FAIRMONT — The action was so magnificent, it didn't matter whether or not East Fairmont could hear what anyone else was saying.
When senior quarterback Dom Postlewait took a knee out of the victory formation on Thursday night and the Bees rushed the field, everything from the team’s painful two previous seasons — the shouts of frustration, the tears of defeat, the snickers of opponents — didn’t mean a thing
East Fairmont, 685 days since its last victory and 1,048 days since its last conference victory, had triumphed, defeating Grafton 20-14 on Thursday at East-West Stadium.
“Coming over here and (celebrating) in front of the band and the student section, that’s something we East Fairmont guys had missed,” said Postlewait, who guided the Bees’ breakthrough with 7-of-8 through the air for 153 yards and two touchdowns with another 97 yards and a score on the ground to go with an interception and a huge tackle for loss on a Grafton 4th-and-goal.
“These seniors have went through a lot in the last three years, and they’ve battled and they’ve stuck with us when they didn’t have to,” said first-year EFHS coach Shane Eakle who now owns a 1-1 career record. “And our seniors made plays when we had to have plays. I can’t be prouder of my senior group right now.”
Having persevered through multiple coaching overhauls and program low-points, the Bees’ senior class had been hardened for this moment, this opportunity to hammer home the team’s first win in a long, long time.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous there,” said Postlewait of early in the fourth quarter when the Bearcats got a 4-yard touchdown run from James Hoskins to cut East’s lead to just 14-7. “But you got to keep your head up and everybody will follow. That’s what we did, and we went out and we finished it.”
The finishing sequence was Postlewait’s best work of the evening on a night that saw him sprint around the edge for a 73-yard TD on the team’s third play from scrimmage, uncork two TD passes after Houdini-style escapes, and level Hoskins on a 4th-and-goal in the third quarter.
With Grafton positioned at its own 28-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and trailing 14-7, Postlewait darted in front of a pass from Bearcats quarterback Logan Beltner for an interception to give the Bees the ball at the GHS 32. Then on the following play, Postlewait dropped back to pass and abandoned the pocket rolling right before launching downfield to Aiden Slusser who caught the pass in stride for a 32-yard touchdown grab to make it 20-7 with just 6:43 to play.
“We actually called a boot,” Eakle said of the play, “and hey, our kids stepped up and made plays when we needed them. They battled to the end. Grafton did a nice job, but these kids have earned this.”
The back-to-back snaps were the game’s climax, but they were hardly the only pivotal plays from the Bees.
Along with Postlewait’s gigantic all-around outing, Slusser was the Bees’ dynamite in just his second game playing at wide receiver, with the senior snagging three receptions for 91 yards and TDs covering 57 and the aforementioned 32 yards. Another Slusser grab — one on a high snap with East punting from deep in its own — may be have just as consequential as his pair of highlight-worthy scores.
On the other side of the ball, EFHS senior defensive end Avery Baker was the standout of a unit that broke Grafton time and time again with big-time fourth down stops and sticks in the backfield for losses. The Bees’ defense, led by Baker’s 11 tackles, three sacks and pass deflection, pardoned just 226 yards on 64 plays (3.5 yards per play) while twice halting Grafton on fourth downs inside the EFHS 20-yard line.
“I know a lot of people here are excited about the spread offense and I think it did what we needed it to do,” said Eakle, with EFHS’s offense gaining 270 yards, “but we said early on our defense is where we gotta hang our hats.”
“We focus on our defense a lot, because that’s how we set our tone for the game getting inside (opponents’) heads,” said Baker, who single-handedly wrecked Grafton’s fourth drive with back-to-back sacks on third and fourth down after the Bearcats had reeled off a string of eight plays to march their own 20 to EFHS’s 29. “I just had a lot of energy, I was excited, and I was just trying to keep everybody up on their feet and keep their heads up.”
The Bees’ defense, which also got six tackles, including a sack and tackle for loss, from Luke Pollock and seven tackles from Adam Earls, was put into precarious positions on more than one occasion on Thursday. Twice in the first half, the Bearcats started drives in EFHS territory and twice couldn’t crack East’s 35-yard line.
In fact, all four of Grafton’s first half possessions ventured into East’s side of the 50 and each time the Bearcats were held scoreless.
“Our kids didn’t quit,” Eakle said of the Bees’ defense, which also got tackles for loss from Raphaiel Bryce-Thurton and Alex Vincent. “Inside the red zone, they kept battling. And that’s tough; that’s a mental check. We were able to get the job done when the chips were down.”
After East’s stoned Grafton’s opening drive, which started at EFHS’s 48-yard line, Postlewait got the offense going in a jiffy, with his aforementioned 73-yard jaunt to pay dirt around the right end on a quarterback keeper.
The Bearcats ticked off an eight-play drive in response that again broke the EFHS 40-yard line, but a first down sack by Pollock’s disintegrated the march. Baker’s first sack blew up another Grafton drive in that started on EFHS’s 43 following a Postlewait fumble that was recovered by Grafton’s Mark Irvine.
Then Postlewait hit on another big one, extending a drop back and finding Slusser on a slow-developing corner route down the left sidelines for a 57-yard TD in which Grafton’s defensive back gambled by trying to undercut the throw.
“Aiden’s a quick guy,” Postlewait said. “He gets open and he helps me out a lot; it’s like we both know where I want him to be.”
Up 14-0 at the half and having outgained the Bearcats 216-67 up to that point, East Fairmont’s offense cratered to start the second half. The Bees went three-and-out on its first three series after the break and didn’t register a first down in the the third quarter.
Postlewait’s fourth down stop on Hoskins curtailed Grafton’s first second half drive, an 11-play possession that covered 57 yards before dying out inside the EFHS 5-yard line.
But the Bearcats kept grinding, turning to Hoskins — their Week 1 hero — as the bell cow despite his diminutive build. Hoskins, who finished the night with 117 yards and a TD on 33 carries, steadily churned out 5, 6 and 7 yard gains as Grafton finally bulled through EFHS’s defense all the way to the end zone via an 11-play 65-yard drive to make it 14-7 with 9:11 in the fourth.
East’s third straight three-and-out thereafter had Postlewait admittedly growing more fidgety with an all-too-familiar L creeping closer to the Bees. But Postlewait kept his chin high, rallied his mind, and put East Fairmont football back on the map with his INT-TD double dip to seal it.
“Coach kept his head up the whole time,” said Postlewait giving a nod to Eakle and his staff of assistant coaches. “I respect the man and I want another four years with the guy. You can see in the people around here how much of a culture change this is.”
East Fairmont 20, Grafton 14
East Fairmont 7 7 0 6 — 20
Grafton 0 0 0 14 — 14
Records: East Fairmont (1-1), Grafton (1-1)
EF — Dom Postlewait 73-yard run (Aiden Slusser kick)
EF — Postlewait 57-yard pass to Slusser (Slusser kick)
GF — James Hoskins 4-yard run (Joe Dingledein kick)
EF — Postlewait 32-yard pass to Slusser (Kick failed)
GF — Logan Beltner 32-yard pass to Braden Nose (Dingledein kick)
TEAM STATISTICS EF GF
Total first downs 10 14
by rush/pass/penalty 3/6/1 8/4/2
Rushing plays 26 48
net yards 117 141
yards per rush 4.5 2.9
Passes (comp/att/Int) 7/8/0 8/16/1
yards passing 153 85
Total plays 34 64
net yards 270 226
yards per play 8.0 3.5
Penalties/yards 11/113 4/50
RUSHING — East Fairmont: Postlewait 11-97 TD, Luke Pollock 6-15, Will Sarsfield 8-13, TEAM 1-(-8). Grafton: Hoskins 33-117 TD, Eli Shumaker 3-16, Mark Irvine 2-16, Dillon Williams 3-8, Devin Vanscoy 1-5, Beltner 4-(-10), Tanner Moats 2-(-11).
PASSING — East Fairmont: Postlewait 7-8-0, 153 yards, 2 TD. Grafton: Beltner 8-16-1, 85 yards, TD.
RECEIVING — East Fairmont: Slusser 3-91 2 TD, Pollock 1-20, Alex Vincent 1-18, Adam Earls 1-12, Joel Myers 1-12. Grafton: Nose 3-45 TD, Williams 2-20, Luke Nibert 1-10, Hoskins 1-8, Simmons 1-2.