MORGANTOWN, W.Va. —¬†Temperatures are still in the 80’s and the playoffs are two months away. But there is an elevated level of intensity and importance when Fairmont Senior and Bridgeport share the field. That’s what they will do Thursday night.

“Fairmont is the state champion. I don’t care where anyone puts them. Until it is playoff time and they lose, they are the state champions. Someone has to beat them,” said Bridgeport head coach John Cole.

“There’s a lot more at stake,” said Fairmont Senior head coach Nick Bartic. “Our communities have a good rivalry, not just in football but in all sports. In recent history, our games have been classic high school football games with very intense crowds.”

2018 MetroNews Player of the Year Connor Neal has moved across town to Fairmont State University but senior Gage Michael has proven himself to be a quality replacement. In three games, Michael has accounted for 1,074 yards and fourteen touchdowns.

“With somebody like Gage, it really keeps all your options open,” Bartic said. “From a defensive perspective, he is a headache to prepare for.”

“For him to be a first-year starter and looking like he does and having the numbers he does after three games, that is highly uncommon in high school football,” Cole said.

Bridgeport’s offense has a different look this year after the graduation of the program’s all-time leading rusher Jake Bowen. They rely on a ball control offense that features a handful of backs. The group is led by Brian Henderson, who averages 91 yards a game.

“When we are moving the football, it gives the whole team confidence,” Cole said. “It has not only been this year, it is every year I have been here… which is a long time.”

“Gap responsibility and controlling the line of scrimmage is going to tell the tale of every game,” Bartic said. “Especially against these guys. Their line is very well disciplined. They play very physical. There’s no surprises there.”

From 2007 to 2016 Bridgeport won eleven consecutive meetings in the series. Fairmont Senior however has momentum on their side. They have won the last three contests, dating back to the 2016 state semifinals.

“It is not just geography that makes this a big game,” Bartic said. “We have had success here. That’s the basis of this rivalry especially in the last few seasons. Regardless of who won before, it is a year-to-year matchup in terms of intensity.”