WHEELING, W.Va. — Fairmont Senior is back at the Super Six for a second straight year, looking for a different result on Friday night, while Bluefield makes its return to the title game for the first time in eight years.
The Polar Bears reached the state championship game last season for the first time since 1981, only to lose in the finals to Mingo Central by 25 points.
Fairmont Senior (12-1) avenged that loss with a 35-6 semifinal win last week over the Miners on the road.
“Our guys don’t back down from a challenge and we like playing on a big stage – our guys have responded to that well all season,” said Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic. “We knew that game was going to be on a big stage in a hostile environment.
“They create a great atmosphere down there and it was packed,” he continued. “Our fans did a good job of traveling also. I’m really proud with the way we came out, play a physical game, were disciplined and did what we needed to do to get the job done.”
The Polar Bears take an eight-game winning streak into the state championship game, averaging nearly 40 points per game during that stretch.
It’s been a wildly successful season so far for the Polar Bears in Bartic’s first year at the helm – he took over in the offseason after a successful tenure as defensive coordinator.
“Ultimately, we have pretty much our entire staff back (from last year) and in the same place,” Bartic said. “We have a lot of continuity, our players know that and they see the consistency within our coaching staff. Our guys care, our kids see that and our kids care. That made the transition really seamless.”
The Fairmont Senior offense is balanced as the Polar Bears average 188 yards passing and 176 yards rushing per game. The defense, led by WVU recruit Dante Stills, has allowed an average of just 8.5 points in three playoff games.
Now it’s the challenge of facing Bluefield’s high powered offensive attack.
“You can tell Bluefield has consistency in its program,” Bartic said. “They’re always successful and they have a good athletics program all-around. We have some familiarity with them now, playing them in different sports.
“We play these teams (like Mingo Central and Bluefield) that are hours apart, but if we’re playing them, it means we’re playing on a big stage,” he continued. “It should be a good game – they have a lot of talent, they’re big and fast.”
The Bluefield offense has rolled up over 600 points this season, an average of nearly 47 points per game.
Running back Mookie Collier is the leader as he has established himself as a candidate for the MetroNews Player of the Year and Kennedy Award.
Collier eclipsed the 2,000 yard rushing mark for the season with a 294 yard and four touchdown performance in a semifinal round win over Bridgeport.
Overall, Collier is averaging 15 yards per carry, totaling 2,036 yards and 38 total touchdowns on the season. His teammate Truck Edwards has added 1,073 yards and 25 total scores for the Beavers (13-0).
“When you have Mookie (Collier), Truck (Edwards), some of these younger running backs coming through and the line blocking they way they have – along with our receivers blocking for each other – it’s great, it really is super to have,” said Bluefield coach Fred Simon. “We’re happy for our fans, along with our players.
“It gives us an opportunity to try to have something to brag about and say that we are the best at something,” he continued. “We will give it our best shot. We would love to have something for our community to brag about.”
Simon has his Bluefield team at the Super Six for the first time since 2009.
“You want to win this last one, no matter what,” Simon said. “But you just have to prepare like you have been doing every week. That’s the pressure – just getting prepared and taking care of business.”
First year Fairmont Senior starting quarterback Connor Neal has thrown for 2,096 passing yards and 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
The Polar Bears’ Bryson Gilbert is also one of the state’s best athletes, totaling over 2,040 all-purpose yards on the season.
And Simon took notice when he saw last week’s semifinal scores.
“I think they’re a heck of a team,” Simon said of Fairmont Senior. “They went down to Mingo and beat their butts pretty handily. I know they’re talented, they have nice size, they throw the ball well and they can run the ball. We both match up and it should be a heck of a football game.”
Friday night’s game will kickoff at 7 p.m. with a radio broadcast on MetroNews affiliates across the state, along with a live, full HD broadcast at the MetroNews Channel of WVMetroNews.com.