FAIRMONT - No matter what the match-up looks like on paper, you can never overestimate a late-season rivalry game. During the lead-up to this season’s rendition of the East Fairmont-Fairmont Senior battle on the gridiron, Polar Bears’ junior Gage Michael wouldn’t let that fact slip his mind.
“It’s been an intense week all the way through in practice. It’s the 99th meeting between East-West — there’s really no extra motivation needed and I’m came ready to play,” Michael said.
Michael brought an energy unmatched by his opponents to East-West Stadium on Friday as the cross-town rivals duked it out on the turf. He would guide the Polar Bears’ offense with efficiency, finishing 5-10 with 145 yards and two touchdowns through the air and adding 11 carries for 119 yards and one touchdown to lead his team to a 53-0 victory over the Bees.
“A lot goes along with it – great play calling from the coaching staff, making the right pre-snap reads, and taking advantage of how they play their defense,” Michael said.
“He’s a heck of a ball player. I give him credit because we tried to give him a lot of different looks, trying to cause some confusion, and he did a great job picking it up. Any team in the state of West Virginia would be lucky to have him,” said East Fairmont coach Shane Eakle.
Michael’s combination of toughness, quick-footedness, and football IQ creates a weapon that was difficult for the Bees to slow down. Of course, those attributes help make him one of the top Class AA quarterbacks in the state.
“He’s very shifty and a very patient runner. He lets his guys get downfield and pick up blocks and get open. He picks up little seams and creases and he’s going to be tough to handle for some teams in the postseason,” Eakle said.
“He’s resilient. Even when he makes a bad play he comes back and makes adjustments —he’s hard-nosed, an old-school type of player. He knows the game well, knows how to utilize the talent around him, and does a great job of leading the offense,” said Fairmont senior coach Nick Bartic.
The Polar Bears were also a force defensively, holding the Bees to 48 total offensive yards — including just 17 on the ground — and keeping them off the scoreboard in a shutout.
“We had problems matching up with them — we battled and played hard, but it’s a war of attrition, and Fairmont Senior is No. 1 in the state for a reason,” Eakle said.
The Polar Bears will secure the top seed in the Class AA playoffs and home-field advantage through state championship weekend with the win.
“We can squarely focus on the playoffs now — it’s round-by-round now, so we have to get to work, watch some film, game plan once we find out who we play, and start this journey,” Bartic said.
The Bees close their season with four wins, which matches the program’s win total from the previous four seasons combined. Despite the loss, senior Aiden Slusser said that he’s excited for the future of the team.
“It feels good. You look at our past seasons, we’re making a change. We have a new coaching staff that brings a lot of energy, and I think they’re shifting this program in the right direction,” he said.