By: Kristin Kurelic
Bridgeport is back trying to bring home its third championship in a row; Tolsia is set to play in its first Super 6 since 2006.
The No. 1 Indians (12-0-1) and the No. 3 Rebels (12-1) will kick off in the Class AA state title game at 7:30 p.m. Friday, at Wheeling Island Stadium.
“I’d be lying if I said the pressure hasn’t been a lot higher this year than the last couple years, but these kids have thrived on it,” Bridgeport head coach Josh Nicewarner said. “It really all started after the last snap last year in the state championship game. The kids bought into the weight room, like they always have, and have kind of welcomed that load on their shoulders.”
Tolsia, which has allowed just six points during the entire postseason, dominated Mingo Central, 22-0, in the semifinals for its second straight shutout.
The Indians, meanwhile, are coming off perhaps the toughest test of their season. They edged rival Fairmont Senior, 28-20, after defeating the Polar Bears, 35-0, during the regular season.
“We’ve been challenged, we’ve stepped up to the plate,” said Nicewarner, whose team has won 24 straight contests. “It was a big question mark coming into the season how well our defense was going to play. We struggled early with it, and the tides have really shifted over the course of the last five to six weeks. The offense early on in the season was picking up the slack, and now the defense has really turned it around, and quite frankly has won us the last two ball games.”
This will be the first time Bridgeport and Tolsia have ever met on the football field, and Nicewarner said his squad is looking forward to a new challenge.
“I tell ya, after the last two weeks have practically rivalry games, it’s kind of nice coming into an opponent that we haven’t faced,” he said. “Not only this season, but I believe ever, at least on the football field.”
Bridgeport relies heavily on its rushing attack and throwing only if the need arises.
Tolsia has a similar philosophy.
“They are a run-heavy team, pass if they need to,” Nicewarner said. “From what I have been able to gather on film, an extremely, extremely hard-nosed football team. Really got some size up front.”
The greatest threats are likely to be quarterback Seth McMillion and running back Luke Presley, who rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against Mingo Central. Presley has 2,066 yards and 33 rushing touchdowns on the year.
For Bridgeport, it will be Dante Bonamico and Dylan Tonkery. Tonkery is second on the school’s rushing list, with 3,251 yards, and Bonamico is fifth, with 2,758. Both have rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game four times this season.
“With those two, they set the tone for us,” Nicewarner said. “On the field or off the field, their mannerisms, how they are acting, you can see it just overtake the entire team. Dante especially is such an emotional leader. He brings 100 percent whether it’s in practice or in a game. He’d play on one leg if we let him.”
Nicewarner lauds this year’s class of 17 seniors as the best in school history. They have led the Indians as they set the record for points scored by a Bridgeport team this season (567), and moved to fourth on the school list in total rushing yards (4,425). He’s convinced they have what it takes to end their careers with a third straight title.
“It sounds a little bit insane, but this is the only goal we set,” he said. “We expect to be here. We feel that if we go out and do the things that we need to do and, do them right play after play, that this is the position we should be in. That formula has worked out for us the last two years, and we’ve done everything right that we needed to do coming into this year.
“No state championship has been the same, they’ve all brought different emotions. This has just been an unbelievably successful senior class. The best in school history without a doubt, and we’ve got one more to go and I think they are up to the challenge.”