BLUEFIELD, W.Va. - The 10-1 Bluefield Beavers ran onto the field through a paper sign that read “Get Your Popcorn. We're About To Put On A Show.”
By Chapin Jewell
BLUEFIELD, W.Va. - The 10-1 Bluefield Beavers ran onto the field through a paper sign that read “Get Your Popcorn. We’re About To Put On A Show.”
The implication, of course, was that the well-regarded defending class AA state champions would make quick work of the visiting Golden Tornado and do so in dazzling fashion. If the sign were to be believed, that $ 7 price of admission, and the five-hour drive down from Keyser, would therefore be worth it on account of Bluefield’s efforts alone. The Beavers did dazzle, scoring five touchdowns in dramatic fashion to defeat Keyser 35-0 on a beautiful day for football in Mercer County. Not to be discounted, however, was the Herculean effort Keyser put forth in containing the high octane Beavers for most of the game. That includes the Tornado offense’s effort in moving the ball in large chunks against Bluefield’s vaunted, best in the state defense, despite failing to score.
Coming into the game, Bluefield’s offensive numbers through 11 games were both prolific and diversified. The Beavers’ three primary running backs, Javon “JJ” Davis, Jamere “Juice” Edwards, and Arnold Martin, had collectively amassed 2,714 yards rushing along with 36 touchdowns. Davis averaged a jaw dropping 15 yards per carry, Edwards 12.3, and Martin 8.9. Not to be outdone, quarterback Chandler Cooper had passed for 907 yards and 14 touchdowns with only two interceptions. Most impressively perhaps, is that Cooper had five separate receivers with 100 receiving yard games on the year. Clearly, Bluefield’s offense was not a one trick pony, it was a multi-faceted attack designed to keep the defense guessing. On this day, against Keyser, the Beavers would use three separate players to score their five electric touchdowns.
At the 6:02 mark of the first quarter, Bluefield’s “Juice” Edwards would make a highlight reel worthy four-yard touchdown grab after the ball bounced off no less than two players before landing in his arms. Also in the first quarter, with 46 seconds to go, “JJ” Davis plunged it in from four yards out. The Beavers would possess a 14-0 lead after one quarter of play.
There would be no scoring in the second quarter. The only score of the third quarter came with 2:09 to go when Chandler Cooper hit Derrick “Ronnel” Blevins on a 47-yard bomb.
The Beavers would score two additional times in the fourth quarter. First on a five-yard touchdown run with 6:01 to go in the game by “Juice” Edwards. Edwards would add the final score, a 37-yard scamper with 2:35 to go in which he reversed direction twice and wowed the crowd with his moves.
Bluefield’s offensive production gave the Beavers the 35-0 victory.
Despite the loss, Keyser coach Sean Biser was proud of his team’s effort. “Almost no one gave us a chance but our coaching staff and kids all felt we could win this game. We knew they were good but we also knew our schedule prepared us for games like this. We went there to win the game, not to just compete,” Biser said in post-game comments.
“We had them with their hands on their hips a lot tonight. They were subbing in and out. We had them sucking wind a little bit and our kids just kept cranking after them,” he said.
Giving up two first quarter touchdowns to the Beavers, a lesser team may have folded early and reduced the effort and intensity. That’s not in the DNA of this Golden Tornado squad. Biser explained to the Keyser radio crew, “After those first couple drives we kind of got our legs under us a little bit. I attribute some of that slow start to driving five hours, after meeting at the school at 6:45 in the morning. Once we got our feet under us, I thought we played pretty well.”
The second quarter showed great improvement for Keyser as the defense failed to yield any more scores. Much of this can be attributed to Keyser’s ability to move the ball on offense, not scoring but occupying a large chunk of the clock. Keyser ran 26 offensive plays in the second quarter, Bluefield only five. Unfortunately for the Golden Tornado, they came away without a score.
In the second quarter, however, Biser explains, “Our offense started moving the ball. We found some things that worked and you know what, somebody asked me, what was your game plan? It’s the same thing we’ve done all year long. We just found what our niche was and our formations where we could get the advantage and we made some plays.”
As good as the Keyser offense was at moving the ball, it was matched with Bluefield’s defensive efforts. “Their defense is really fast, we had to get through the hole quick,” Biser explained. Still, after a five hour drive to the historic home of the defending state champions, Keyser was satisfied being down only 14-0 at the half, especially knowing they had shown progress in moving the ball.
A few possessions were traded in the third quarter, but almost ten minutes played out before there would be another score. Bluefield had a drive killed by an interception from Keyser’s Ryan Shoemaker at the Golden Tornado 40 yard line. Unfortunately, Keyser would also see a drive killed by a turnover in the third, on a fumble recovery by Bluefield’s Deyontei Powell-Woods in Beaver territory. Late in the third, however, Keyser still found themselves only down 14-0. It would be with 2:09 left in the quarter before the Beavers scored to extend their lead to 21-0.
Bluefield blew the game wide open with their two fourth quarter touchdowns by “Juice” Edwards to extend the lead to five touchdowns and ultimately get the 35-0 victory. As Biser explains, however, “They scored late, it was a close game clear up until the fourth quarter.”
The Beavers move on to take on the Bridgeport Indians Friday at 1:30 at Mitchell Stadium in Bluefield. Bridgeport advanced after drubbing Robert C. Byrd 42-7, a team they had only defeated in a close 41-35 contest in September.
Bluefield and Bridgeport share only one common opponent, the Keyser Golden Tornado. Bluefield obviously defeated Keyser 35-0; Bridgeport defeated the Tornado 28-19.
Bluefield and Bridgeport have matched up three times previously, with Bluefield leading the series two games to one. The Beavers won the 1995 and 2017 games, and lost to Bridgeport in 2013. Bluefield is seeded # 2, Bridgeport # 3.
For Keyser, the season ends with the team posting a 9-3 record in 2018. Along the way there was plenty to keep the Black and Gold faithful on the edge of their seats. There were the dramatic come-from-behind victories over Weir and Jefferson and the thriller in Frostburg - the 35-34 win over Mountain Ridge in overtime.
As coach Biser reflects, “I’m so proud of my kids and the way we played this year. We won nine games, beat some really good teams and had some exciting wins. We were 16 points away from finishing the regular season undefeated.”
Perhaps most impressive about Keyser’s schedule is the presence of four playoff teams in Robert C. Byrd, Weir, Bridgeport and Frankfort. As if that’s not enough, as Biser explains, “We have two teams that are going to be in the state semi-finals (Bridgeport and Weir), and we beat one of them (Weir).”
Keyser was challenged with a tough regular season schedule. While things naturally progress towards even stiffer competition in the playoffs, the gauntlet laid before the Golden Tornado in their quest for a fourth state championship was staggering, challenging beyond the norm. First there was Wayne, then Bluefield. Next would have come Bridgeport and then a likely date with Fairmont Senior should they have defeated Bridgeport. All four juggernauts, all four with a record of state championships, and perhaps most importantly, all four with very quality teams this year.
It’s a playoff bracket draw as hard as any you’ll see in West Virginia AA football.
When asked his thoughts on the matter, Biser responded with, “ I don’t know that you could come up with a tougher path than that. It seems each year we end up in they type of playoff bracket and most years the team that has knocked us out plays for the championship. That’s just how it goes.”
According to Biser, “this Bluefield team ranks right up there with one of if not the toughest teams we’ve ever faced.” Biser explains, “Obviously they are good, they returned most of their team that won the state championship last year. They have a huge line that is very athletic and all their skill kids can run and are very athletic. Anyone who attended the game would attest to that.”
With the 2018 season now in the books, Biser reflects on what he calls a special team, one of his favorites ever. “They definitely are a special group, their work ethic and attitude have been second to none. They are a very tight family that hangs out together and jokes with each other and the coaches. They came to practice and just worked every day, embracing that process and really buying into our ‘This Play’ philosophy. That showed in how they loved to just compete and play football.”
In a successful football program like Keyser’s there is very little time off. Some kids will immediately join other sports, as for football and preparing for next year, there will be maybe a few days, even weeks before off season efforts will begin. For Biser, “What we do in the weight room is where we build our team. The magic ingredient is sweat equity; you have to put in your time in the weight room. We tell our kids all the time, if they get in the weight room and live in there, like this group did, they will be alright.”
Keyser fans can look to next year with great promise. As Biser says, “We will return a lot of kids that have played a lot of football for us. We also have some very good younger kids that if they buy into the weight room all year like the older kids have, will push some of those older kids for playing time. So the cupboard is definitely not bare.
“Ultimately our success or failure next year starts with the returners and newcomers willingness to train in the weight room all year and their willingness to buy into our ‘this play’ philosophy. We are also encouraged by the number of kids that have shown interest in playing next year that didn’t play this year. A resurgence in numbers would be a great step in right direction for our football program as well.
“We’ll come back and make another run at it next year, and maybe make it to Wheeling.”
Those in attendance at Saturday’s game in Bluefield were asked by the Beavers to “Get Out Your Popcorn. We’re About To Put On A Show.” True to their word, the talented Beavers did put on a show, but it was tough sledding at times as Keyser fought tooth and nail, challenging the defending state champions to the very end.
As for the popcorn, well, what the home crowd didn’t know is that Keyser fans have taken to bringing the proverbial popcorn with them every week, as this 2018 Golden Tornado squad has treated the Black and Gold faithful to show after show in a season to remember. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.