When West Fairmont’s sixth-seeded football team takes the field against third-seeded Nitro today in the Class AAA state quarterfinals, the Polar Bears will be doing something the program hasn’t seen happen since 1992.

Back then, West defeated Huntington East, 20-12, to advance to the AAA semifinals. The Polar Bears’ season came to an end the following week when they were defeated by Brooke, 13-12 in an overtime thriller. West finished that season with a 10-3 record.

Returning to the present Polar Bears, who are 9-2 and winners of eight in a row, West hits the road where it enters a hostile environment at Nitro’s Underwood Field at 1:30 p.m. today. The Wildcats (10-1) have also won eight straight games.

“It definitely has the North Marion mystique when you drive to Rachel,” West head coach J.L. Abbott said. “They come out with their black helmets, all-black uniforms and to AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black.’

“So it’s definitely going to be a football atmosphere, and you’ve got to cut it with a knife (today).”

A year ago, West was simply satisfied to be in the field of 16 after finishing the regular season at 6-4.

“It was the first time we had been to the playoffs since 2000,” senior Drew Retton said. “So we were just happy to be there.”

It’s a totally different story this year.

And while it’s been 14 years since West has played in the second round of the playoffs, the Polar Bears expected to be on the football field deep into November.

“The first game was a tough loss. We wanted to bounce back from that,” senior Ben Kettering said about losing to Robert C. Byrd. “We know we’ve played well from the first game on. We’ve just improved every game. We lost Morgantown (in Week 3), but if you take the turnovers out, we played a really good game. So we’ve just been progressing all year long.”

Even after starting the year with two losses in its first three games, West’s confidence was never shaken.

“Yeah, we were 1-2. We didn’t care,” senior Adam Domico said. “We just wanted to go out there and play hard. We knew what we were capable of.”

What the Polar Bears believe they are capable of doing is upsetting Nitro on the road and advancing to the state semifinals.

Before thinking too much ahead, though, West must first take care of business against Nitro’s high-powered offense and unconventional defense.

The Wildcats are balanced on offense with a 2,700-yard passer (23 touchdowns, 15 interceptions) in Michael Scott and a 1,182-yard rusher (16 TDs) in Chris Kirkpatrick.

“I’ve been here since 1995, and we’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher every year,” Nitro head coach Scott Tinsley said. “So we don’t mind handing the ball off. But we’re also more confident in the passing game this year.”

West features a balanced attack as well with tailback Jerry Kelly and quarterback Kyle Allard in the backfield, along with a vast array of offensive weapons.

Despite missing almost three full games because of a shoulder injury, Kelly has rushed for 776 yards on 108 carries, scoring three touchdowns. Allard has scrambled for 551 yards on 98 rushes with seven TDs.

But Allard has completed 158 of 302 passes for 2,380 yards with 29 TDs and six interceptions.

Ben Kettering and Drew Retton have been Allard’s favorite targets through the air. Kettering has 65 catches for 893 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Retton has 36 receptions for 462 yards and two TDs. Adam Domico (16-313-4) and Joey Buonaiuto (11-384-5) have also come up big.

“The first thing that jumps out is team speed,” Tinsley said of the Polar Bears. “The quarterback, Allard, obviously can throw the ball, but he can take off and run with it, too. Kelly can really run as well. So you can’t settle on the QB. And if you settle on the run, Retton and Kettering are outstanding receivers.”

Both coaches agreed that the game could turn into a shootout since both squads average more than 30 points per game.

At the same rate, one of the defenses will need to make a crucial stop or force a timely turnover at some point in the game.

Regardless, the only thing that matters when time expires is finishing with more points on the scoreboard than the other team.

“I don’t care how it is. I just hope we come out with a ‘W,’” Retton said. “But it’s going to be tough down there with the atmosphere in Nitro. It’s going to be a big, emotional game.”

E-mail Andrew Manzo at dmanzo@timeswv.com.

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