By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
“Throw the records out the door on this one,” East Fairmont assistant coach Mikey Talkington tweeted Thursday in regard to today’s 7:30 p.m. East-West game at East-West Stadium.
Talkington is right. The records don’t matter. A win and loss will be credited at the end of the game, but in a rivalry game, an 0-9 team can beat a 9-0 team. That’s nearly the case here as Fairmont Senior boasts a 7-2 record, and East Fairmont carries a 3-6 record into the game.
When it comes down to it, anything can happen in a rivalry game.
Since the teams started playing in 1921, Fairmont Senior leads the series 57-28-7.
“It's so close; that's why there's a rivalry. It's been that way for years,” East Fairmont head coach Bill Haddox said. “Before the playoffs, it was more important. It's the East-West game; the kids give it all they've got.”
Fairmont Senior has won the game for the past five seasons, and coach J.L. Abbott, who called it “the most important game on the schedule,” would like to keep it that way heading into the playoffs.
“We want to be able to host a home playoff game, and to do that we have to beat East,” he said. “That's the bottom line.”
East Fairmont, which last won the rivalry game in 2007 in a dramatic 27-21 overtime game in a season the Bees reached the Class AAA semifinals, is hoping to finish its season with the upset win tonight.
“That’s why they play. They’d love to win that game,” Haddox said.
Haddox and the Bees will continue to improve on their offense, just as they have all season, Haddox said.
“We just try to do what we do and do it better,” said the coach.
One of the main cogs in their system is quarterback Jake Delaney, who is coming off his second five-touchdown performance a week ago.
“Jake’s really improved,” said Haddox of his junior quarterback. “We can put points up on the board now with Jake playing like this.”
East Fairmont will be out-matched in size and speed, as the Bees have been in most of their matchups this season. But that’s something that they’ve grown accustomed to.
“West will have that advantage, but we're used to that. We'll have to do everything excellent,” said Haddox. “Our 130-pound linebackers will just have to tackle their 200-pound backs. They’ve got a lot of talent and strength, but we have a lot of heart.”
One of those big backs that Haddox is referring to is Fairmont Senior’s Luke Hrapchak, who is coming off a strong performance last week, as well, rushing three times for a staggering 113 yards and two scores.
“Luke had a good week for us last week and was able to bang a couple,” Abbott said.
With top rusher Noah Harmon sidelined due to a knee injury, Malik Boddy will likely see the bulk of the carries as he did last week against Lincoln. However, Abbott said all of the backs— Boddy, Hrapchak, Ryder Skarzinski and Neil Scherich— will get touches.
“We'll just see what situation we’re in and what we’re trying to do,” he said.
But a power running game isn’t all the Polar Bears bring to the game.
Quarterback Austin Norman is no slouch at quarterback.
Norman is second in the Big 10 in passing. His 1,701 yards and 19 touchdowns are just 78 yards and a touchdown more than Delaney on the season.
“That’s not chump change,” Abbott said of his signal caller. “That’s pretty dang good in any offense.”
Recently, the Polar Bears’ offense has focused on short, quick throws to start the game and increase Norman’s confidence. It’s paid dividends.
"Really the first throw and the first couple throws are most important," Abbott said. "Then once his confidence is there, we can stretch the field a little bit."
Defensively, the Polar Bears will focus on limiting the big play. That means rallying to the ball to bring down Scotty Shroyer and keeping deep-threat Myles Johnson from getting behind the secondary.
“Dealing with Johnson, we've got to keep everything in front of us,” Abbott said.
When the pads are on and the whistle sounds, both teams will prepare for war.
“When the man flips the coin, we’ll be ready,” Haddox said.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.