BLUEFIELD, W.Va. – Some teams like to take the week before the start of the postseason to rest and do not always schedule top competition. Bluefield and Wayne are not two of those teams.
The No.2 Pioneers and No. 1 Beavers, both traditional powers in Class AA, met Friday at Mitchell Stadium in a back-and-forth affair that ended with a 29-27 win for Wayne to extend its now 33-game winning streak.
"When you put two teams like that together, sometimes you have fireworks," Wayne Coach Tom Harmon said. "I thought we fought through a lot of things and I was pleased with our effort."
The Pioneers (10-0) assured themselves the top seed in the Class AA playoffs with the win, and got off to strong start by feeding Bluefield (8-2) a steady dose of junior Mason Hodge.
Hodge rumbled for 32 yards on the first play from scrimmage and carried five times on Wayne's opening drive, including a 3-yard touchdown run. Hodge finished with 223 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns.
"Mason is a cut above athletically and physically," Harmon said. "More important than anything he's got a big heart. We had a lot of guys that stepped up tonight and played with big hearts. When you have guys like that – that's what you've got to have in big games like this."
Bluefield answered with a field goal on its opening drive but found itself in an even deeper hole when Pioneers' quarterback Grant Ferguson kept the ball and found room around the end for an 81-yard touchdown run to put Wayne up 13-3 in the first quarter.
The Beavers made it 13-10 on a Corey Coppola 20-yard scoring run, and added another field goal just before halftime to knot the score at 13.
That momentum carried over to the second half, as Bluefield jumped ahead 20-13 when a Ferguson fumble on the Pioneers' first drive of the third quarter was returned 44 yards for a touchdown by the Beavers' Daniel Barker.
"The character is what's revealed when you get under stress," Harmon said. "We were pleased tonight that our guys were able to not lose the faith."
After Bluefield's defense gave the Beavers the lead, it was Wayne's turn to show what it could do on the defensive side of the ball.
The Pioneers defense held Bluefield in check for most of the second half. After Hodge scored from seven yards out with less than three minutes to play to take a 29-20 lead, the Beavers woke up.
Quarterback R.J. Bourne threw what looked like a screen pass to receiver Justin Carter as the Beavers were desperately attempting to get back in the game. Carter pulled up and found a streaking D.J. Edwards to set Bluefield up deep in Wayne territory. Bourne hit Edwards with a 14-yard touchdown pass that cut the lead to 29-27 with the extra point.
Bluefield's onside kick attempt failed, but it got the ball back with less than a minute to play and 80 yards between the Beavers and the end zone. Wayne senior Brody Lunsford put a stop to any thoughts of a miracle finish by intercepting Bourne to seal the win -- and the top seed in the playoffs – for Wayne.
Bluefield will likely fall to the No. 3 seed in Class AA with the loss. That sets up the possibility of a rematch the weekend after Thanksgiving, this time in Wayne with a spot in the Super Six on the line.
"It's was a heck of a game to watch, but dammit you hate to come out on the bad end," Bluefield Coach Fred Simon said. "They played a hell of a game and they did too."
Bourne finshed the game 10 of 18 passing for 110 yards with two interceptions while Edwards caught five passes for 74 yards in the loss.
"We had a nice little pass combination," Simon said. "I'll tell you what though, (Wayne) was so quick to the ball we couldn't run much and that hurt us."
Wayne ran the ball a total of 46 times, gaining 376 yards between five players. Ferguson accounted for 123 of those yards and went 2 of 3 passing for seven yards.
Contact sportswriter Tom Bragg at tom.br...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.