AA newcomer RCB takes on Bluefield tonight
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Bluefield makes the trip to Clarksburg to play Robert C. Byrd tonight, it will be a case of old meeting new in the Class AA playoffs.
No. 4 Byrd (10-1) is new to Class AA this season, while the No. 5 Beavers (9-2) have been a mainstay near the top of the rankings and in the state playoffs for years with two state championships (2004, 2007) in six trips to the Super Six since 1999.
The Eagles, led by first-year coach Bruce Carey (formerly the coach of Byrd's Harrison County rival Bridgeport), were a force to be reckoned with on offense in 2012.
To say Byrd got good production from its skill positions during the regular season - with a loss to Bridgeport as the only blemish on its record - would be an understatement.
Ben D'Annunzio led the team with 1,295 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 116 carries and Tre Cox added 891 yards and 13 TDs on 100 carries. Quarterback Aaron Hill threw for 951 yards and 16 TDs with only two interceptions and receiver Iziah Hill caught 20 passes for 452 yards and 11 scores.
Hill faced the tall task of replacing RCB's Adam Secret under center this season. Secret was a four-year starter for the Eagles and set the all-time passing yards record for Harrison County during his time there.
"[Hill] played about two or three games when Secret got hurt [last season], so he had some experience," Carey said. "Our running game took a lot of pressure off him. We try to run first and pass second."
Last week against Braxton County, Cox ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries to lead the Eagles to a narrow 27-21 win in a game in which they trailed at halftime.
Carey said last week's close call was a case of his team coming out flat and Braxton County playing well.
"Braxton County came out and took it to us," he said. "In the second half, we got under their shoulder pads instead of them being under ours. We just weren't being very aggressive."
Bluefield is coming off a 63-27 win against Roane County last week after closing its regular season with a loss to AA No. 1 Wayne. The Beavers' only other loss this season was to their rivals from Graham (Va.), in the first game of the season.
Running back Montel Leggett has led the potent Beavers' offense this season with 1,297 rushing yards and 19 TDs on 120 attempts. While they do not throw the ball much by comparison, quarterback D.J. Edwards completed 27 of 41 passes (65.8 percent) for 615 yards and 10 TDs.
Beavers coach Fred Simon said that while it is no secret his team likes to run the ball, the Beavers are more than a one-man team on the offensive side of the ball with a stable of capable ball carriers - including Johnny David, D.J. Stewart and Edwards - at his disposal.
"[Leggett] has got good speed and good power, but he's not the only one," Simon said. "We've got four good running backs."
Carey said one thing that jumped out about Bluefield on tape was the Beavers' speed.
"They've got a lot of speed and their backs run hard," he said. "I'd like their offense if I didn't have to defend it. They execute real well and do a good job with it."
As good as the offense has been for the Beavers, Simon said he'd like to see improvement from his defense, especially with high-powered Byrd standing between his team and the state semifinals.
"I'm hoping we can get better on 'D,'" he said. We've been OK but we've got to get quicker and better to have a chance. We're going to see how it goes."
Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com.