FAIRMONT — First, it was Fairmont Senior High star all-state guard and West Virginia commit Zach Frazier who spoiled his team’s celebration. Then three drives later, it was senior center Lance Payton who very nearly ruined the party.
But eventually, the big fella got his touchdown, with Payton scoring on a 1-yard run in the second quarter in which he bobbled the handoff into the air but reeled it back safe and sound for his first career touchdown and the Polar Bears’ biggest highlight in a 56-0 romp of Robert C. Byrd on Friday at East-West Stadium.
“It’s awesome,” Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic said of Payton’s touchdown, which came after his initial 1-yard TD in the first quarter was nullified when Frazier was penalized for assisting the runner. “Lance Payton is one of the hardest working guys we’ve had here. Especially these last two years, man, he’s really put in a lot of time in the weight room. He sacrifices on almost every play himself, so it’s good to get those guys touchdowns when you can. And obviously the sideline loves it too.”
Yet, Payton’s clumsy ball control nearly cost him his chance for good, according to Frazier, who said the plan is for each of the senior lineman to get their crack at a potential TD on a week-by-week basis.
“Everyone gets like one chance so it would’ve been the end of the experiment for him,” Frazier said with a laugh.
“He was trying to get two stats,” Bartic said in rebuttal. “He was trying to get a rushing TD and also pass it to himself to get a reception too.”
Light-hearted moments aside, Payton’s multiple chances at the treasured touchdown was an appropriate anecdote for a game the Polar Bears utterly dominated.
Fairmont Senior outgained Byrd 441 to 113 for the game and 298 to 48 in the first half alone. The Polar Bears (7-0) scored touchdowns on its first six possessions, while the Eagles (3-4) tallied one measly first down over the course of their first six series.
“It was an all-around solid team performance,” Bartic said. “It was offense, defense, special teams, the young guys came in and did well, we had high energy the whole game and we were physical the whole game which is the response we wanted from our guys after our second half last week (against Weir).”
Junior quarterback Gage Michael led Fairmont Senior with another casually brilliant outing as he completed 8-of-10 passes for 173 yards and two TDs with an INT, while rushing four times for 104 yards and two more TDs, all of which came in the first half.
The four total scores he accounted for came on Fairmont Senior’s first four drives. On the first, a five-play, 47-yard march, he carried twice for 28 yards and then hit Kayson Nealy on a 13-yard post for the touchdown.
On the second series, he hit Camden Longwell, who had three catches for 84 yards and a TD to go with a 90-yard kickoff return TD, for 18 yards on a 3rd-and-11 before lofting a deep shot downfield that senior Jacob Gomolak met at its highest point for a 46-yard gain. Then he finished off the drive with a 7-yard TD run on the QB keeper.
After RCB went 4-and-out when FSHS linebacker Nate Kowalski tackled makeshift quarterback Jaidan Willis for a loss on 4th-and-2 that gave FSHS the ball at the Eagles’ 30, Michael fired to Longwell in 1-on-1 coverage. Longwell — who had a 70-yard punt return TD wiped away by a penalty, his seventh TD nullified by a penalty this season, Bartic said — toasted RCB’s press coverage in short order to get a step and haul in the 25-yard TD strike.
Finally, on FSHS’s fourth possession, Michael kept on a run off right tackle on the drive’s first play and cut it back across the field for a 69-yard run to pay dirt to put the Polar Bears up 28-0 with 8:58 until the half.
“Our line, we reset our goals after last week, and we wanted 200 yards rushing and we have a bet amongst the linemen to see who can get the most pancakes,” said Frazier, who wouldn’t disclose the leaders in the pancake race but who did team with Payton, Kowalski, Dom Owens and Aidan Green to accomplish goal No. 1 as FSHS racked up 268 rush yards on 21 carries, four of which were kneel downs. “And then if anyone gets Gage sacked, they have to wear a pink shirt to school on Monday tha says, ‘I got Gage killed,’ and has a unicorn on the back.”
Perhaps to the disappointment of the Fairmont Senior student body, Michael was hardly touched by the Eagles’ pass rush all night.
As for Robert C. Byrd’s pass protection, or run blocking, or whatever element of the game one would use to assess O-line play, it was quite a different story as Frazier and company blew up the Eagles’ run game. Byrd rushed for just 99 yards on 35 carries, including 48 yards on 23 carries in the first half. Star running back Jeremiah King was bottled up throughout as he managed just 40 yards on 12 carries.
“We work together,” Frazier said of Fairmont Senior’s front seven against the run. “Sometimes (our linebackers) are blitzing and (the line) tries to open up holes for them, and then other times it’s the opposite.”
Frazier had four tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss, but it was inside linebackers Nicky Scott and Kowalski who led the Polar Bears. Scott and Kowalski each tallied a team-high six tackles, with Scott recording two tackles for loss and Kowalski 1.5.
“Those guys are talented, which that always helps, but then they work,” Bartic said of Scott and Kowalski. “(Our whole) defense, those guys do a really good job of No. 1 film work; they’re students of the game and that’s something our past guys have instilled in them. And then (No. 2), those guys love playing; guys like Gage, Kowalski, Zach — I don’t want to name guys because there are a lot of special guys — they’re obsessed with trying to perfect their craft and they love playing.”
Malachi West, Nick Jenab and Dominick Stingo, who had 71 rush yards and a TD after reliving Michael at quarterback, each had tackles for loss as well, while Landon Fluharty and Dustin Hawkins had fumble recoveries for the Polar Bears.