By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Eagles have landed in the state semifinals.
Offense, defense, special teams; it all added up to a 34-20 win for Robert C. Byrd against Bluefield on a cold Friday night in the Class AA state quarterfinals.
Robert C. Byrd (11-1) was balanced on offense, running for 191 yards and passing for 168, stingy on defense, allowing the Beavers just 195 yards, and Mason Compton returned the opening kick 92 yards as the Eagles out-played Bluefield all over the field.
The hype preceding the game revolved around Bluefield’s speed and whether or not the Eagles could deal with it. They did just fine.
“There was plenty of motivation,” Compton said. “Everyone was talking about how fast they were, we had heard that all week. We wanted to come out and play this game. We played a solid defensive game.”
Bluefield (9-3) had struggled all season to stop the other team, and that proved to be fatal in this one, with the Beavers tying the score twice at 6-6 and 13-13 and pulling within 27-20 in the third quarter, but could never take the lead.
“We just couldn’t outscore them,” Bluefield head coach Fred Simon said. “With our special teams we got in a hole early. The second half I thought we played a little better, but we just never got anything going.
“Hats off to Robert C. Byrd, they have only lost one time for a reason and we got our butt beat.”
Up next for the Eagles is a visit to the semifinals against top-ranked and defending Class AA champion Wayne (12-0), which hammered Nicholas County 47-0 on Friday night. The Pioneers had already beaten the Beavers 45-14 two weeks ago.
“I think Bluefield was trying to give it to us because they know what lies ahead,” said Robert C. Byrd head coach Bruce Carey, with a laugh. “We watched them play Bluefield on film, they are very physical, very well coached. I told these guys we are going to have to practice real well not to be embarrassed, but we will go down there and give it what we have got.
“Wayne runs a nice program and we are glad to be practicing on Thanksgiving.”
Compton put the Eagles on top by taking the opening kick and dashing 92 yards for the touchdown. Compton also returned the next Bluefield kick 33 yards, forcing the Beavers to quit kicking the ball deep to the Eagles.
“That hurt us a little bit. Our kickoff returns, you can’t do that in the playoffs and it hurt us,” Simon said.
Bluefield was able to tie the score at 6-6 on it next possession when Justin Carter, who normally plays receiver, took a handoff and then connected with Brandon Lilly on a 33-yard pass for a touchdown. That would be all the damage the Beavers could do through the air, completing only two other passes for zero yards in the game.
“We just didn’t do it, but that is what happens,” said Simon, of the inability to exploit the passing game. “We got beat, it’s been a good year and let’s move on.”
With the passing game shut down, the Eagles were able to focus on Bluefield’s running attack, which had averaged nearly 350 yards per game. Led by 6-foot-1, 195-pound linebacker Jermodd Garrett, Robert C. Byrd gave the Beavers few running lanes, holding them to 162 yards on 45 carries.
“Defensively they filled their gaps, they stayed in their holes and they made the backs go to the sidelines and when they cut up, somebody was there most of the time,” Carey said. “Bluefield has some nice players and nice backs and I really don’t like defending that offense because it is difficult, but if your defense is disciplined, which they were tonight, we did a good job...
"Jermodd just keeps getting better every week. He has been a great player for us this year. He leads the area in tackles and you can see why."
While Bluefield was able to slow the Eagles’ running attack early in the game, Byrd quarterback Aaron Taylor had a field day, completing 7-of-13 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, including a perfect strike to Compton that turned into a 60-yard score to up the lead to 13-6 after the opening quarter.
Compton had two receptions for 96 yards.
“He threw some nice passes, he was on the money tonight,” Simon said.
Bluefield was able to knot the score again at 13-13 on a 1-yard run by D.J. Edwards, a drive that was sparked by a 15-yard run from Johnny David and a 29-yard scamper by Shadeed Fitzgerald.
Once again, the Eagles responded, going on a 14-play, 68-yard drive, all on running plays, as Tre Cox ran around the left side from 6 yards out to take the lead for good at 20-13. Byrd scored on its next possession, with Cox running for 42 yards to set up a 13-yard scoring pass from Taylor to Iziah Hill for the 27-13 advantage at the break.
The Eagles were able to match the Bluefield speed, which has been a problem for opponents of the Beavers over the years.
“I told our kids that I thought we had some speed that could match their kids pretty good for a change,” Carey said. “I thought it was going to be how tough our line was and I thought we were pretty physical on the line tonight.”
Bluefield was able to narrow the margin to 27-20 early in the third quarter when David Woodrum blocked a field goal attempt by Scott Levine, picked up the loose ball and ran 81 yards down the left sidelines for the touchdown.
That would be it for the Beavers, which simply couldn’t get away from Garrett and the Eagles.
“We have a strong D-line, and we have Jamodd Garrett as our backer and he is a strong backer,” said Compton, who intercepted Edwards twice in the fourth quarter. “The quarterback threw it up and I just went to get the ball.”
Justin Mariotti had to punt five times, including three times in the opening half. Montel Leggett led Bluefield with 83 yards, but could never get loose for the big gainer as he did often during the season.
Shawn Pennington and D.J. Green had fumble recoveries for the Beavers.
“(Byrd) has been playing good defense themselves,” Simon said.
“You have got to have a good defense to have a chance to win games and that is what they did.”
Robert C. Byrd scored on its next possession, keyed by a 28-yard run from Ben D’Annunzio, who had 84 yards rushing, while Cox led the Eagles with 88. Taylor was able to complete an 18-yard pass to Hill, and Cox followed with a 3-yard run for the final margin with 3:03 left in the third quarter.
While the Eagles will play on, the Beavers will look ahead to 2013. Bluefield finished 9-3, which was a major improvement over last season’s 4-5 mark, which left them out of the postseason for the first time in a decade.
“It is a big improvement from last year. It is a growing process and you can’t expect miracles all at one time,” Simon said. “We had a tough schedule last year and won four games. This year we flipped it around and won nine, I think that is a pretty good improvement.
“We have got a lot of players back so we will see how it goes.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com
At Robert C. Byrd High School
Bluefield…………..............…….6 7 7 0 — 20
Robert C. Byrd…...............…..13 14 7 0 — 34
RB - Mason Compton 92 kick return (kick failed) 11:47
BF - Brandon Lilly 33 pass from Justin Carter (kick failed) 3:16
RB - Compton 60 pass from Aaron Taylor (Scott Levine kick) 1:42
BF - D.J. Edwards 1 run (Justin Mariotti kick) 10:46
RB - Tre Cox 6 run (Levine kick) 4:19
RB - Iziah Hill 16 pass from Taylor (Levine kick) :31.3
BF - David Woodrum 81 blocked kick return (Mariotti kick) 5:32
RB - Cox 3 run (Levine kick) 3:03
First Downs: BF 10, RB 18. Rush-Yards: BF 45-162; RB 50-191. Pass Yards: BF 33; RB 168. Comp-Att-Int: BF 3-9-2; RB 7-13-0. Fumbles-Lost: BF 1-0; RB 3-2. Penalty-Yards: BF 5-36; RB 4-50. Punts-Avg: BF 5-30.4; RB 1-36.0
Rushing: BF Montel Leggett 15-83, D.J. Edwards 11-35, Shadeed Fitzgerald 2-22, Johnny David 3-17, Corey Coppola 1-3, D.J. Stewart 5-2, Justin Carter 1-(-10); RB Tre Cox 23-88, Ben D’Annunzio 20-84, Jermodd Garrett 7-33, Aaron Taylor 1-(-6).
Passing: BF Justin Carter 1-1-1 td-33-0 int; D.J. Edwards 2-8-0 td-11-2 int; RB Aaron Taylor 7-13-2 td-168-0 int.
Receiving: BF Brandon Lilly 1-33, Johnny David 1-0, D.J. Stewart 1-0; RB Mason Compton 2-96, Iziah Hill 2-34, Ben D’Annunzio 2-32, Tre Cox 1-3.
Turnovers: BF D.J. Green fumble recovery, Shawn Pennington fumble recovery; RB Mason Compton, 2 interceptions.