FAIRMONT — The disappointing finish to last season has fueled their motivations in the months since, but the past few weeks have more so revolved around frustration with opportunity after opportunity passing Fairmont Senior High by.
The Polar Bears have stewed over their Class AA state semifinal home loss to Bluefield to end last season since November, and they’ve been anxiously awaiting their chance to get back on the field and begin the journey to amend that defeat this fall. But at each and every turn, that process has been interrupted. First, FSHS’s preseason scrimmage versus Musselman got scratched due to a thunderstorm and persisting lightning delays. Then it was their Week 1 debut against Lincoln that was mothballed due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Cougars’ program. Finally, when Fairmont Senior tried to replace its game against Lincoln with a scrimmage versus Cabell Midland, the Knights agreed to an impromptu game at Parkersburg South and held out their varsity players for the entire scrimmage.
Now, the Polar Bears are finally just hours away from their 2020 kickoff and as long as everything holds (fingers crossed) it will be a premier Marion County showdown as they’ll head to Roy Michael Field to take on rival North Marion. The Huskies defeated Preston 32-0 on the road last week to open their season.
While Fairmont Senior and North Marion will clash in Rachel, East Fairmont travels to Robert C. Byrd for a second straight Big 10 Conference matchup after the Bees suffered a 20-0 road loss to Grafton in Week 1.
Fairmont Senior (0-0) at North Marion (1-0), 7 p.m.
Fairmont Senior has dominated the bitter North-West rivalry series of late in what has been a golden era for the Polar Bears’ program as one of the state’s best. FSHS holds a 24-18 edge in the series all time, but the Polar Bears have won 16 straight, with North’s last win coming in a 27-21 overtime game in 2003.
Over the span of those past 16 meetings, the Huskies have managed to stay within one score just once (a 28-20 loss in 2010) and have scored 20 or more points just three times, with the most recent 20-plus-point showing coming in a 55-24 loss in 2015.
This season, however, North Marion may be poised to break down a few of those barriers. Offensive coordinator Mark Yoho has carried over the nifty run-pass option game the Huskies’ offense thrived with last season, and junior quarterback Brody Hall sparkled with it in his debut last week against Preston where he went 12-of-17 for 237 yards with two TDs and an INT. He also had 50 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
Fairmont Senior, of course, has stacked record-setting campaigns on top of one another the past few seasons, with its shotgun spread offense at the forefront. The 2020 debut of senior star quarterback Gage Michael is sure to make headlines tonight. Michael torched the Huskies for 282 pass yards, 179 rush yards and five total TDs in last year’s meeting as FSHS rolled up 495 yards of total offense in a 39-6 victory at East-West Stadium.
Fairmont Senior player to watch: Aidan Green, OL/DL
Green himself won’t exactly be the primary point of intrigue for the Polar Bears in this one, but he’s sort of become the default face of Fairmont Senior’s offensive and defensive lines, which is the team’s most unproven unit entering the 2020 season. Green is by far the most established of the Polar Bears’ big guys as the lone returning starter on what was a dominant and nasty offensive line that boasted four all-state honorees in 2019, and he’ll be the front’s bulwark all year long.
Green’s individual matchup in this one will be a handful as he goes up against NMHS defensive ends Garrett Conaway (a 2019 Class AA all-state second teamer) and Kaden Hovatter, but more so, whatever level of performance Green and his line mates can reach as a whole this season will determine FSHS’s ceiling, and North Marion’s two-way fronts will present a worthy early test.
North Marion player to watch: Hunter Kuhn, RB/DB
Kuhn’s most evident contributions tonight will be based on his offensive role as the Huskies’ primary ball carrier, and yes, for North to keep pace with Fairmont Senior’s explosive offense, they’ll need Kuhn to be dynamic with his touches. He rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in last week’s opener at Preston.
Yet, against Fairmont Senior’s spread passing attack, it’s a player’s defensive chops that are so often put under the microscope, especially in the secondary. The Polar Bears’ route combos and concepts are advanced beyond those typically seen among high school teams across West Virginia, and FSHS’s personnel and raw athletes make it even more untenable for opposing secondaries. Kuhn and the Huskies’ secondary will need the aid of the NMHS pass rush, but they’ll also have to hold up their end with enough 1-on-1 victories and discipline in their coverage responsibilities.
East Fairmont (0-1) at Robert C. Byrd (1-0), 7 p.m.
When these two teams met in Week 3 last season at East-West Stadium, it was surprisingly one of the more fun and straight-up odd games of the Marion County football season. Robert C. Byrd won the game 48-27 behind a record-setting performance by star running back Jeremiah King, but after the Eagles pounced on the Bees 27-6 early in the second half and seemed poised for a runaway victory, EFHS ripped off three straight scoring drives and made it a one score game midway through the fourth quarter before Byrd hung on for the win.
The Bees’ crazy second-half rally, however, was a footnote compared to the masterpiece King put together as he rushed for a whopping 442 yards and six touchdowns on 34 carries to set a new RCB single game record for rushing yards for a second straight week after he piled up 436 yards against Elkins the prior week.
King is back this season as a senior as one of the state’s top talents, and he doubled down on his pummeling of Elkins last week in the Eagles’ season opener. King rushed for 295 yards and four TDs on 14 carries in Byrd’s Week 1 35-12 victory. East Fairmont, meanwhile, enters today’s game after a 20-0 shutout loss to Grafton last week in which it managed just 126 yards of total offense as an entire team.
East Fairmont player to watch: Josiah Smith OL/DL
Smith is the Bees’ best two-way talent in the trenches, and the line of scrimmage figures to be a sticking point all season for East. They had their struggles both ways in last week’s opener at Grafton, but the defensive line stiffened in the second half versus the Bearcats’ run game. Smith was an essential piece of the turnaround, recording two tackles for loss.
Byrd’s rushing attack behind King and Co. is a whole different ball game, but if Smith can knife through and get one or two tackles for loss or blow up a play in the backfield here or there tonight, it could put the Eagles behind the sticks and force them to take to the air.
Robert C. Byrd player to watch: Xavier Lopez, QB
It’s possible Byrd can wrangle complete control of this game without Lopez even attempting a pass — King and Byrd’s offensive line are that good. But any time the Eagles offense gets behind in the down and distance and has to go to the air, it’s gut-check time for Lopez. In this game, and really all season long, Lopez can coast off King and the Eagles’ run game, but for Byrd to genuinely make noise and crack the playoff field, Lopez will have to prove he has the chops to make RCB a multi-dimensional offense.