The Fairmont Senior football team slowly trickled out of the visitors’ locker room at Wayne Jamison Field, like a tear down the side of a cheek, until just one player lingered behind.
Senior linebacker Ryder Skarzinski carefully put away each of his pads before finally taking a deep breath and grabbing his helmet by the facemask. It was adorned with stickers to denote all of his accomplishments over a 9-win football season — first-down runs, touchdowns, sacks — as well as the countless scratches that come from a season of hard hitting.
But as he walked out of the locker room, helmet in hand, Skarzinski faced the difficult reality that he wore it for the last time Saturday in a 28-0 playoff loss at Bridgeport.
“It just hurts,” Skarzinski said through bloodshot eyes. “(Football) is one of the best things. It's the thing I love. And I’ll never get to do it again unless I play at the next level.”
This wasn’t the way that he, nor the 14 other seniors, wanted to end the season. But Bridgeport proved to be too much to handle in the second round of the playoffs. The No. 2 Indians advance to the AA semifinals to face No. 3 Bluefield next weekend.
“When you get into the playoffs, there’s only one team who’s going to be happy at the end,” Fairmont Senior coach J.L. Abbott said. “We're not it. My hat’s off to Bridgeport. Good luck to them next week.”
Indians running back Anthony Bonamico started the game with a 66-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage. It set the tone as he went on to run for three touchdowns and 212 of the team’s 277 rushing yards.
After the initial score, Fairmont Senior’s defense kept Bonamico and the rest of the Indians’ ground-based attack in check until the 6-foot-1 back scored his second touchdown of the game with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
The defense’s performance helped keep the game within reach. But without injured quarterback Austin
Norman (who Abbott called “the best quarterback in the Big 10”), the Polar Bears’ offense struggled to sustain any drives.
“If we would have had Austin it would have been a whole different story,” Skarzinski said. “That’s what I kept thinking the whole game.”
In Norman’s absence, the Polar Bears operated exclusively out of the wildcat formation in the first half with running back Luke Hrapchak receiving the snap. The stingy Bridgeport defense, however, got penetration into the backfield quickly to neutralize the tactic. The Indians held the Polar Bears to just 11 yards and one first down in the half — that on a penalty.
“We didn't want to put too much pressure on (sophomore backup) Dominic (Smith),” Abbott said of the decision to run the wildcat. “We thought we could come down here and run the ball and we couldn't. If we would have been able to move the ball offensively, who knows what would have happened. But we weren't able to.”
The Polar Bears went to Smith under center in the second half, but the two-touchdown lead proved to be insurmountable.
The Indians tacked on another Bonamico touchdown in the third quarter and a garbage-time pick-6 in the fourth quarter while the Polar Bears only managed three first downs in the second half.
After the game, Abbott told his team to enjoy the moment because it likely would be the last time all of the coaches and players would be together.
“I’m proud of the kids, every single one of them,” he said. “I’m proud of these seniors. They’ve done a great job for Fairmont Senior for four years. They were great leaders.”
Each senior also took a moment to address the team. When it was Skarzinski’s turn, he told the team to “never take a day off.”
“If I could go back to my freshman year, I would work as hard as I could every day so that I could make it back here and keep succeeding,” he said.
“Just keep reaching your goals. If people aren’t laughing at your goals, then they aren’t big enough,” he said as he walked off carrying his helmet.
Email Mike DeFabo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.