Bucs prep for season finale against Route 33 rivals, the Elkins Tigers

In 2019, Ryan Smith (54), Sterlin Thropp (7) and Camden Snyder (23) team up to bring down Elkins’ T.J. MGuire. ROBERTA HATCHER/ The Record Delta.

ELKINS — This Friday night, the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Buccaneers will battle the Elkins Tigers in a conference game for the right to claim, “The Axe.” 

According to B-UHS football historical archives, this year’s game will mark the 99th meeting in the series between these two longtime Route 33 rivals. The series started in 1920 and these two teams have met every season since, aside from last year’s game, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 In the previous 98 meetings, Buckhannon/B-U holds a narrow historical advantage over Elkins, with a 49-46-3 record. With that being said, Elkins beat B-U in the last meeting between the two teams back in 2019, 46-20.

 The Bucs last win in the series came in 2018, 39-33. That game marked the first time “The Axe” was handed out. The Axe is the trophy that was introduced to commemorate the storied history shared between the two rival schools. The Bucs hope to regain “The Axe”—which has stayed with Elkins since 2019—with a win Friday night. 

In order to come away with the win in a key rivalry game, the Bucs must take on an Elkins team that enters the week with a winless, 0-9 mark. The Bucs enter this week with a major season goal still in play, winning bragging rights over Route 33. The Bucs have already secured victories against both Lewis County and Philip Barbour on the year. If they can manage to beat Elkins and bring “The Axe” home, it would be a huge victory for the young Bucs.

These two teams have played three common opponents on the season: Lewis County, Philip Barbour, and Grafton. Elkins lost to all three teams by a combined score of 115-40, while the Bucs beat Lewis County and Philip Barbour, by scores of 31-14 and 27-16, respectively; but dropped their game against Grafton, 47-17. If these games against common opponents are any indication, the Bucs have reason to feel confident heading into practice this week. 

The Bucs kicked off this week with a productive film session Monday evening, kickstarting preparation for the last game of the season while putting last week behind them. Coach Zach Davis feels his team will respond well after last week’s loss to Preston, in hopes of finishing the season on a positive note. “As always, our staff expects our players to compete to the best of their abilities—that is the standard we are trying to set for our football program,” he stated. The Bucs will have to play to that standard to come out on top.

Elkins is better than their record suggests though. Coach Davis praised their players and coaching staff as he commented, “They are well-coached, and play hard regardless of who they are matched up against.”

 Elkins has struggled when it comes to finishing drives in the end zone this season, so they have endured long stretches during games this season in which they have had difficulty manufacturing points. Elkins enters the final week of the season averaging just 5.9 points per game, compared to the Bucs’ who have put up an average of 15.1 points a game this season.

 Elkins leans on their running game offensively, primarily to gain yards in chunks on the ground all the while controlling the clock and keeping the other team’s offense on the sideline. In hopes of countering this strategy, the Bucs defense must stay disciplined, read their keys, and react appropriately to defend Elkins’ rushing attack.

The Bucs’ best chance of slowing down Elkins on the ground is for their defensive line and linebackers to set the tone at the line of scrimmage with their physicality and aggressiveness. If the Bucs win the battle in the trenches, it will go a long way in keeping Elkins out of the end zone. Coach Davis noted, “It will be key for us to communicate defensively, so we can get our players in the right spots to clog running lanes. We have to be dedicated to stopping the run this Friday.”

The key to Buckhannon’s offense moving the ball effectively can also be found in the trenches. If the Bucs’ offensive line can win one-on-one blocking matchups and establish dominance over the line of scrimmage, they will be able to get their playmakers in the backfield in space. The Bucs’ offense has found the most success when they are able to run the ball for consistent positive gains, then gamble by taking the occasional situational shot downfield off play-action. The Bucs have struggled to sustain drives if they don’t get the ground game going. B-U’s rushing attack will have to be a staple of the offense this Friday if the Bucs hope to beat Elkins.

Coach Davis also points to the turnover battle as a key to winning the game. “If we can win the turnover battle and play as mistake free as possible, that will go a long way,” he stated.

Kickoff for the Bucs’ battle with the Tigers will be this Friday at 7 p.m. in Elkins.

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