BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Fairmont Senior quarterback Gage Michael is regarded as a dual threat behind center.
Michael did most of his damage with his legs Thursday at Bridgeport, and as a result, the Class AA top-ranked Polar Bears earned a 34-15 win over the second-ranked Tribe at Wayne Jamison Field.
The win was Fairmont Senior’s fourth straight in the series and 18th consecutive victory dating back to the start of last season.
“Playing Bridgeport, it’s a battle,” Michael said. “They’re tough and you have to be tough back to even compete with them.”
Michael made his presence felt early and often, racing 90 yards to the end zone on the first play from scrimmage for Fairmont Senior, which improved to 4-0.
The 2-point pass try failed, leaving the Polar Bears with a 6-0 lead 1:41 into the action.
Fairmont Senior forced a second straight three-and-out on the ensuing possession for the Indians (3-1), allowing the Polar Bears to start at their 46-yard line.
Michael again scored on the first play of the series, running 54 yards on a quarterback iso at the 7:52 mark of the opening quarter.
Frankie Smith knocked home the point-after kick to make it 13-0.
“We just weren’t getting off blocks for whatever reason,” BHS coach John Cole said. “They put us in 1-on-1s and I would think our defensive backfield could come up and make a play and help out, but it looked like we were grabbing. You can’t do that when you have an athlete like him. That’s pretty much the story there.”
The Indians answered with a trademark 15 play drive that was capped by Brian Henderson’s 2-yard TD run with 9 seconds left in the opening quarter. The PAT missed off the upright, leaving the Polar Bears with a seven-point lead.
FSHS needed only two plays to score its next touchdown — a 64-yard pass from Michael to Kayson Nealy — giving the Polar Bears three touchdowns on four plays from scrimmage and a 20-6 lead 11:51 before halftime.
Bridgeport converted a fourth-and-2 in its own territory on the following series, but the Polar Bears regained possession after recovering a J.D. Love fumble at their own 34 with 5:15 left in the half.
The Indians got their first stop of the contest to take over at their own 49, and it led to a 30-yard field goal by Austin Springer that cut the deficit to 20-9 at halftime.
“We get a couple big plays and a two-touchdown lead and guys kind of feel comfortable,” Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic said. “They make their adjustments and they started stuffing the ball on us. They can still play their game. You want that big start, but at the same time you have to stay the course.”
Michael was intercepted by Cameron Cole on fourth-and-6 from the BHS 35 to start the second half, but the Polar Bears’ defense answered the call and forced a three-and-out.
Two plays later, Michael rushed for his third touchdown from 43 yards to up his team’s lead to 27-9 at the 6:34 mark of the third.
With tailback Kieshawn Cottingham sidelined with an injury, Michael made sure the Polar Bears’ rushing attack was still in high gear.
“It doesn’t look fancy, but it’s a good job by our offensive line and receivers of getting blocks and Gage doing what he does,” Bartic said. “He makes something simple look really good.”
Devin Vandergrift got the Tribe back to within striking distance with a 5-yard TD run 24 seconds before the start of the fourth, but the 2-point pass failed, leaving the Indians with a 27-15 deficit.
Michael’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Cam Longwell with 10:09 to play finished the scoring, though Michael intercepted a Vandergrift pass on the ensuing series for one more standout play in the win.
“We’re down a back and that’s going to change how you approach the game,” Bartic said. “Fortunately Gage is good and tough enough to carry the load and play defense. He does it all.”