluefield from scoring by forcing a turnover.
 
The Indians made the most of the recovery at their own 35. On the first play, Indians tailback Jack Bowen got the Tribe’s largest offensive play of the evening with a 61-yard burst to the left side to give the Indians a first-and-goal at the Bluefield four. Two plays later, quarterback John Merica kept the ball for six and the point-after by Koby Kiefer made it 24-14 with 1:26 to play.
 
Unfortunately for the visitors, they would get no closer. Bluefield would add two scores in the fourth period to salt it away. The first score came on a Kenneth Cooper quarterback run from 20 yards out on a third-and-one play, while the official death blow came by Collier in the final minute of play.
 
Collier actually scored on a 41-yard run on a fourth-and-nine play that was called back due to a holding. As it turned out, it didn’t matter as the senior took the handoff on fourth-and-14 on the very next play and went 45 yards – again untouched – for the touchdown. The successful point-after conversion with 50 seconds to play were the game’s final points.
 
“This is a tough trip and a tough place to play. When Bluefield has a good football team, there’s not many teams that are going to come down here and win,” said Cole.
 
Bluefield finished the game with 453 yards of offense – all of it on the ground. The Beavers only attempted one pass in the contest.
 
Edwards proved solid as well on the ground. He finished with 112 yards rushing on 17 carries and one score.
 
“They wore us down inside with Truck. That kid is 200 pounds plus and he’s coming in there real hard … They’re a handful,” said Cole.
 
Bridgeport was behind the eight ball almost immediately – and that was before Bluefield ever got the ball.  John Merica, the Indians’ second most productive offensive weapon all season, was out on offense early in the first series when he re-aggravated an injury.
 
“We thought John would be able to go,” said Cole, when talking about Merica leaving after a hard hit on the opening series.
 
The Bridgeport quarterback who reportedly had a thigh injury, didn’t return until later in the second half. However, his absence would quickly be tempered as the Indians switched early on to an old-school fashion in more ways than one. Starting from their own 29 yard line, Bridgeport used 18 plays and ate up all but 50 seconds of the first quarter clock to seemingly have a chance to shake off the loss of the senior quarterback.
 
More old-school than the length and time of the drive, however, was the Indians went back to the stick-I formation that has been on the shelf for the last few years. Sophomore quarterback Devin Vandergrift executed the offense and put the Tribe in position for early points.
 
“(Devin) came in in a tough situation,” said Cole. “ … Vandy went in there and for a sophomore in this type of situation did a great job. We couldn’t ask any more of him.”
 
Even with Vandergrift’s gritty play, Bluefield finally clamped down and forced a short field goal try by Koby Kiefer. Unfortunately, Kiefer’s kick was off the mark to the right and the Indians had nothing to show for the huge drive to start the game.
 
“It was tough to leave points off the board there,” said Cole. “We had some injuries and ended up going to an offense we haven’t used in a few years and the kids did well with it … We would have liked to have capitalized early.”
 
The Beavers would start their first possession at their own 20 and it wouldn’t take long to strike. Eight plays after starting, Collier proved the hype was real about his speed.
 
On a third-and-seven play from the 45, Collier got the ball and darted to the edge. Once Collier got the corner to the left he was off to the races and scored from 55 yards out. The only positive for Bridgeport was the missed point-after try that left it 6-0 with 9:20 to go before halftime.
 
Despite the score, Bridgeport came right back thanks to D’Andre Holloway setting things up with a 35-yard return up the middle. The Indians started at their 45 and the visitors would turn to their passing game to keep the drive alive.
 
Vandergrift found Caleb Strakel open down the field and Strakel adjusted nicely to haul in a 27-yard pass to get the ball to the Bluefield 24. BHS would only get four yards closer and another field goal attempt was tried – this one from 37 yards out.
 
It was at this point that the Bridgeport faithful may have felt things weren’t going to go their way at all. The kick was straight and appeared true, but instead hit the crossbar and bounced forward instead of going through and the Indians remained scoreless.
 
Bluefield didn’t waste any time in making Bridgeport pay. And Collier was the one cashing the check.
 
On a third-and-one play from the Bluefield 33, a toss sweep to Collier turned from routine to golden for the home team. In a split second, the senior tailback burst through the line and had nothing but daylight in front of him as he raced 67 yards for the score.
 
Again, Bridgeport’s only salvation would come on the extra point. This time, the Bridgeport defense broke through to block the kick and Bluefield led 14-0 with 3:31 to go.
 
The Indians appeared dead in the water at this point, but finally put something together that would result in points. Ironically, the biggest play of the drive would come through the air.
 
The drive featured an early 13-yard run by Bowen, the biggest run of the first half, and put Bridgeport into Bluefield territory. On a first-and-15 play from the Beavers’ 49, Strakel’s play action pass froze the Bluefield defense and he found Caleb Strakel deep.
 
Strakel’s catch left the Indians with a first-and-10 at the Bluefield 11. It took five plays for Bridgeport to finally punch it in and make a contest out of it.
 
On a second-and-goal play, Bowen plowed in behind the upfront blocking of Mike Minor and Noah Drummond for the Indians’ touchdown. Kiefer’s point-after kick was true and with 15 seconds left in the first half the Indians were down 12-7.
 
Despite the score, Bridgeport dominated possession and game clock as it had 32 plays for 176 yards.  Bowen led the way with 22 carries for 87 yards Vandergrift completed both of his passes for 66 yards in the first half.
 
The good news for Bridgeport was Bluefield had just 14 offensive plays in the first two quarters. The bad news was the hosts managed to get 197 yards out of those plays.
 
Collier was the main culprit with 141 yards on just five carries. And that was more than enough to keep the Beavers ahead.
 
Bowen would finish the game with 174 yards on 31 carries. Bridgeport ended the game with 273 yards of offense on 53 plays. The Indians rushed the ball 49 times for 204 yards.
 
“Our kids played hard and they did what they had to do and what we asked them to do,” said Cole. “That’s all you can expect. They just ran into a good football team tonight.”
 
Editor's Note: Photos by Ben Queen of www.benqueenphotography.com.


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