The final score didn’t indicate it. The statistics didn’t necessarily show it either.
Yet, this afternoon’s Class AA semifinal contest between Bridgeport and Bluefield was much closer than what the scoreboard showed. That still suited the Beavers fine as they took a 35-14 win against the Indians at Mitchell Stadium.
Thanks to the victory, the defending state champions will return to Wheeling Island Stadium next Friday to again battle for the title. Bluefield, ranked No. 2 and now 12-1, will face the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 1 Fairmont Senior and No. 12 Weir.
For the second straight season, Bridgeport closed its campaign in the semifinals on the road against Bluefield. The No. 3 Indians end the year at 12-1.
While the score was similar to last year’s setback, the circumstances weren’t nearly the same this time around. In fact, Bridgeport found itself with multiple opportunities to get within one score late. Bluefield would never let its guest take advantage of those chances.
“We just couldn’t get it moving on offense,” said BHS Coach John Cole. “It’s a tough trip to come down here and I don’t think people realize it. It’s a little over three hours and then you face that (team). Bluefield is a good football team and a heck of a football program. They’ve got the speed and they’ve got the strength and they only lost five players from last year’s team. They were just a little too strong and a little too quick for us.”
Even with those advantages working for them, the hosts couldn’t put Bridgeport away – at least not in the first two quarters. That wouldn’t come until the fourth quarter.
After a first half produced a 14-7 advantage for the Beavers, the Tribe was looking to get a quick stop with a chance to get the ball back and knot the game up as the second half began. Instead, the exact opposite happened.
“If we played a little better defense in the third quarter, who knows what happens,” said Cole. “ … They’re just a tough team to beat.”
On the first play of the second half, fullback Arnold Martin busted loose for a 51-yard run to put the home team with a first-and-goal at the Bridgeport eight. On the next play, quarterback Chandler Cooper kept the ball and went straight ahead for the score.
“He just ran it right at us,” said Cole of Martin’s big run. “You can’t come out in the second half and be late coming off the ball … The bad thing was that we had stopped that play two or three times at the end of the first half, but you can’t come out in the second half and do that. We needed to come out and get momentum and ended up getting behind. You want that stop, you want to get the ball back and see if you can tie it up.”
Kaulin Parris added one of his five successful point-after kicks to make it 21-7 in favor of the Beavers. And it only took 20 second of the third period clock to provide what would be the winning touchdown with 11:40 showing in the third period.
Bluefield looked like it wanted to seal the deal early on Bridgeport’s next drive. After the Indians got to midfield, the Beavers had three plays on defense that resulted in a four-yard loss, no gain and a nine-yard loss by way of sack to force a punt.
The bad news for the Indians wasn’t over. On the punt, Martin managed to break free and block the kick and Bluefield recovered at the Bridgeport 37.
It appeared the Indians were ready to dodge the bullet as they forced a fourth-and-10 play from their own 14. Instead, Cooper got off a direct hit.
The Bluefield quarterback threw a perfect fade to the left side of the end zone and Jaheim House hauled it in for the 14-yard score and a 28-7 advantage with 2:51 in the third.
“We should have been able to defense that, but you have a two-year starter that has won a state title at quarterback who knows how to make plays,” said Cole. “He made a big one there.”
It appeared to be game, set match at that point. Bridgeport, as it did early in the game, would not go gently into the night.
The Indians embarked on a 12-play, 79-yard drive that featured a few big plays, a few penalties and an eventual touchdown by Jake Bowen.
Tribe quarterback Devin Vandergrift provided the big play in the drive on a third-and-seven from the Bridgeport 24. After getting flushed out of the pocket, Vandergrift threaded the needled to D’Andre Holloway down the left sideline for a 37-yard pass play.
The drive appeared to be in trouble once again. This time, Vandergrift kept things going by hooking up with Carson Winkie on a nine-yard pass play on fourth-and-five from the Bluefield 34. Six plays later, Jake Bowen scored on a second and goal from two yards out to make it 28-14 with 8:18 to play.
Everyone knew what was next and Bridgeport’s ensuing onside kick was there for the taking, but it was the Beavers that ended up with possession.
“That onside kick we had a chance at,” said Cole. “In a big game like this with a team that has athletes like that, you have to be the aggressor. That was one that could have changed things.”
With the ball near midfield, the hosts went to work. Bluefield looked as if it was going to score after starting with good field position, but came up empty this time on fourth down as Cooper’s pass was off the mark and the Indians took over with 4:20 to go at their own 29.
Although the Tribe got to their own 43, the end came shortly after they got there. Looking to make a big play, a pass attempt into coverage resulted in an interception by Isaiah Johnson who returned it 54 yards for the touchdown. The score officially ended things with 3:23 to go in the game.
The game saw Bluefield finishing with 336 yards of offense, 289 of which came on the ground. Martin led all rushers with 12 carries for 114 yards. Juice Edwards added 81 yards on nine carries and J.J. Davis finished with 72 yards on 12 rushes.
Bridgeport had 238 yards of offense – with 119 yards on the ground and 119 through the air. Bowen led the BHS rushing attack with 71 yards on 20 carries.
Vandergrift finished 7-for-12 with 119 yards and two interceptions. Holloway was the leading receiver with three catches for 95 yards
While the final score wasn’t what Bridgeport was shooting for, it’s likely the start of the game wasn’t what the Indians had envisioned either. The game began in a way that looked as if not only was a blowout possible, but it was possible in the first half.
After taking the opening possession of the game, Bridgeport started at the 30 and went backward. The Indians’ three runs ended up netting a negative-five yards and a quick punt.
Following the punt, Bluefield made things look a little too easy for the BHS faithful and the coaching staff. Starting at their own 35, the Beavers needed just six plays to go the distance for the game’s first score.
What made the initial touchdown troubling was Bluefield overcame two holding penalties to get the score. In fact, Bridgeport had its hosts facing a second-and-21 and Bluefield didn’t flinch.
Instead, the next three plays got the Beavers the 51 yards it would need to get in for six. Martin broke off a 23-yard run on the second down play from 21 yards back and two plays later Martin would go the final 22 yards for six.
Parris added the first of two first-half point-after kicks to make it 7-0 with 6:21 left. Getting there not only seemed easy, it seemed too easy.
“That’s definitely not what we wanted, but these kids have been through adversity this year and they’ve grown from it so I wasn’t surprised,” said Cole. “They ended up doing what I expected them to do.”
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