WHEELING, W.Va. — Bridgeport head coach John Cole knew most people viewed the Indians an underdog in Friday’s Class AA title game against Bluefield.
Leading up to the contest, however, there was a much different sentiment inside the Indians’ locker room.
“We knew we were strong up front and that if we played hard, executed and picked up whatever they threw at us, we could overcome them,” Cole said.
And that’s just what the Indians did.
Behind a 200-yard, three-touchdown performance from Carson Winkie, No. 2 Bridgeport finished with 14 unanswered points to knock off Bluefield 21-14 in Friday’s final at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Winkie carried the ball a Super Six record 43 times to help lead Bridgeport (13-1) to its 10th state championship.
“I’ve been super well-conditioned throughout this year and that’s why I was able to run the ball 43 times,” Winkie said. “The line did an amazing job and that’s why I was able to get those yards. I just kept on going at it. I knew this was my last game of high school football and I put it all on the field. I’m happy this is the outcome.”
Winkie’s 1-yard TD run with 6:47 to play allowed the Indians to lead, 19-14. He then crossed the goal line on the two-point play to give his team a seven-point advantage.
“We needed to get them off the field more than we did,” veteran Bluefield head coach Fred Simon said. “They just kept the ball away from us and that hurt us.”
After falling behind late in the game, Bluefield (12-2) managed a pair of first downs on its ensuing drive. Carson Deeb then threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wiley, but it was negated by offensive pass interference. Two more penalties, combined with a sack, forced the Beavers to punt.
Bluefield got the ball back following Shawn Mitchell’s recovery of a Winkie fumble, but Deeb’s pass was intercepted by Devin Vandergrift with 2:04 remaining.
The Beavers finished with seven penalties for 62 yards, compared to the Indians’ two infractions that totaled 20 yards.
“Once it got tight, we couldn’t make a mistake,” Simon said. “And we had too many penalties.”
Both teams lost a fumble after putting together strong opening drives.
Mitchell recovered Trey Pancake’s fumble at the Beavers’ 27, before the Beavers drove to the Bridgeport 1, only for Deeb to fumble on a sneak, which the Tribe’s Devin Hill recovered for for a touchback.
Winkie’s 5-yard touchdown run with 5:55 left in the first half allowed the Tribe to hold a 7-0 lead.
Bluefield (12-2) got a 59-yard pass from Deeb to Wiley to pull even just 1:25 later, and the game went to halftime tied at 7.
“We always thought we had a chance coming into the game,” Winkie said.
The Beavers took their first lead of the night 1:30 into the second half on Deeb’s 61-yard TD pass to Wiley.
Winkie scored on a 2-yard run with 3:59 left in the third, but the point-after try was pushed wide right following a false start, which left the Beavers with a 14-13 lead.
The Indians then forced a three-and-out to take over at their 30 late in the third.
A decisive 15 play, 70-yard drive followed. It featured Winkie gaining 5 yards on a fourth-and-1 and Vandergrift picking up 11 on a third-and-10 in the red zone. Two plays later, Winkie reached the end zone for the third time, scoring what proved to be the winning touchdown on his 38th carry.
“That’s offseason conditioning. He’s a very talented, smart and motivated young man and we have a lot of others that are the same way,” Cole said. “But he’s the leader.”
Deeb threw for 234 yards in defeat, with Wiley catching four passes for 150 yards.
Bluefield finished with a 304-269 advantage in total yards, but rushed for only 70 yards. All of the Indians’ yardage came on the ground, which led to them nearly doubling Bluefield’s time of possession (31:56-16:04).
“We knew J.J. Davis is a really skilled runner and we had to focus on his running abilities,” Winkie said. “We shut down the run and that’s why they had to go to the pass. They got a couple big plays on us, but other than that they weren’t able to bring the ball down the field in increments.”