The Times West Virginian

November 27, 2013

Injuries force Polar Bears to play Bridgeport’s game

By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — It’s no secret: Bridgeport wants to run the ball.

The Indians’ long history of prolific running backs will tell you this. Their two tight end, three running back formation will emphasize it. And the old dudes sitting next to you in the press box drooling over every two-yard run and waxing nostalgic about “good old-fashioned football” will beat it to death.

Last Saturday in the second round of the Class AA playoffs, Fairmont Senior attempted to take a page out of Bridgeport’s book — though it certainly wasn’t by their own choosing.

Playing without injured quarterback Austin Norman (not to mention sidelined running back Noah Harmon), the Polar Bears were down to sophomore Dominic Smith at quarterback. While Fairmont Senior coach J.L. Abbott said “he’s going to be a good one for sure,” the coaching staff thought it best not to thrust an underclassman into the fire in a playoff game. Instead, they opted to go with the wildcat formation with Luke Hrapchak receiving the snap.

The 220-pound running back/tight end had been in a similar situation last season at East Fairmont after starting quarterback Ronnie Mills went down with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Still, the challenge of redefining an offense in one week ... in the playoffs ... against the No. 2-ranked team in the state proved to be too much of a challenge.

The Polar Bears managed just a single first down in the first half, that on a penalty. Meanwhile, Bridgeport used its slow, methodical offense to eat up clock and field position.

“Bridgeport runs that Stick-I from pee wee to high school. They say that if you do something over 1,000 times, you master it,” senior lineman Vincent Delligatti said. “Heck, we just put that offense in in a week.”

At the beginning of the season, Bridgeport coach Josh Nicewarner said that if the Indians averaged three to four yards per carry, they’d be a tough team to beat. As it turned out, running back Anthony Bonamico has averaged more than 12 yards per carry this season.

You can decide for yourself how difficult that makes Bridgeport to beat in the final rounds of the playoffs. Friday, when Bonamico carried the ball 28 times for 212 yards, it turned into a 28-0 victory for the Indians.

The result had some on the Polar Bears wondering what would have been if their 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher could have played.

“It hurt a little bit just to see all the work that they put in and that I put in over the course of the football season and then to not be able to help them get the win,” Norman said. “I think we could have gotten some things rolling on offense, and that could have changed things up a lot.”

Delligatti agreed: “If we had both of them, who knows?”

Hrapchak, meanwhile, took a more measured approach.

“We can speculate that,” he said. “But it is what it is.”

Despite the loss in the final game of the season, the Polar Bears accomplished a great deal, namely turning a .500 football team in 2012 into a playoff contender.

“Expectations at Fairmont Senior are always high,” Abbott said. “You never want to end a season on a loss. We won nine games this season. Did we have a winning season? Yes. Did we have success? Yes. Did we accomplish our ultimate goal? No. I take my hat off, especially to our 15 seniors.”

After a pause, he added, “Now we’ve got next season.”

Email Mike DeFabo at mdefabo@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.