Bees host Grafton in 2nd straight Thursday game

East Fairmont’s Will Sarsfield tackles North Marion’s Tyler Thorne (32) as teammate Paxton Nichols (54) closes in during the Bees’ 33-10 Week 1 loss to the Huskies at Woodcutters Stadium.

FAIRMONT — It wasn’t a normal situation by any means Shane Eakle stepped into as the first-year coach of an East Fairmont program that had gone 1-19 the past two seasons.

And heading into Week 2 of the 2019 season, the Bees haven’t exactly been operating under routine procedures. For the second consecutive week, East (0-1) is slated to play on a Thursday when it hosts Grafton (1-0) today at 7 p.m. at East-West Stadium.

“The last 10 years at Tucker County, I don’t think we ever played a Thursday game,” said Eakle. “It always changes. I do think having a Thursday game after a Thursday game helps a little bit because we try to maximize our Friday with film and stuff like that with the kids, but it’s still a little different.”

The Bees faced county foe North Marion in Rachel last Thursday, falling 33-10, as part of a round of Thursday games across the state, but today’s contest with Grafton is the lone show around, adding hoopla to the team’s home opener.

“I can’t thank the East Fairmont community and their support enough; their travel to Rachel was phenomenal and I hope they liked what they saw as far as the kids playing hard,” Eakle said. “That’s been the thing since June is we want to come out and play hard to earn respect from the community based on how we play, win, lose or draw.”

“We hope they come out and support these kids (tonight). If we can get a good crowd to stick with it, that’s definitely a 12th man for us and the kids are going to feed off that.”

After opening against a North Marion team that finished 2018 at 5-5, the Bees get another 5-win opponent from 2018 tonight in the Bearcats, who defeated Philip Barbour 34-9 last week.

Grafton lost plenty of talent to graduation from last season with all-conference picks Caleb Bish at running back, Garrett Wellman at quarterback and Trevor Cayton at linebacker all moving on. But the team found suitable replacements in Week 1 versus the Colts, especially in sophomore running back James Hoskins, who piled up 168 rush yards and two TDs on 15 carries.

Quarterback Logan Beltner also had a solid debut, going 4-for-4 with 94 yards and two TDs, including an 87-yard score to Hunter Simmons.

“They do have some big play capability; they had a couple of touchdowns in Week 1 that were over 60-70 yards,” Eakle said of Grafton. “We have to make sure we know our assignments and make them earn everything. We want to make them have to move up and down the field and play downhill.”

The Bees have adopted a zone coverage-based defensive scheme Eakle brought with him from his time as defensive coordinator at Tucker, where the emphasis is to keep the game in front of them and react accordingly. The philosophy is geared around a bet that opposing offenses won’t execute with the required patience and sustain 10-plus play drives.

The tactic was on display against the Huskies in Week 1, where NMHS coach Daran Hays said his squad’s explosive capabilities were mostly confused by the scheme. And even with NMHS exercising judiciousness and taking those shorter gains, the Huskies had just seven points with two minutes left in the first half.

North Marion is more varied offensively than Grafton in terms of its run-pass aptitude and game planning, but if the Bearcats rack up the rush yards like they did last week, sustainable offense gets a lot easier.

“They’re a little different, and, yeah, they’d like to do it a little more on the ground,” Eakle said of Grafton, “but they can still sling it around a little bit too.”

With 2018 all-conference lineman Kasey Knotts back along with fellow 2018 starters Jacob Montgomery and Ian Baker up front for Grafton, East’s defensive front, led by seniors Avery Baker, Justin Lambert, Zach Martin and Raphaiel Bryce-Thurton, will be under the microscope to set the edge and hold its ground at the point of attack.

Player Spotlight

East Fairmont: Paxton Nichols, C/LB

Nichols, the Bees’ senior starting center, is the linchpin of an offensive line that will be fighting an uphill battle all season and must coordinate and execute pass protection calls better than it did in Week 1 when quarterback Dom Postlewait was scrambling for his livelihood.

“We got to do a better job up front of identifying who’s coming and where guys are to pick them up,” Eakle said. “We would expect Grafton to bring pressure after watching the game against North Marion.

“We’ve tried to make a couple of adjustments to make sure (Postlewait) is getting his reads, and hopefully we can give him an extra second or so to make the tougher reads.”

Grafton: Braden Nose, WR/S 

Nose snagged two interceptions against the Colts last week for a Bearcats defense that allowed just 75 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers. The Bees’ offense managed just 174 yards of total offense, including 54 through the air, against the Huskies last week, but they avoided any backbreaking turnovers, with an inconsequential Postlewait interception at the end of the first half being the team’s only giveaway.

What to watch for: First down rushing efficiency.

Considering East Fairmont’s defensive bend-but-don’t-break philosophy and its lack of a stable rushing attack against North Marion in Week 1, the yard-per-carry average of both teams on early downs will be pivotal. For Grafton, chunk gains through its standard rushing attack will be the holy grail to sustaining drives against the Bees. And in East’s case, running on North Marion in Week 1 was a struggle, except for Postlewait scramble situations.

Email Bradley Heltzel at bheltzel@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.

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