WHEELING, W.Va. — Fairmont Senior had won 20 straight games against North Marion ahead of Friday’s Class AA final at Wheeling Island Stadium.
It’s safe to say the Polar Bears’ 21st consecutive victory over the Huskies will be the one most remembered in the lengthy series history between Marion County rivals.
Dylan Ours recorded his Super Six record sixth rushing touchdown from 5 yards with 51 seconds remaining, and the Polar Bears overcame a sensational 28-yard touchdown catch from the Huskies’ Landon Frey by coming up with a stop on the 2-point attempt to prevail, 49-48.
“We handled adversity and stayed the course,” Polar Bears’ head coach Nick Bartic said. “Ultimately you have to stay the course in a big-time game like this and handle that adversity. It comes down to the second-to-last play on a two-point stop and what a back-and-forth battle that was.”
It marks the fourth state championship in six seasons for No. 2 Fairmont Senior, which finishes 11-2.
With the game tied at 42, the No. 1 Huskies (1-2) had possession with inside 3 minutes remaining, before an option pitch play resulted in the Polar Bears’ Gavin Michael recovering it at the NMHS 25 with 2:04 left.
Four plays later, Ours worked his way into the end zone for the sixth time, something Hays suggested his defense allowed in an effort for the Huskies to get the ball back.
That decision paid off as NMHS quarterback Casey Minor completed two 9-yard passes, a 7-yard pass and ripped off a 7-yard run, which combined with a personal foul penalty on the Polar Bears, positioned the Huskies at the FSHS 28.
From there, Minor lofted a well-placed pass down the sideline to Frey, who came up with a memorable one-handed snag and managed to get two feet in bounds. The play was originally ruled incomplete, before being overturned on review.
“He does that every day,” Hays said. “His ball skills are absolutely phenomenal and how he doesn’t have three or four Division II offers is beyond me.”
That enabled North Marion to trail by one with 14 seconds left, and Hays’ only intention was to go for two and the win.
North Marion’s offense lined up and tried to draw the Polar Bears offside, before calling a timeout. The Huskies stuck with the decision to keep their offense on the field, but a slightly high snap to Minor resulted in a slower developing play and the Huskies’ quarterback got a later than anticipated start before being stopped 1 yard short of the goal line.
“We came up a yard short and they made a play,” Hays said. “The quarterback-center exchange wasn’t clean and probably kept us out, but we played lights out all night.”
“It’s 100 percent the right call,” Bartic said. Fortunately, we were prepped for it coming out of the timeouts.”
Fairmont Senior recovered the ensuing onside kickoff to preserve the win.
The teams traded scores throughout, with the Polar Bears gaining the first lead courtesy of a 1-yard Ours touchdown run.
North Marion got even at 7 with 1:49 to play in the first quarter when tailback Aaron Hoffman outraced the FSHS defense for a 25-yard TD run. The Huskies’ first of seven touchdown was directly set up by Josh Holden’s interception of a Brody Whitehair pass that allowed NM to start the Polar Bears’ 36.
In the second quarter, Logan Canfield intercepted Minor, and it led to Ours’ 3-yard scoring run, though that was immediately answered by Hoffman’s second TD on a 39-yard run, leaving the teams tied at 14 with 6:05 left in the first half.
Whitehair’s 64-yard pass to Cannon Dinger allowed the Polar Bears to regain the lead at 21-14 with 4:05 left in the half, but the Huskies countered with an 11 play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Minor’s 3-yard TD run 23 seconds before halftime.
“There were a lot of great plays in this game on both sides. That’s the caliber of dudes you have playing in this game,” Bartic said.
By managing the clock well, North Marion kept the game tied at 21 and put itself in position to take its first lead in the third quarter as a result of the Huskies receiving the opening second-half kickoff.
North Marion did just that on Hoffman’s 10-yard TD run 4:43 into the third quarter, which came three plays after Minor broke off a 16-yard run on fourth-and-8 from the FSHS 20.
The Polar Bears responded to their first deficit in just the fashion Bartic desired, marching 72 yards in 11 plays and getting even at 28 on Ours’ 1-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal at the 1:57 mark of the third.
Although Fairmont Senior forced a punt on North Marion’s next series, the Huskies immediately got the ball back as a result of Dylan Higgins recovering Dinger’s muffed punt.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, Minor’s 17-yard touchdown run allowed North Marion to lead 35-28.
But Fairmont Senior bounced back with a nine play, 67-yard drive that featured all runs and ended with Ours scoring on a 2-yard run.
The Polar Bears kept it on the ground for 29 of their 30 offensive plays after halftime.
“It was working, so we continued to do it,” Bartic said. “They were running it pretty well against us and we figured why don’t we try that, too? Whatever you have to do to win at this point.”
The Huskies then faced fourth-and-3 on their 27, and Hays’ gutsy call paid off when Brock Martin took off for a 5-yard run on a fake punt.
Hoffman followed with runs of 43 and 25 yards, the latter of which was good for a go-ahead touchdown with 5:08 remaining.
“He obviously has next level speed. He was phenomenal tonight and he sees it well,” Hays said. “I don’t know how because he only had one eye about halfway through the game. That’s what he came out for. His eye was all swollen and he got up poked in the eye pretty bad. He really showed some big boy britches. We moved people all night and we were really good offensively.”
But the Huskies had no luck slowing down the Polar Bears, who answered immediately with a 73-yard drive and got even at 42 on Ours’ 1-yard TD run.
“We did a good job all night facing adversity. We hurt ourselves in a few areas, but we recovered every time. I’m proud of everybody on the team,” Ours said.
All six of Ours’ rushing touchdowns came with the versatile offensive weapon taking the snap under center.
“That play we call Kelce. It’s the same thing the tush push does for the Philadelphia Eagles,” Ours said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Ours rushed for 188 yards on 27 attempts and Whitehair added 88 rushing yards on 14 carries. Whitehair also completed 9-of-15 passes for 169 yards, while Dinger led all players with 70 receiving yards.
Hoffman rushed 22 times for 233 yards and Minor added 141 yards on 21 attempts. The Huskies’ signal-caller completed 8-of-19 passes for 113 yards in defeat.
Cam Peschl converted all seven of his point-after kick attempts in the win, while North Marion’s Brady Anderson was 6-for-6 on PATs.
“If they’d have won this one, it kind of equals out those 20 losses,” Bartic said. “Our guys had to stay mentally ready all week knowing they’re a championship-caliber football team. It had to be ultimate focus, we had to overcome adversity and I’m proud of the championship effort.”
(Postgame Round of Sound)