WHEELING, W.Va. — Top-ranked Wayne’s last-second heave into the end zone fell to the ground, ending a flurry of late-game dramatics as No. 2 Bridgeport held on for a 14-13 win in the Class AA state championship Friday night.
“I don’t think I can put this into words,” said Bridgeport quarterback A.C. Caldera, whose team ended Wayne’s 36-game winning streak on the snow-covered field at Wheeling Island Stadium.
“It’s incredible what this team just did. We just beat a Wayne team that’s been incredible for the last two or three years. It’s a great feeling right now.”
Caldera, named the player of the game, finished with 109 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. He was also 1-of-1 passing for 11 yards.
The snowy conditions led to a combined seven fumbles and five turnovers between the two teams.
“It was unfortunate that we had to play in this,” said Bridgeport head coach Josh Nicewarner. “I don’t think either team got to showcase what they wanted to, but it definitely makes for great memories. It probably was a deciding factor in this game.”
Another deciding factor came in the final minute of the first half as Wayne—seeking a state championship three-peat—held a 13-6 lead. Deep in their own territory, the Pioneers (13-1) opted to run a couple of more plays before the half when quarterback Grant Ferguson fumbled and Bridgeport recovered at the Wayne 28-yard line with 23 seconds to go.
Two plays later, Caldera scampered in from 22 yards out. Anthony Bonamico then ran in the two-point conversion attempt off the left side, giving the Indians a 14-13 lead at the break and, ultimately, the game.
“That was huge,” Nicewarner said. “I felt we were able to do some things offensively, but I thought we killed ourselves offensively a lot in the first half. We were able to create the turnover and two quick plays later, put it in for a score.”
Bonamico finished with 64 yards on 17 carries.
Wayne that scored first, a 1-yard run by Mason Hodge after Bridgeport turned the ball over on its first possession. The Indians answered with a 39-yard run by Caldera, but the extra point failed to leave the score 7-6 with 9:49 to go in the second quarter.
Wayne’s second touchdown came on a 34-yard pass from Ferguson to Kurt Arthur with 7:09 before the half, but the Pioneers’ PAT failed also.
Hodge finished with 109 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in the losing effort. Ferguson had 95 yards on the ground and another 61 through the air on 5-of-8 passing.
Wayne’s 36-game streak remains tied with Ansted for the state record.
“Definitely not the outcome we wanted,” said Wayne coach Tom Harmon. “We have high hopes here at Wayne and we wanted to win it. It’s a little bit of a life lesson there—you don’t always get what you want. Our kids played valiantly. But we made a few mistakes, and those mistakes ended up costing us the game.”
Bridgeport won its seventh state championship but its first since 2000.
“We tried to downplay the stage as much as we possibly could, and I don’t think we came out shell-shocked or in awe,” Nicewarner said. “I think we came out and played physical.”
The Indians had just one second half first down to Wayne’s 11. Overall, the Pioneers also outgained Bridgeport 320-192. But key turnovers forced by the Indians’ defense and red-zone stands proved to be the difference.
Bridgeport freshman linebacker Mackenzie Holmes collected one of those key turnovers—an interception at midfield with 7:08 to go, one play after the Indians surrendered the ball to the Pioneers.
“Our defense was a big question mark coming into this season and they were the ones that just got better throughout the year, and ultimately won this championship for us,” Nicewarner said.
Bridgeport improved 7-1 all-time in championship game appearances.