BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — To quote a passage from John Steinbeck’s epic novel Of Mice and Men, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
And these Beavers were much bigger, and faster, than regular mice.
Second-seeded Bluefield broke away from a 14-10 second quarter edge by reeling off 35 straight points in just under 20 minutes Saturday afternoon en route to a 49-17 victory over seventh-seeded Point Pleasant in the second round of the 2017 Class AA football playoffs at Mitchell Stadium in Mercer County.
The visiting Big Blacks (8-3) had some success early on by executing a well-devised game plan that relied heavily on sustained offensive drives, as well as a swarming yet disciplined defense in hopes of containing Latrell ‘Mookie’ Collier.
Though the Red and Black never led in the contest, the game plan worked well for roughly 20 minutes as Point Pleasant found itself in the hunt following an 8-yard TD pass from Cason Payne to Tucker Mayes with 4:10 left before halftime.
With the Beavers (12-0) clinging to a slim 14-10 cushion at that point, Collier found a second gear — and ultimately left Point Pleasant looking up the rest of the way.
Collier — who rushed for 167 yards on 11 carries — broke a 78-yard run just before halftime for a 21-10 lead, then tacked on third quarter scores of 29 and 20 while helping the hosts establish a 35-10 advantage headed into the finale.
Jason ‘Truck’ Edwards added a 61-yard run just 13 seconds into the fourth for a 32-point cushion, then Jamere Edwards added a 46-yard scamper with 6:06 remaining for the largest lead of the game at 49-10.
With the clock running continuously from that point, the Big Blacks pieced together one final scoring drive as Alec Smith hauled in a 5-yard pass from Payne with a minute left in regulation, wrapping up the 32-point outcome.
Point Pleasant produced a respectable 341 yards of total offense and actually had more first downs (21-13) overall, but the Beavers simply proved to be too much again. BHS also defeated the visiting Big Blacks 42-13 back in Week 7.
In seeing his 11th season as PPHS head coach come to an end, Dave Darst was actually pretty upbeat following the game.
He was disappointed in the outcome and not having Payne — who was dealing with an ankle injury — at full strength, but he also felt like his troops couldn’t have done much more than what they did.
“We had a game plan early on to slow things down, eat clock and try to keep that offense off the field. It worked pretty well early on, but we had to rely on some other things because Cason wasn’t at full strength to run the ball,” Darst said. “With that said, that’s a really good football team over there at Bluefield. I thought our kids played pretty well, but they just had too many athletes for us to contain.”
Darst was also left wondering how his program managed to claim a 45-24 victory over these same Beavers during Week 7 of the 2016 campaign, although that game was at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
As he noted, they are night and day from where they were a little over 13 months ago.
“Give a lot of credit to Coach (Fred) Simon and what he’s done with that group in the year-plus since they came to Point Pleasant,” Darst said. “I cannot find a single negative thing to say about that team and you can tell that they’ve worked their hind-ends off over the last year. It’s going to take a really good football team to beat them.”
Bluefield churned out 336 rushing yards on just 26 carries, an average of 12.9 yards per attempt. The Beavers also forced the game’s only turnover — and it came at a very critical time in the contest.
After Collier’s 29-yard run gave BHS a 28-10 lead with 7:40 left in the third, the Big Blacks followed by fumbling the ensuing kickoff — which was recovered by Shemar Hairston.
Collier added a 20-yard TD run less than a minute and a half later — and the rout was on at 35-10 with 6:06 remaining.
Both teams started the game with three-and-out drives that led to punts, but the hosts needed just two plays to cover 58 yards on their second drive as Chandler Cooper found Derrick Blevins on a 42-yard TD pass, making it a 7-0 contest with 7:41 remaining in the first.
The Big Blacks answered with their most-impressive drive of the game — and perhaps the season — after marching 70 yards in 19 plays, but the guests mustered only a 26-yard field goal by Jacob Bryant for a 7-3 deficit with just five seconds left in the opening stanza.
Both teams traded punts again on their ensuing drives, but Bluefield churned together a 5-play, 46-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard TD pass from Cooper to Javon Davis — making it a 14-3 contest with 6:12 left in the half.
Point Pleasant answered the bell with a 7-play, 68-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard pass from Payne to Mayes, cutting the deficit down to four points (14-10).
After converting a critical third-down play deep in their own territory, the Beavers handed the ball to Collier on first down — and the junior made a juke, delivered a stiff arm and broke away from crowd for a 78-yard scamper. His first of three scores gave Bluefield both momentum and a 35-10 cushion headed into the break.
The Beavers owned a 215-151 advantage in total yards at the break, but Point Pleasant held a 9-6 advantage in first downs.
Overall, the Big Blacks produced 137 rushing yards on 35 attempts for an average of 3.9 yards per carry. Justin Brumfield led the way with 134 yards on 25 carries, while Logan Southall chipped in 26 yards on three totes.
Payne — who ran for minus-23 yards on seven tries — completed 27-of-35 passes for 204 yards, including two TD passes and zero interceptions.
Josh Wamsley set a PPHS record with 16 receptions, which led to 102 yards. Smith was next with seven catches for 69 yards and a score, while Mayes hauled in three passes for 27 yards and a score.
Ryan Oliver also had one catch for six yards in the setback.
The Beavers — who will host Bridgeport sometime next week in the state semifinals — produced 450 yards of total offense, with 114 of those coming through the air.
Truck Edwards followed Collier with 11 carries for 102 yards and a score, while Jamere Edwards had two carries for 62 yards. Arnold Martin and Cooper each ran the ball once for three yards and two yards, respectively.
Cooper completed 4-of-5 passes for 114 yards and two scores. Blevins led the wideouts with two catches for 54 yards, while Davis and Drake Mullins had a catch apiece for 22 and 38 yards, respectively.
The Big Blacks punted five times for an average of 33 yards and were also flagged twice for 10 yards. BHS had three penalties for 25 yards and also punted three times for an average of 48 yards.
The loss marked the seventh straight postseason in which the team that defeated Point Pleasant advanced to the state semifinal round.
Wheeling Park (2015) and Wayne (2011) are the only previous teams to ever reach the state final — and both ended up winning Class AAA and Class AA crowns in those respective seasons.
Saturday marked the final football game for seniors Ryan Oliver, Aaron Turner, Justin Brumfield, Jacob Bryant, Keshawn Stover, Alec Smith, Tucker Mayes, Cameron Nott, Andrew Flowers, Wyatt Pearson, Jason Chapman, Jesse Gleason, Tre Craddock, Alex Gibbs, Brian Gillespie and Clayton Hill in the Red and Black.
Darst wants those 16 upperclassmen to know how proud is he is of what they managed to accomplish this year.
He also wants the returnees to realize how much work they have to put in between now and next August to hopefully get the Big Blacks back to this spot.
“I’m proud of our kids and what we’ve accomplished this year. I mean, we’ve lost twice to the number two team and once on a Hail Mary to the number one team. Both are unbeaten, so it’s kind of hard to be disappointed in losses like that,” Darst said. “We’ve got some really good seniors on this team and I’m really proud of how they stepped it up this year to get us back to where we are. These kids have seen a lot of playoff games and have a lot of fun memories to be proud of.
Those guys will definitely be missed, but I am excited about what we have coming back. We have more work to do to get ready for another run.”
Ohio Valley Publishing sprots writer Alex Hawley contributed to this report.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.