PRINCETON — You can’t really say that the regular season meetings between Bluefield and Princeton are stealing the thunder from the annual Beaver-Graham showdown. That only seems to have been the case for two consecutive years due to the unfortunate circumstances of the COVID era.
Besides, the Tigers-Beavers gridiron rivalry appears to have resumed its own unique historical stature among area football rivalries.
The Class AA Bluefield High School football team will finally open its 2021 season tonight at Hunnicutt Stadium in Princeton, taking on the Class AAA Tigers in a much-anticipated meeting between the two Mercer County programs. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
There are no crowd restrictions in place. Participants are being asked to wear masks, but they are are not required since the game is out-of-doors. Social distancing has also been requested, but is not required.
“I think we’re going to see a packed house and this county excited for high school football. We haven’t had that normalcy per se ... I don’t know if things are exactly normal.
But we’re going to get out there and hopefully both put on a show and it’ll be a good football game,” said Princeton head football coach Chris Pedigo.
The two teams follow alternate post-season routes but got to play twice in 2020 thanks to scheduling one another twice (home and away) to mutually fill regular season slates that were cramped by the COVID19 protocol cancellations that made it difficult for any West Virginia teams to get in full slates. Bluefield won both exciting contests, taking a 15-13 victory at Mitchell Stadium and outlasting the Tigers in a 54-40 offensive shootout at Hunnicutt Stadium.
The Tigers (0-1) got off to a ripping good start with last week’s 35-0 win at Lincoln County, Princeton’s veteran offensive front establishing a strong rushing attack from the outset. The Tigers posted a pair of 100-yard rushing performances: Brodee Rice had 10 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown while freshman Jacob Young rushed 13 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Grant Cochran completed 10 of 13 passing attempts for 185 yards and two scoring strikes to Carter Meachum and Dominick Collins, respectively. Meachum had 70 receiving yards on the day on that one catch. Collins had 3-39, Jonathan Wellman had 2-16, Connor Padgett had 3-47 and Khamrin Proffitt had 1-13. Casey Geso went 5-for-5 on point-after touchdown kicks for the Tigers.
“It went well. There were a lot of positives that came out of it and a lot of things we have to work on. Part of that was attributed to not having a second scrimmage and in some aspects, it felt like a second scrimmage,” said Pedigo.
“We felt good in the run game, passing we were very efficient ... still got to take advantages of opportunities when we get them. Our defense didn’t give up any points and forced three turnovers — that’s a good thing — but we feel like we needed to get more hats to the ball at times and tackle in space. But they did buckle down in the red zone and made plays. All and all it was a really good first game for us,” Pedigo said.
For the second year in a row, the Beavers saw their traditional season opener with Graham at Mitchell Stadium quashed by COVID protocols last week. The game has since been rescheduled for Oct. 8. Head coach Fred Simon’s team has been eager to finally take to the field.
“We kept working trying to get better ... working on our fundamentals and schemes. You’ve got to use your time wisely in this situation, and I think we did,” Simon said.
While both teams are deep with diverse talent, there will be a temptation to focus on the respective quarterbacks in this game.
Cochran is the area’s top returning quarterback, with two record-setting seasons under his belt. The Bluefield starting job calling the signals has fallen to senior Ryker Brown, a talented and hard-nosed football player who inherits the job from graduated Beavers QB Carson Deeb. Brown grew into a leadership role on defense as inside linebacker last season, said Simon. This has prepared him to assume his leadership responsibilities on the offensive side of the football as well this year.
“That was Ryker. He backed us up all the time over the last couple years so he’s had an idea of what’s going on. Now he’s had most of the reps as far as what goes on in practice and in scrimmages,” Simon said. “I think he’s adjusted real well because he knows the game of football. That’s the advantage we have with him.”
The Bluefied skipper said Brown and all of his Beavers teammates are certainly looking forward to the big-game atmosphere at Hunnicutt Field tonight.
“There will be a really good crowd for both us and Princeton. We’re going to play in front of a few thousand people, for sure. I think that’s going to be exciting for everybody. To finally get out and start playing after you’ve worked so hard in the off-season and during practice time,” Simon said.
“We’re looking forward to the game. I know Princeton is. I think they have a really good football team. And I think we do ... we just have to go out and prove it.
“I’m anxious for the game and looking forward to it,” he said.
— Contact George Thwaites at email@example.com