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North Marion quarterback Gunner Murphy (12) hands off the ball to Hunter Kuhn during the Huskies’ opening game against East Fairmont last week. NMHS defeated the Bees 33-10.

FAIRMONT – For the first time this season, there will be multiple games on the gridiron across Marion County tonight.

Fairmont Senior and North Marion are both slated to host contests at East-West Stadium and Woodcutters Stadium, respectively. Both games will kick off at 7 p.m., with the Polar Bears (1-0) taking on Lincoln and the Huskies (1-0) facing Preston.

Fairmont Senior and North Marion each collected opening-week victories. The Polar Bears beat Buckhannon-Upshur 56-14 on the road and the Huskies defeated East Fairmont 33-10 last Thursday.

Lincoln (1-0) at Fairmont Senior (1-0), 7 p.m.

Although 11 seniors and 10 starters graduated from FSHS’s 2018 undefeated Class AA state championship team, it did little to mitigate the Polar Bears’ dominance to open the 2019 season last week at Buckhannon.

The Polar Bears beat the Bucs, 56-14, taking a 37-0 lead before BU even registered a first down.

First-year starting quarterback Gage Michael electrified in his debut as the signal caller of the “Bear Raid” offense, accounted for six touchdowns (four rushing and two passing), while the FSHS defense threw a party in the Bucs’ backfield, the indomitable Zach Frazier lead the effort with a pair of sacks and three more tackles for loss.

“The guys in new roles did a good job of playing their assignments,” said FSHS coach Nick Bartic. “The secondary didn’t get tested a whole lot, but when they did, they were in position to make plays. The new guys on the D-line and at outside linebacker leveraged well and didn’t give up contain.

“And then offensively, I felt we looked pretty good.”

The shear smoothness in the domination and Michael’s outsized role in his first career start was — perhaps — a bit surprising. However, the Bucs were a sitting duck heading into the matchup considering the chasm between the two team’s line play both ways.

Lincoln won’t be a dead-to-rights pushover in the trenches against FSHS, although there may not be a remedy in the whole state for Frazier’s snap-to-snap puissance.

The Cougars have some big boys on their frontlines with the massive 6-foot-7, 250-pound Payton Hawkins, 250-pounder Bobby Bart, a pair of 300-plus pounders inside in Caleb Trotter and Michael Yost, and senior starting center in JR DeFazio.

They bashed Braxton County with their size and strength in a 30-19 opening week win to the tune of 248 rush yards.

“It’ll be a different than what was presented last week,” Bartic said. “Lincoln always seems to have big linemen, and they’ve also been running their scheme for a long time; Buckhannon was running a new scheme, so in terms of making adjustments, Lincoln will have more experience in that department.”

Player Spotlight: Fairmont Senior: Camden Longwell, WR/CB

For all the talk surrounding this game concerning the line of scrimmage, there’s still the matter of combatting the Polar Bears’ avant-garde spread passing attack. There are built-in advantages in the spread system purely out of the sophistication of route combinations and the required spatial awareness demanded in zone coverage on the part of the defense.

But then there’s also the dexterity of Fairmont Senior’s personnel to contend with, and Longwell is a shifty, dynamic receiver who fries players in man-to-man or zone coverage, with the ability to uncover underneath or down field.

Lincoln: Cody Griffith, DT

Griffith may be the best singular talent on the Cougars’ defense, but he’ll face the brunt of an FSHS interior O-line trio of Frazier, all-state honorable mention center Lance Payton, and Jason Howard, with Kole Richmond on deck to rotate in as well. FSHS’s front five takes tremendous pride in its blocking at the point of attack, and if they target Griffith with any double teams, it will be with the intention of putting him on the ground. Maybe Griffith can hold his own, but the problem is, he’ll likely have to do more than that for the Cougars to curb FSHS’s run game.

What to watch for: Tackling

It may not be the most insightful element to identify — tackling is a fundamental aspect of every game — but it’s something Fairmont Senior owns in comparison to its opponent every week. Throughout Fairmont Senior’s four-year run of competing for state titles, shattering records through the air, and churning out D-I prospects, the routineness in excellence when it comes to tackling has been glossed over in regards to the Polar Bears.

FSHS’s defense just doesn’t yield many yards after first contact on a ball carrier. And on offense, it’s a week-to-week barbecue for the Polar Bears when it comes to shrugging off or juking by would-be tacklers; afford high-level athletes with non-stop motors the bevy of space FSHS’s spread offense provides and extra yards are a given.

Preston (0-1) at North Marion (1-0), 7 p.m.

In Week 2 of last season, this same matchup in Kingwood was when the now-graduated Desmond Fluharty officially cemented his status as one of the state’s premier game breakers at running back.

Fluharty amassed 297 yards and five touchdowns on 20 carries as North Marion rolled up 477 yards of total offense in a 56-28 victory. The offensive explosions from the Huskies have been an ongoing theme in the series between the two teams, with NMHS scoring 44.5 points a game in the last four meetings and reaching the 40-point threshold every time.

The gaudy scoring totals put up by Preston opponents wasn’t relegated to North Marion in 2018, however, as the Knights allowed a cringe-worthy 50.3 points a game — a full touchdown worse than the 2018 East Fairmont team for the worst mark in the Big 10 — en route to a 1-9 campaign.

Preston has already matched that 2018 win total this season after notching a 37-14 Week 1 victory over Hampshire in which the Knights held the Trojans to just 187 yards of total offense and 4.4 yards per play. The Huskies, however, present a much more multiple offense under coordinator Mark Yoho based around the team’s inside zone run game, which fared quite well against East Fairmont last week with 213 rush yards on 41 attempts.

Senior quarterback Gunner Murphy complemented the run game in tidy fashion through the air with smart, quick decisions on rollouts and run-pass option looks. He finished Week 1 with 208 pass yards and a TD.

Player Spotlight

North Marion: Jahkari Mesidor, WR/S

Mesidor is the closest proxy the Huskies have this season as far as slashing a defense for big plays. Often aligned out wide, Mesidor gets a few carries every game via pre-snap motion run designs. He had 29 rush yards, including a 23-yard TD on an end around in the opener, to go with his three receptions for 42 yards.

Ideally, Mesidor wows offensively and goes fairly unnoticed defensively as a deep zone safety over the top. With Preston’s ability to extend plays, it’ll strain North’s discipline with its coverage responsibilities.

Preston: Colton Rosenberger, UTIL/DB

Rosenberger was expected to return as the Knights’ starting quarterback after throwing for 390 yards and rushing for 329 yards as the starter last season. But in Week 1 against Hampshire, he shifted into more of a utility role, rushing eight times for 53 yards and catching two passes for 70 yards and a TD. Rosenberger was somewhat of a problem for NMHS’s defense last season as a dual threat quarterback, and he’ll need to be monitored closely as a moveable piece in Preston’s formations.

What to watch for: Running quarterbacks

North’s biggest problem in Week 1 against East Fairmont was its containment of EFHS quarterback Dom Postlewait.

Although the Huskies’ early-down penetration foiled Postlewait’s initial reads and timing with his wideouts by putting him on the run, they struggled to reel him in afterward. Postlewait finished the game with 93 rush yards on 20 attempts, a little over half of which were by design.

Preston’s offense has shades of designed quarterback runs, and the Knights always seem to have a capable scrambler behind center. Trevor Thomas got the start at QB against Hampshire for the Knights and was scintillating. He finished the game 11-of-15 for 155 yards and two TDs through the air, while rushing 11 times for 50 yards with two more TDs.

Email Bradley Heltzel at bheltzel@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.

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