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Mingo Central Tops Fairmont Senior

Photo by Scott McCloskey Mingo Central’s Joe Hunt (35 is tackled by Fairmont Senior’s Jake Abbott (16) during the W.Va. Class AA state championship game.

WHEELING — There is a first time for everything and for the first time in school history, the Mingo Central Miners are state champions.

The Miners accomplished that feat on a frigid Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium with a 32-7 victory against the fifth-seeded Fairmont Senior Polar Bears.

Mingo Central senior tailback Joe Hunt earned MVP honors for his performance with 36 carries for 215 yards and a pair of scores, while junior quarterback Jeremy Dillon also impressed with two touchdown tosses and 178 yards through the air, completing 9 of his 16 passes. Dillon also rushed for 64 yards and a score to help send their sixth-year head coach Danny “Yogi” Kinder out on top.

Kinder, who has coached high school football for 36 years, is retiring following his state championship victory, giving him a career record of 251-102-1.

“I’ve had my share of ups and downs but I needed football more than football has needed me,” the state champion coach said. “This win will bring our community together. Our guys were ready to play. We have tough kids and our offensive line won this game for us.”

Fairmont Senior scored on its opening possession on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak by Jake Abbott from the 31-yard line to give the Polar Bears an early lead. That was the only score for Fairmont Senior as the Miners defense held the Polar Bears to 221 yards, only 84 passing yards and forced two fumbles.

The Mingo Central offense did its part as well, generating 457 yards of offense, garnering 23 first downs and controlling the ball for 29:44 of the game. The Miners led 19-7 at halftime and took the ball to open the second half. The offense then strung together an 18-play, 50-yard drive that lasted 8:19. However, the drive ended in a turnover on downs, but it deflated the Polar Bears defense from that point. In fact, the Miners scored on two of their final three drives following the opening second half drive to secure its first state championship.

“That was the plan,” Kinder said of the 18-play drive. “I told the team that this is the biggest drive of the game. We don’t have to score but just eat up the clock and put them down there where they can’t score.

“Our defense came up big. They bent at times but always held them from scoring and that was big.”

Fairmont State was coming off of an upset of top-seeded Bridgeport a week ago but the back-breaking drive to start the third quarter and a pair of turnovers was too much to overcome.

“Turnovers made the difference in the first half,” Fairmont Senior coach J.L. Abbott said. “But I am proud of the football team in this locker room. They strained all season and they left it all on the field this year.”

The Polar Bears came out firing on the game’s opening drive, going 62 yards in 4:45 to take a 7-0 lead on a fourth-down score by Abbott.

Mingo Central kept the fourth-down scoring theme going on the next possession as Dillon found senior receiver Dalton Sheppard on fourth-and-eight from the 16-yard line to knot the game at 7-7.

The two hooked up again on their next drive as Dillon launched a 43-yard pass into the hands of Sheppard as time expired in the first quarter to give the Miners a 13-7 edge.

Hunt scored the next Miners’ touchdown from 2 yards out, which was set up by 25-yard catch by Drew Hatfield on another pinpoint pass from Dillon.

“If there is a better player in the state of West Virginia, I haven’t seen him yet,” Kinder said of his quarterback. “Dillon is as good of a defensive player as he is on offense. He is a tough athlete and it is hard to find a tough quarterback like him.”

Both teams punted on their following possessions, taking the first of three Super Six games to halftime with Mingo Central on top 19-7.

The Miners began the second half with its 18-play drive, which was the game-changing point in the game, despite not ending with points.

“They chewed up the clock and we couldn’t get off the field,” Abbott said. “Whenever you turn the ball over and can’t get your defense off the field, things won’t go as planned or the way you want it.”

Mingo Central scored its final two scores in the fourth quarter as Hunt scored from 3 yards out and Dillon rushed in from the 9-yard line to wrap up the title.

Hatfield hauled in five passes for 103 yards, while Sheppard secured three catches for 70 yards and a pair of scores for the champions. Tyler Grimmett, Thomas Harmon and Caleb Lester paced the Miners defense with six tackles apiece.

Abbott took home MVP honors on the Fairmont Senior side with 99 yards rushing and a score on 12 carries, while adding 84 yards through the air.

Dante’ Stills delivered 17 tackles for the Polar Bears’ defense, Abbott added 11 stops and a sack and Michael Toothman finished with 10 tackles and a pair of sacks.

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