Class AA No. 3 Bridgeport (11-1) at No. 2 Bluefield (12-0)
The Indians are hoping their defense can come up big again as they play on the road for the first time in the playoffs. Last week, Bridgeport stopped the run, got ahead early and went on to beat Winfield 42-13. Bridgeport’s defense came up with three interceptions.
“All the credit goes to our defensive coordinator coach Adam King,” said Bridgeport sophomore middle linebacker Trey Pancake. “He had a perfect game plan. Winfield has so many formations and he had us in the right spot ready for the run. We were able to slow down their run and made them resort to the pass.”
Pancake is tied for the team lead in tackles through 12 games.
The Bridgeport defense has allowed just one opposing back to go over 100 yards this season.
“It’s the same (Bridgeport) team that you’ve always seen,” said Bluefield coach Fred Simon. “They play hard, they’re well coached and fundamentally sound. They make very few mistakes. We know that our work is cut out for us.
“(Jake) Bowen is a tremendous back,” he continued. “Their line, defense, special teams and quarterback are all really good. This is a great Class AA semifinal matchup, as the other one is. It’s gotten down to four really good football teams and we’re excited to be a part of it.”
Bluefield has two outstanding running backs in Mookie Collier and Truck Edwards. That duo has led a Bluefield offense that scored 474 regular season points and has averaged 47.5 points in two playoff wins.
“We know this will be the best pair of backs we’ve faced this year,” Pancake said. “We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing–being prepared and in the right place. Hopefully we’ll be able slow them down as well.”
Collier has just 15 carries in the postseason – four of those have gone for touchdowns, while he’s overall averaging 18 yards per carry in those two playoff games.
“It’s just nice when he gets in the secondary, because he can make things happen,” Simon said. “He can cut and not lose much speed – that’s the beauty of it. He’s fun to watch when he gets out into the secondary.”
Bridgeport will try and run the football with the duo of running back Jake Bowen and quarterback John Merica. Bowen has 1,761 yards and 25 touchdowns. Merica has rushed for 760 yards and 17 scores.
“We actually threw a couple of passes last week,” said Pancake. “That certainly surprised me, but if we happen to fall behind we might have to use some of those plays.”
Bridgeport has reached the semifinal round for the 7th consecutive season, but they haven’t played a postseason game on the road since losing at Keyser in 2012.
“Our goal is always to get back to Wheeling,” Pancake said. “Last year we came up short. We would love to get back to the title game for our seniors. That would be amazing.”
Bridgeport is trying to get to Wheeling for the fourth time in five seasons. Bluefield hasn’t reached the championship game since 2009.
The two teams also met in the 2013 semifinals from Bridgeport – a 42-21 Indians’ win.
“Our players are going to play hard and we’re going to give it everything we have – I can guarantee that,” Simon said. “That’s what I like about our players, we’re going to fight and try hard to win. That’s all that you can ask of a team.”