The Times West Virginian

November 16, 2013

COLUMN: Polar Bears’ win comes at high price

By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The shocked East-West Stadium crowd fell silent.

The cowbells that were banged when Fairmont Senior scored on each of its first four drives sat still. The cheerleaders, who had chanted “Austin! Norman!” after each of the quarterback’s four touchdown passes, took a knee. And the Polar Bear players that had beamed with confidence after what was essentially a perfect first half put their heads down as quarterback Austin Norman lay writhing in pain on the turf.

The senior signal caller was in the middle of what was arguably his best game of the season, completing 12 of 15 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for a fifth touchdown on the ground.

But it was the 12th completion which proved costliest.

Norman dropped back and faced immediate pressure. He rolled out and, like a magician, escaped the pressure to deliver a crisp strike to receiver Nick Davisson.  

But then came the penalty flag signaling a late hit, a low blow.

And then: silence.

The coaches rushed to the field as Norman held up his mangled leg, a gruesome football injury in which Norman’s foot twisted completely around.

“I was out blocking, and as soon as I turned around I saw him with his ankle twisted,” said Neil Scherich, who caught two touchdown passes and ran for a third. “I just took a knee. I couldn’t believe it at first.”

An ambulance backed onto the field, with rain pounding down onto its roof. Norman was carefully placed on a stretched, but just before he was whisked away in the ambulance and rushed to the hospital, he asked that his team come over.

 “He said, ‘Coach, I want the team over here with me,’” Fairmont Senior coach J.L. Abbot said. “That’s a tough boy. He didn’t cry. He did not cry.”

Norman’s injury is just another blow to a team which has faced more than its fair share. Earlier in the season, the Polar Bears lost their leading rusher in Noah Harmon when the running back went down with a knee injury.

A week before his injury, Harmon scored three touchdowns, rushed for nearly 150 yards and eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing plateau. All this on the day he turned 18-years-old.

Afterward he talked about plans to get to 2,000 yards and lead the conference in rushing. But on Senior Night the following week, he went down.

“It's just disheartening because Noah and Austin are two of the hardest-working kids since I came back in the spring,” Abbott said. “It really stinks.”

These injuries to two of Fairmont Senior’s best offensive weapons at these moments were almost surreal. As tight end Luke Hrapchak put it, “It’s not fair. But life isn’t fair.”

“It hurts,” he continued. “(Norman) has been hurt every year. Bad things happen to good people.”

After the game I asked Abbott about the way his team jumped out to a fast start and about the statement the Polar Bears made by defeating a playoff team is such decisive fashion.

The coach politely entertained my questions, but he just couldn’t continue. Losing his quarterback loomed larger than any win on the scoreboard.

“It doesn’t matter,” he finally said. “We lost Austin.”

As big as the loss is, the Polar Bears still have games to play. With heavy hearts, they’ll take on Bridgeport looking for revenge from a 37-14 loss on week five.

Probably the best thing for the team to do now is to remember what they told Norman as he was loaded into the ambulance.

“We told him we were going to finish the game for him and keep going for him. We knew he’d want us to,” Scherich said. “It’s going to be hard without him, but we have to.”

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