Bluefield tops Fairmont Senior for Class AA title

Bluefield’s Mookie Collier breaks out for a big run against Fairmont Senior’s defense during the Class AA state title game Friday night inside Wheeling Island Stadium. Collier and the Beavers won a 29-26 thriller over the Polar Bears. Photo by Joe Albright.

WHEELING — The Super Six for the 2017 season could not have gotten off to a more exciting start as Bluefield and Fairmont Senior met at Wheeling Island Stadium Friday night for the Class AA state championship game.

The meeting was everything a championship game is supposed to be about as football fans got to see a shootout in the first half and defenses coming up with big plays in the second. Down 26-21, Bluefield scored with 5:54 left in the fourth quarter on a Chandler Cooper quarterback sneak to cap a 16-play, 80-yard drive and a Mookie Collier two-point conversion made it a three-point game. It was the only score of the second half and the Beavers’ defense came up clutch in the second half in a 29-26 victory over the Polar Bears.

“What a game,” Bluefield coach Fred Simon said. “I’m so proud of the coaching staff and the players. I can’t tell you how unbelievable this game was and so happy to be a part of it and to come out on top.”

Collier was named MVP of the game for the Beavers as he compiled 199 rushing yards on 26 attempts and a score. On defense, he deflected a fourth=down pass with a little more than a minute left in the game to secure the win. It was just a couple plays after Collier fumbled the ball on their own 40 -yard line to give Fairmont Senior good field position to win the game.

“I didn’t win MVP,” Collier said. “The whole team won MVP. They did such an amazing job and I give credit to every single one of these players, coaching staff, our community and fans as well. Even when things were going bad, they were still on our side. We fought through adversity (Friday) and God blessed us with a win and I’m thankful to be a state champion.”

Fairmont Senior forced Bluefield to punt on its first possession of the second half. And just like in the first half, the Polar Bears drove down the field with brilliant passes from their quarterback Connor Neal. He went 8 of 9 on the drive for 66 yards and Fairmont Senior was in business. With a first-and-goal on the 1, Neal fumbled the ball in the end zone and Jamere Edwards came up with the ball and the call was ruled a touchback giving the Beavers possession at the 20 with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

The momentum was on its side and Bluefield played it to its advantage and went on their scoring drive to take the lead for good.

“The players, they just found ways to make plays,” Simon said about shutting out the Polar Bears in the second half. “We talked at half and we said, ‘If one guy can make a play, we have a chance to win this.’ And that’s what happened at the goal line. It’s unbelievable. But they did.”

The first half was a different story as Fairmont Senior struck quick on its opening possession as Bryson Gilbert found the end zone four plays in. Gilbert compiled three touchdowns — one receiving and two rushing. He had a team-high 62 yards on the ground. The extra point failed and the score read 6-0.

Bluefield responded with a quality drive of its own as Jason ‘Truck’ Edwards refused to go down as he bounced off defenders in his way for a score to make it 7-6. After forcing a turnover on downs, the Beavers found the end zone again. Collier had his longest run of the night as he found the end zone 60 yards out for the score to give the Beavers a 14-6 lead.

The Polar Bears tied it at 14-14 when Gilbert scored for the second time on the night and ran a succesful two-point conversion.

The shootout continued as Bluefield responded resulting in another Edwards touchdown run.

Neal then threw his first touchdown pass of the game as he connected with Caleb Walker from 16 yards out to put the score at 21-20 . Neal was brilliant going 20 of 27 for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Antonio had a game-high 106 receiving yards on six catches while Jacob Pitman hauled in five passes for 51 yards. Walker had four catches for 42 yards. Neal was the MVP for the Polar Bears.

“That’s what we always do. Whatever the defense gives us, it’s a numbers game,” Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic said about his quarterback. “He’s been excellent at that all year. Two picks all season, he’s mister efficiency and he’s got good guys around him in Walker and Gilbert. Then you got Pitman making big time catches all the time.”

Fairmont took the lead with 42 seconds left in the first half as Neal connected with Gilbert for a 32-yard touchdown to convert on fourth-and-22.

On defense, Arnold Martin led the way for Bluefield with eight tackles while Elijah Posey tallied 13 for Fairmont Senior.