NORTH MARION — Same story, second act.
North Marion’s red-hot Huskies (8-2), at home for the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, are eager to keep the good times rolling in a Friday night duel.
Bluefield (6-3), after years of post-season parties in the friendly confines of Mitchell Stadium, find themselves as Road Warriors after a COVID-altered season cost them a month off the regular season schedule. With no margin for error after two opening losses, the battling Beavers have handled “playoff pressure” for more than two months.
The up-tempo Huskies, known for running 3-4 plays per minute, demolished Grafton 64-14 in opening-round action, giving up the first and last scores while scoring 9 unanswered touchdowns in between. Bluefield also trailed in the first quarter at Point Pleasant but scored three times in the second stanza and on the opening drive in the third period, going in front 30-7 in the 44-20 triumph.
“They [North Marion] usually run plays with several seconds left on the clock,” notes BHS offensive coordinator Fritz Simon, “so we have to be focused. On our side, we are working up front to become a cohesive unit. The interruptions this season have been a challenge in that respect.”
Simon indicates that on the defensive front, he has been impressed of late with outside linebackers R. J. Hairston and Shawn Hale, while tackle D. J. Fuller has also sparkled. Ryker Brown, Chance Johnson, Gerrard Wade and Jacorian Green are some other big-play makers for the Bluefield “D.”
Now 36-year-head coach Fred Simon’s Beavers make the three-hour journey to Marion County, taking on NMHS, a team they defeated 33-10 at Mitchell in 2020. On that night, Gillis “Trey” Walker led a Bluefield defense that forced four fumbles while youngsters Amir Hairston and Jae’on Flack paced the running game. In addition, Ryker Brown, now the BHS quarterback, caught a 50-yard scoring pass from Carson Deeb that night.
North Marion is a veteran, confident team and Coach Daran Hays’ juggernaut averages 42.6 points per game, having outscored their opponents 119 – 14 in the last two weeks. In the regular season finale, a 42-19 romp over Liberty, the Huskies piled up 529 yards (13.2 yards per play) as they scored on every possession.
The longest drive was 8 plays with the previous touchdowns coming on marches of 2, 6, 2, 3, 6, 5 and 6 plays.
Bluefield had its traditional opener postponed, lost on a last-second field goal at “AAA” Princeton, returned a month later against a Graham team in mid-season form, played three games in one eight-day stretch and have not lost since.
Bluefield managed to get 8 decisions on the schedule and finished with a flourish in a 55-6 triumph over Mingo Central before traveling last week to Point Pleasant. BHS is scoring at a 37-points per game clip.
In the first playoff showdown, sophomore Amir Hairston sparkled for the Beavers ground game, scoring two touchdowns — a third long score was called back — as the offense shook off lingering effects from the long bus ride and rolled to the win.
As the Huskies, who have won every game since the fourth week of the season by at least 21 points, continue to progress, Coach Hays has told interviewers the keys to their success: “Tough teams are able to do three things consistently — run the ball, stop the run and cover kicks.” North Marion has excelled in all three phases.
Tariq Miller paced the Huskies’ win over Liberty with 167 total yards, while quarterback Brody Hall hit 12-of-19 passes with a pair of scoring strikes. Parker Kincell, known as “PK” is a player Coach Hays says “is our ‘dynamic player’ who can catch it coming out of the backfield and is patient running it” had three receptions for 62 yards and scored twice on runs of 41 and 29 yards.
The week prior, when North Marion topped Frankfort, the Huskies piled up 314 rushing yards led by Gavan Lemley’s three scores and 98 yards.
Last week, Miller ignited NMHS with an 80-yard touchdown and Lemley put a pair of second-half scores on the board. The balanced Huskies had 298 yards overall in the first half and gave up a mere 17 to Grafton. Hall (11-of-16) drilled a 55-yard touchdown pass to Harley Sickles, and the North Marion attack was aided by Kincell’s 113 rushing yards. Miller has been a favorite target for Hall.
Bluefield had a fancy finish to the home season, as Brown hit 8-of-13 for 176 yards and four scores including six-point passes to Jacorian Green (a perfect 80-yard highlight toss), another to Chance Johnson, one to Flack and a 53-yarder to Jamel Floyd, who had a dazzling, tackle-breaking run down the sidelines. Hairston paced the ground game with 119 yards on 21 carries and a score.
The balanced Beavers patiently took control at Point Pleasant, had a defensive hiccup midway through the second half and regained momentum to win going away with 392 offensive yards. Hairston rumbled for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
The sophomore standout says, “Our offensive line has done a great job of blocking up front and the receivers have been blocking really well. My job is get to the outside when they open the holes.”
Brown scored twice as he carried 10 times for 62 yards (6.2 average) and completed 10-of-15 passes for two more touchdowns. Green had a touchdown and 66 yards receiving while Flack also scored as he caught four passes for 78 yards and a TD.
Brown, a strong armed passer with fleet feet for the run, observes, “I believe our team is ready, and now that I look back, it might have been a blessing that we were off so long in the fall because we are pretty healthy and in good shape to be so late into the season. I think that (time off) will work to our advantage.” Coach Fred Simon concludes,
“I am so proud of these players and coaches for working through to make it this far. We are in that second season where ‘losers go home and winners go on’ so what we have to do is keep thinking and playing like winners.”
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