Class AA Foes Making First Appearance
Underdog Fairmont Senior Set to Take On No. 2 Mingo
WHEELING — The Class AA West Virginia State Championship supplies the only Super Six matchup of the weekend that does not include a No. 1 versus a No. 2 seed.
That feat was accomplished due to last week’s semifinal upset as five-seeded Fairmont Senior edged top-seeded and three-time defending champion Bridgeport in a double-overtime thriller by a 22-21 score.
The Polar Bears scored in the second overtime and instead of attempting a game-tying extra-point, coach J.L. Abbott decided to go for the win and his son and senior quarterback Jake Abbott reached the ball across the goal line to send thems to the title game Friday, where they will square off against two-seeded Mingo Central.
“They have had our number,” Abbott said of Bridgeport. “We have not beaten them since 2006 but lately we have been getting closer and closer every time we play them.”
Last year, Bridgeport defeated Fairmont Senior in the semifinals, 28-20, and earlier this season, the Indians upended the Polar Bears, 17-14.
“We had some mistakes in those games,” Abbott said. “We had turnovers and bad snaps but last week it finally all came together. It was a great game and our guys cherished it over the weekend, but now they are focused on Mingo Central.”
The Miners reached football’s biggest stage with a 41-21 semifinal victory over James Monroe and coach Yogi Kinder couldn’t be happier for his team.
“Our players are really excited,” he said. “They have worked hard and were really close to getting here last year. This is a big accomplishment for the school, the kids and the community and I am happy for them.”
Junior quarterback Jeremy Dillon has led the Miners to this point in the season with 2,680 passing yards, completing 179 of 282 passes and throwing 35 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Dillon is also the second-leading rusher on the team with 1,135 yards and 23 scores on 129 carries. He follows only senior running back Joe Hunt, who has accounted for 1,294 yards and 23 touchdowns on 192 rushes.
“Dillon is a great athlete and Hunt has rushed for almost 200 yards in his last two playoff games,” Kinder said. “We are a balanced team with the run and pass and our defense has played even better than we expected it to.”
Senior receiver Tyler Grimmett leads Mingo Central with 789 yards and 12 scores on 36 receptions, while freshman Drew Hatfield has hauled in 60 passes for 713 yards and 11 scores.
Brothers Darius Stills and Dante’ Stills are key contributors for the Fairmont Senior offensive line. Senior Darius Stills has committed to play at West Virginia and junior Dante’ Stills is looking at a dozen Division-I offers.
Jake Abbott and junior tailback Bryson Gilbert have also been major contributors for the Polar Bears offensive attack.
“Abbott has rushed for around 1,100 yards and passed for about 1,500,” Coach Abbott said of his son. “Gilbert has rushed for 900 yards and has even added 500 yards of receiving yards as well.”
This is Fairmont Senior’s first trip to the state title since 1981 and the Polar Bears have not been crowned state champions since the 1946 season, in which there was no actual championship game. The state champion was named by the Sportswriters Association.
“We have never won the championship game on the field,” Abbott said. “Just making it here is tremendous for our school. The basketball, soccer and cross country teams have all won state titles, so being a coach at Fairmont and not playing for a title puts some pressure on you.
“We have a tremendous coaching staff and the community, the school, the student body and the administration is behind us and we hope to follow the trend of last week’s performance.
To this point, the Polar Bears have turned in a 10-2 season, with a loss to Bridgeport and a 35-24 loss on the road to Jefferson. Since its last loss to Bridgeport, Fairmont Senior has won four straight, including playoff wins against Herbert Hoover (48-27), Weir (30-15) and Bridgeport to reach the finals.
Mingo Central has never played in a state title contest.
“Our season has been pretty good so far, we made it here,” Kinder said. “We played every game hard. The last six of seven games have been played at home due to a lot of early road games. We knew if we could get through that storm of road games, then we would be tough to beat.”
The Miners have been very tough to beat, finishing the regular season with a 10-0 record before knocking off Liberty (55-7), Keyser (32-8) and James Monroe in the playoffs.