Bubby Towns

Bubby Towns (9) dribbles against an RCB player Saturday during the state championship game in Beckley.

BECKLEY – Fairmont Senior High coach Darrin Paul knew it. The Polar Bears’ entire roster practically knew it. And most importantly, the man himself knew it. This was Bubby Towns’ time.

With Fairmont Senior and Robert C. Byrd High gridlocked at 1-1 and heading to sudden-death overtime to decide Saturday’s Class AA state championship at Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex, Towns, the Polar Bears’ sophomore forward stepped into the brightest spotlight on the grandest stage undaunted and unshaken.

With three minutes left in the 10-minute overtime period, Fairmont Senior spliced together a passing sequence that pinged the ball from freshman Nate Flower to senior Billy Tobin to Towns. Armed with a clean shooting pocket, a dexterous scoring acumen, and an unabashed swagger, Towns delivered the pinnacle moment to an unforgettable Fairmont Senior season as he cracked a shot from the top of the box to the net’s far corner for the title-winning goal.

“I knew if we were going to win this game, it was going to come off of his foot,” said Paul.

“It was open,” said FSHS junior captain midfielder Jonas Branch, “and then it was like, ‘Bubby, just shoot it. You can bury it.’ He hit a great strike and I was like, ‘This is going in.’ It was the best feeling ever.”

The scoring sequence unfolded as Branch suspected it would, he said, with a ball reversal from Flower catching RCB’s defenders overcommitted to one side as the Polar Bears worked the ball upfield. And when it found Towns, a golden chance at a golden goal unveiled itself with the perfect candidate for the Polar Bears lining up to fire.

“Bubby did exactly what he usually does, he buried it,” said junior centerback captain Isaac Branch. “You knew somebody was going to put the ball in the back of the net for us, and I think we all trusted Bubby at the time.”

Towns’ championship-clinching goal was the ultimate finale to a clutch individual postseason run that affirmed Towns belongs among the state’s most elite names.

Time and again, Towns’ tactical mastery and indefinable spunk powered the Polar Bears’ playoff run as his advanced foot skills regularly produced highlight-reel plays, while his gamer-style bravado routinely saw him rise to the moment. He tallied a team-best nine goals for the Polar Bears during their six-game postseason, with three of those nine scores being game-winners.

Against Frankfort in the sectional semifinals, he bopped in the Polar Bears’ lone goal with just over 20 minutes remaining to send them to the sectional title game. He struck what appeared to be a second game winner in three games in the regional final against Wheeling Central in the 71st minute only to see the Maroon Knights knot the game back up in the 75th minute, eventually paving the way for Isaac Branch’s heroic playoff moment when he sent home the game winner in overtime.

And once on the state tournament stage, Towns lifted the Polar Bears on back-to-back days, first sending FSHS to the title game with a go-ahead goal in the 70th minute in the semifinals against Winfield and then cinching the championship over RCB Saturday.

“He validated what I’ve been saying since the beginning of the year: He is one of the top forwards in the state,” said Paul of Towns.

As soon as Towns stepped onto the high school circuit last season as a freshman, he had folks oohing and ahhing over his skillset. He was a dynamo in space with handles like a jitterbug and a magician in cramped areas with a touch that was feathery light. He could pigeonhole an arcing shot from almost anywhere and envision an imaginative passing angle from everywhere.

But for all the abilities Towns oozed, his on-field impact ailed in his debut high school season as he struggled to stay healthy, chief among his list of first-year injuries a nagging and persisting foot injury. Defenders bashed him with hip checks and battered him with shoulder blows, testing how much his nimble but narrow frame could endure.

Fast forward a year later and Towns is still a target of physicality for defenses—he played FSHS’s final three games with a broken wrist he got against East Fairmont in the sectional final—but after a summer of jostling with 20-something-year-old men and competing against actual pros while training with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, what match were a couple of high school centerbacks?

“Not to sound cocky, but practicing with a pro team this summer, that taught me a lot,” Towns said. “To realize that’s the top level and knowing I can play with them, I think I can play with anybody.”

“I don’t think there are many kids in the state who do that, so when he’s going against outside backs and centerbacks in high school, it’s not going to faze him,” Paul said. “As a coach I’m blessed to have him. I just try to stay out of his way, I say, ‘Play the ball to his feet and let him create.’ I’ve been blessed to have a couple of players like that, and I’m lucky we get him for two more years.

“The record books, all that stuff, it’s open for him.”

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

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