FAIRMONT — For the last two seasons, the Class AA State Football Championship has been decided with a meeting between Fairmont Senior High and Bluefield High.
With the 2019 Super Six now just one week away, it’s guaranteed that one of those two programs will make the trip to Wheeling Island again — but it’s also guaranteed that one of them won’t. We just don’t know which team will be where yet.
Tonight, the No. 1 seed Polar Bears will play host to the No. 4 seed Beavers in the Class AA State Playoff Semifinal in what may be the most high-stakes rubber match in recent memory for either team. With Bluefield capturing the title in a narrow 29-26 victory in 2017, and Fairmont avenging that loss with a 10-point title win last season, this round of the rivalry is set to be the most intense yet.
One major difference in this round comes with the venue. Instead of the neutral field and state championship atmosphere of Wheeling, this matchup will be a bit more of a familiar environment for the Polar Bears as Bluefield has to brave the rabid Loop Park Loonies that are prepared to fill the stands at East-West Stadium, where they have won 26 consecutive games dating back to an October 2016 loss against Bridgeport.
“We’re trying to motivate our kids this week because we’ve met them twice on the Island and now we get them at home on a winning streak. We’re going to try and use that to our advantage. A lot of those things ultimately go out the window when you get into the game, but I think the routine of not having to take that long trip plays to your advantage,” said Nick Bartic, Fairmont Senior head coach.
Senior wide receiver and defensive back Cam Longwell expects the home-field advantage to provide an extra spark for Fairmont Senior that wasn’t there during previous meetings between the two teams, which could prove the difference with the two previous games being decided by less than two touchdowns.
“Playing at home, it really gives us more confidence — and having our huge fan base all there gives us some added energy,” he said.
Fairmont Senior has proved too dominant of a team for an opponent to stop this season — the Polar Bears are undefeated through 12 games, winning by an average margin of 40 points per game, with eight of their 10 wins coming by at least four touchdowns or more.
The time for easy wins is over, though, as the only competition left is among the best in the state. Bluefield enters 11-1, with their sole loss of the season coming by six points to Lord Botetourt of Virginia, who are currently undefeated and one of eight remaining teams in the VHSL Class 3 Football Playoffs. The Beavers currently average 40 points and 405 yards of offense per game.
“Coach Bartic has always told us to have a championship effort — every play, every series, every quarter, every half, and every game. This is no different, so this week has been all about intensity and staying focused,” Longwell said.
“They’re athletic, fast, big, and physical. We have to be disciplined to account for that, and stress physicality because that’s their staple,” Bartic said.
In a series where each team has become acquainted with both their opponent and big-game scenarios in recent seasons, Bartic expects that the key to victory for both teams will be the same, and will fall back on which team is able to withstand the pressure and prevent momentum swings in the wrong direction.
“In a game like this, what ultimately matters is that you don’t want to let up big plays, and you need to capitalize on our opponent’s mistakes. I think whoever can do that and settle into the game first will win,” he said.
“We just have to stay the course and play our game. If we do that, then this team will do what we have to do,” Longwell said.