FAIRMONT — This time of year all that matters is surviving and advancing.
In Friday night’s frigid round one match-up with No.16-seeded Winfield, the top-seeded Fairmont Senior Polar Bears did just that, surviving a game with 11 combined turnovers, a number of untimely mishaps and 14 total touchdowns to outlast the Generals, 63-34.
“You have to figure out a way to stay the course and we were able to do that and overcome the adversity of some crazy plays, some tipped balls that led to turnovers and some untimely penalties and some touchdowns called back,” Senior coach Nick Bartic explained. “Our guys had to handle that adversity.”
Fairmont Senior’s defense picked off Winfield quarterback Nickolas Vance six different times, but also allowed a season high 348 yards and three scores through the air in the victory.
“Winfield had a good game plan and they executed well and did a good job of getting our secondary in some compromised spots and got us off balance,” Bartic admitted. "(The secondary) had some misplays and misreads that led to scores. We had three (defensive backs) out and it showed at times, but our guys did a good job of weathering the storm, staying the course and coming up with some big plays also.”
Midway through the second quarter it looked as if Senior was well on its way to another convincing victory, for Dominick Stingo connected with Frankie Smith for a 33-yard score to give the Polar Bears a 28-6 advantage.
Senior forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive and set up shop at the General 32-yard line after a 24-yard punt return from Camden Longwell, but on the first play of the drive Winfield’s Ethan Young picked off Stingo, who made the start for a hobbled Gage Michael under center. Five plays later, the Generals cut into the deficit when Vance rolled to his left and hit Carson Crouch for a 14-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 16 points after the two-point conversion failed.
Winfield then recovered a Polar Bear fumble on the ensuing kickoff and drove down the field again, eventually scoring on a 4th and 7 from 15 yards out when Vance rolled out and scored on a designed run. The two-point conversion failed again but two plays later a Polar Bear snap sailed past Stingo and went through the end zone, giving the Generals a safety that cut the lead to 28-20 with 49 seconds remaining in the first half.
It didn’t take long for the Polar Bears to put together a resounding answer, however, as they scored two touchdowns in the first three minutes of the second half. Longwell housed a 30-yard punt return shortly before Smith returned an interception 15 yards to pay dirt at the 9:02 mark of the third quarter, pushing the lead back out to 42-20.
Winfield answered again, however, matching 63 yards in just under three minutes and cutting the deficit to two scores when John Covert took a swing pass 24 yards, breaking multiple tackles on his way to the end zone.
On the ensuing drive the Generals picked off a deflected pass from Michael, who entered the game in the beginning of the third quarter. On the very next play Vance found Hunter Morris for an 82-yard strike, and after Covert punched in the conversion the Generals found themselves down just 42-34 with a little under 17 minutes to play.
Unfortunately for the Generals, the clock struck midnight in the form of Kieshawn Cottingham touchdown runs of 7, 45 and 52 yards, sealing a wild round one win for the Polar Bears.
Frankie Smith led the way for Senior, intercepting three passes and hauling in a receiving touchdown. Cottingham finished his night with 22 rushes for 183 yards and three scores.
Fairmont Senior advances to play Frankfort, which defeated Nicholas County 58-12.