POCA — Fairmont Senior is back in the Super Six. And this time, the Polar Bears did it the hard way — by winning three road playoff games to get back to Wheeling Island Stadium.
Dom Stingo threw a pair of touchdown passes to Kayson Nealy and ran for a third score and Germaine Lewis had two first-quarter TD runs Friday night to lift Fairmont Senior to a 41-7 victory over Poca in a Class AA semifinal at O.O. White Stadium.
The win sends the 16th-seeded Polar Bears (8-4) back to the state title game for the fourth time since 2016 as they’ll hook up with Independence at 7 p.m. next Friday in the AA finals. Fairmont Senior won championships in 2018 and 2020, the latter title without a Super Six game being played due to COVID-19.
“We had seven away games this season to prepare for that,” Polar Bears coach Nick Bartic said of his team’s road success in the postseason. “Our guys battled all year. We had a lot of adversity, injuries, COVID … Now our guys are almost full strength and peaking at the right time.
“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of our guys and how hard they fought and battled.”
The Polar Bears led 21-7 at halftime Friday and had to repel a rally that almost got Poca right back on their heels.
With Fairmont up 21-0, Poca quarterback Jordan Wolfe threw a sideline pass to Toby Payne that was tipped by a Polar Bears defender, but Payne somehow snagged the ball before it went out of bounds and raced down the sideline for a 57-yard gain to the Fairmont 12.
Two plays later, Brandon Moore scored on an 8-yard run to put the Dots on the board and make it 21-7 with 4:51 left to halftime. Poca’s Nathan McVey then recovered an onside kick and the Dots were in business at the Fairmont 48.
Wolfe, however, hit his throwing elbow on a defender’s helmet on the pass to Payne and left the game for a short time. He returned to finish the game, but attempted only three second-half passes.
Payne picked up 23 yards to the Fairmont 22 on a Wildcat formation run, but the drive stalled at the Polar Bears 15. On fourth and 3, Dots coach Seth Ramsey opted to try a 32-yard field goal, but it was wide and Fairmont regained possession with 1:04 left to halftime.
“We got that onside kick,” Ramsey said, “and I thought we had a little momentum coming back our way. We just couldn’t capitalize on it, couldn’t get the thing in and we missed that field goal there.
“Wolfe got banged up a little bit. We thought we could make that field goal and who knows, get another onside kick and try to get another possession before the half and cut it to 21-17 at halftime, but it didn’t work out that way.”
Fairmont Senior’s offensive and defensive lines started to take over the game in the second half, led by 6-foot-6, 300-pound Eric Smith, their anchor on either side of the ball.
The Polar Bears’ first possession of the third quarter reached the Poca 1 without scoring, but their next three drives all reached the end zone — a 5-yard run by Stingo, a 25-yard Stingo-to-Nealy pass and a 38-yard run by reserve running back Landon Tasker.
“In the second half, we did a good job of staying the course and learning our lessons from last week,” Bartic said.
Fairmont had to rally in the final minutes in the quarterfinals to beat Robert C. Byrd 33-28 after squandering a big early lead.
“They’re really good for a reason,” Ramsey said. “They’re the standard in double-A. They don’t flinch in those situations; they don’t back down. That’s what you’ve got to strive for in our division. They’re a good football team.”
Fairmont Senior wound up with 398 total yards, 239 on the ground and 159 in the air as Stingo completed 9 of 16 attempts with no interceptions. Nealy caught three passes for 88 yards and Lewis ran 12 times for 154 yards.
Poca was fairly one-dimensional in the second half, running the ball after Wolfe’s injury, compounded by the constant pressure Fairmont’s line was providing on its pass rush. Even before his injury, Wolfe wasn’t able to hoist long balls to Payne and Kambel Meeks, as he’s done in recent weeks.
“They got some pressure on us up the middle,” Ramsey said, “and they got some pressure on us off the edge. We’ve just got to do a better job calling plays where the ball gets out of our hands a little bit quicker.”
Wolfe was just 3 of 11 passing for 62 yards, with two completions to Payne for 58 yards. Malakai Woodard-Jones led Poca’s ground game with 95 yards on 23 carries. The Dots totaled 208 yards of offense.
“I’m proud of this senior class,” Ramsey said. “They mean the world to me. They’re good players, but they’re unbelievable human beings. Really proud of what they’ve done with this program. We’re where we are now because of them.”