FAIRMONT, W.Va. — A year ago, Fairmont Senior’s football team claimed its first state championship since 1946 with a 23-13 win over Bluefield.
On Friday night at East-West Stadium, the Beavers put to rest any thought of the Polar Bears repeating.
Behind efficient play from quarterback Carson Deeb, tough running from tailback J.J. Davis and an inspired defensive effort keyed by linebacker Shawn Mitchell, No. 4 Bluefield snapped top seed Fairmont Senior’s 26-game win streak with a 40-24 victory in a Class AA semifinal.
“When people key on J.J. some, we can throw it and Carson’s done a nice job hitting multiple receivers,” veteran Bluefield head coach Fred Simon said. “Carson’s done a nice job getting rid of it and J.J. can run. That’s what’s really helped our team — we can do both now.”
The victory sends the Beavers (12-1) to the Super Six for a third straight season. They will go for their 12th state championship against the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between No. 2 Bridgeport-No. 6 Oak Glen.
Fairmont Senior (12-1) marched 64 yards in seven plays on its opening series and took a 7-0 lead on Gage Michael’s 2-yard touchdown run at the 8:50 mark of the opening quarter. The drive featured Michael’s 15-yard run on a fourth-and-2, and a 38-yard reception by Kayson Nealy.
The Beavers answered back on their second series, which covered 69 yards in 11 plays, the last of which was Deeb’s 14-yard TD pass to Jahiem House. Kaulin Parris’ point-after try was blocked, leaving the Polar Bears with a one-point lead 11:02 before halftime.
That proved to be the final FSHS lead of the night, although the Polar Bears moved into the red zone on their ensuing series before Davis intercepted Michael.
“He’s a game-changer,” Simon said of Davis. “We’re fortunate to have him.”
Following the game’s first turnover, BHS marched 85 yards for the go-ahead score, which came on Davis’ 27-yard run at the 2:47 mark of the second quarter.
Bluefield got the ball back with 1:16 to play in the opening half, and added to its lead in 10 seconds when Deeb and Brandon Wiley connected for a 68-yard touchdown pass.
“They capitalized off our mistakes and we weren’t able to do that as effectively as they did,” FSHS head coach Nick Bartic said.
Frankie Smith’s 32-yard field goal 8 seconds prior to halftime allowed the Polar Bears to cut their deficit to 20-10 at halftime.
Each team went three-and-out on its opening second-half series, before the Beavers produced their second one play scoring drive on a 26-yard pass from Deeb to Wiley at the 8:19 mark of the third.
“(Wiley) has done a nice job for us,” Simon said. “What’s been nice is our players that didn’t have a lot of confidence early in the year have gotten more confident as we go.”
Michael’s 12-yard TD pass to Camden Longwell enabled the Polar Bears to get back to within 10 at 27-17 with 3:57 remaining in the third.
Bluefield then answered with a 13 play drive that featured a 6-yard catch near the sideline by House on a fourth-and-6 play and 50 rushing yards from Davis, before Deeb and House hooked up on their second scoring play — this one a 17-yard pass. That left the Beavers with a 34-17 advantage and 11:08 left in the game.
“They do a good job of trying to keep you off balance with how they’ll run the ball to the edge,” Bartic said. “Then they have their bubble screen game and then they can throw it up to House. It’s hard to get an answer for him.
“They do a good job of keeping it balanced so you’re trying to take something away and you get into a cat and mouse game. We didn’t get enough stops.”
On the ensuing series, Michael was brought down behind the line of scrimmage on four separate plays, including two sacks by Mitchell and a fourth down sack by Sean Martin.
Michael threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Nealy with 2:03 to play, but Mitchell returned an interception 35 yards for a score on the game’s final play.
“(In the first half), I would blitz through the A gap and they were reading me,” Mitchell said. “They knew which way I was going and (Michael) would go the opposite way every time.
“I started hiding behind the center and letting him dedicate which way they were going and then I’d attack.”
Mitchell’s pick six set off a frenzied Bluefield celebration as the Beavers’ handed the Polar Bears their first loss since the 2017 state title game — which BHS won, 29-26.
Deeb was 12-of-17 for 170 yards with four touchdowns. Davis rushed 29 times for 154 yards and a score.
Playing through pain, Michael rushed for 173 yards on 33 carries and completed 16-of-27 passes for 225 yards.
“He’s not 100 percent. He sucked it up and battled and I can’t play him on defense,” Bartic said. “That’s one of the gutsiest performances I’ve ever seen.”