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Monday, October 31, 2005

Barons nip Knights for Alliance League championship

E.W. Griffith churns out yardage for the Bluefield Barons on Sunday in the Alliance Football League Championship Game at Mitchell Stadium. Following the play is David Bailey (66). (Staff photo by John Nelson)
BLUEFIELD - Echoes of champions past often ring out from Mitchell Stadium. On Sunday, members of the Bluefield Barons echoed a popular - and prophetic - football cliché.

“Like they say, defense wins championships. Of-fense wins games,” said Barons defensive back Eddie Rivers.

“As all football players and fans know, defense wins championships. Offense wins games,” said Barons linebacker Clifton Brad-shaw.

On Sunday, the Barons' defense won a championship as they defeated the Knoxville Knights 7-6 in the Alliance Football League Championship game at Mitchell Stadium.

Much of the game was marked by missed opportunities. On Knoxville's first offensive play, a Knights' fumble was recovered by Barons' defensive end Rick Dissibio. The tone was set.

Despite getting the first break of the game, the Barons couldn't capitalize as Rick Brown's 41-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.

The Barons got a second chance to score when they got the ball back. They drove from their own 14 to the Knoxville 22 largely behind the hard running of Suge Graves.

However, the drive ended with no points when Devontae Royal fumbled and the Knights' Josh Nelson recovered. The first quarter ended scoreless.

The Barons took the ball again into Knights territory on their next possession. But a sack of Bluefield quarterback Jon Jessup by Knoxville's Raheem Shabazz ended the Barons' drive and forced a punt.

“We had a couple mistakes here and there,” said Barons head coach Bill Dudley. “Knoxville's a real good team. You know it's hard to beat someone three times in a row 'cause they know all your tricks.”

Even though Bluefield was able to trick Knoxville a few times, the Barons would give the Knights a Halloween treat when Jeresy Stewart mishandled a punt over his head and the Knights recovered on the Barons' 22.

Knights' quarterback Jeff Troutman was getting a hot hand. A pass from Troutman to Fred Smith got the ball to the Barons' nine - but that was as far as they went. Barons' defensive back Reed Oaks intercepted a Troutman pass at the one and the teams went into the locker rooms scoreless.

Stewart atoned for his miscue by returning the second half kickoff 31 yards to the Barons' 46. The Barons then relied on the running of Graves and E.W. Griffith to advance the ball deep into the Knights' half of the field.

Knoxville's defense stepped up again. They stalled another Bluefield drive on their 25, blocked Brown's 42 yard field goal attempt, and recovered the ball on their own 10. The game remained scoreless.

It would be on the ensuing Knoxville possession that the Barons' defense would make one of the two biggest plays of the game. Knoxville had a first down on their own 20 when the Barons snuffed out a Knoxville reverse.

“Jerry Simon came through and disconnected the ballplayer from the ball,” Bradshaw said. “I just happened to be lucky enough to be right there to pick it up.”

The recovery set up the Barons on the Knoxville nine, but the Knights' defense held the Barons to eight yards on three unsuccessful scoring attempts.

But 330-pound Kevin Dubose made the fourth Barons' attempt a successful one, steamrolling in from one yard out. Brown added the extra point and the Barons held a 7-0 lead.

The seven point advantage only lasted one play. Troutman found a seam in the Barons' defense and his receiver Smith in it. Smith took the pass and scampered into the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown.

The Knights' lack of a place kicker meant that they would have to go for two, and that deficiency would come back to haunt them. A Paul Charles sweep was blown up by the Barons' defensive line and the Barons held a one point advantage.

A kick out of bounds gave the Barons the ball at their 40 and they made use of the great field position. They kept the ball for eight and a half minutes in the third and fourth periods as they drove to the Knoxville five.

But the Knights stalled another Barons drive there, and when the Barons took another fourth down gamble, a sure touchdown pass from Jessup to tight end Kory Wright was dropped.

Two passes and a 42-yard punt by Troutman pinned the Barons on their own 17. The Barons ran seven plays, but lost two yards and a short punt was returned to the Barons' 27 with 1:46 to go.

Knoxville's lack of a kicking game would be their fatal flaw. A pass to Mike Carrawell got the ball to the 17. But the Barons held on the next three plays. On fourth down, when a field-goal attempt would be expected, the Knights went for it and Troutman again passed to Carrawell, putting the ball on the Barons' five with 1:08 to go.

The Knights tried to cross up the Barons with a draw play, but it backfired when Knoxville was penalized for holding. This set up the biggest play of the game.

With 39 seconds left, Troutman again dropped back looking for Carrawell on the sidelines. But Troutman went to the well once too often. The Barons' Rivers stepped in front of the pass and picked it off, crushing the Knights' drive as well as their championship dreams.

“I read it perfectly,” Rivers said. “Their go-to guys are number eight (Carrawell) and number three (Smith.) I stayed in between so I could make a play on both of 'em. He threw it to number eight and basically it was like choose your poison.”

“After the interception, it was joy, man,” Bradshaw added. “I was screaming at the top of my lungs ‘Let's go to Georgia!'”

Bradshaw's exclamation can be explained by the fact that the Barons will travel to Americus to play the Southern Georgia Stars of the SFL. This is the first step towards a possible national championship.

For now, the Barons are happy to focus on their success. When asked how he felt after the game, Rivers' response summed up the accomplishment.

“I feel like a champion.”

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