Gallery by Heather Belcher
Wheeling – Independence was a hoping to cap its storybook season with a championship.
Unfortunately for the Patriots they ran into a Cinderella that overcame its own adversities.
Fairmont Senior became only the second 16 seed in state history to win a Class AA championship (Musselman, 1995), dispatching No. 2 Independence 21-12 in the Class AA championship Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
A slow start, something that’s become all too familiar for the Patriots throughout the last two rounds of the playoffs, plagued them again Friday evening.
Four penalties on their first two drives cost them 40 yards and their first four drives of the game all resulted in punts.
“I would say it was nerves, but you can’t make those mistakes early in the game and spot the ball,” Indy coach John H. Lilly said. “It kept us in poor field position all night so hats off to them. They shut us down and nobody really shut us down this year. They did a good job of shutting us down.”
A scoreless first quarter set the table for a defensive slugfest but big plays on offense highlighted the second frame.
When the scoring finally came it was the Polar Bears who struck first as QB Dom Stingo found Evan Dennison over the middle for a 59-yard touchdown pass, staking Fairmont to a 7-0 advantage. The play capped a seven-play, 82-yard drive but the answer came almost immediately, a theme throughout the evening.
On Indy’s next drive QB Logan Phalin, while being hit, unleashed a bomb to sophomore receiver Trey Bowers and 41 yards later the Patriots were on the board. A missed PAT helped the Polar Bears maintain the lead though.
“We stayed consistent,” Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic said. “They were able to throw a little bit and we knew that but we didn’t let that rattle us and we made some adjustments and our guys stayed the course.”
The hosts on the scoreboard nearly caught a break, forcing Fairmont into a second-and-30 situation on the following drive, but a lateral to Evan Dennison set up a trick play in which he launched a pass downfield to receiver Kayson Nealey for a 39-yard completion. Two plays later Fairmont’s lead expanded when Germaine Lewis leaped into the end zone from two yards out to make it a 14-6 affair.
That score held going into the break with the two teams trading interceptions beforehand.
Coming out of the intermission the Polar Bears moved into Indy territory but on the second play from scrimmage a Dom Stingo pass sailed over the head of his intended receiver and into the hands of Indy standout Judah Price.
Nothing came of the turnover with the following three possessions ending in punts for both teams but a Fairmont turnover on downs at the Indy 24 sparked a comeback.
A 21-yard run by QB Logan Phalin helped the Patriots cross midfield and on the next play Price capped his terrific third quarter with a 46-yard scoring jolt down the left sideline, helping the Patriots slash the deficit to two points after a failed conversion attempt.
— Tyler Jackson (@TJack94) December 4, 2021
“All year long everybody keyed on Atticus (Goodson),” Lilly said. “I thought Judah stepped up and made a great run down there that put us back in the game.That’s the type of player he is. I thought the other two guys on the outside (Bowers and Cyrus Goodson) had good games. We would’ve liked to have taken more shots, we were just in bad field position.”
The celebrations following Price’s score were short-lived as a Lewis kick return to the Independence 35 halted the momentum and a 35-yard scoring run from the running back on the first play of the drive swung it back Fairmont’s way.
“Not really,” Lilly said when asked if the immediate answer was deflating. “We felt like we could score. I think our guys were pretty confident we could score. It’s just continually being in bad field position.”
Of Independence’s 12 drives, five started inside their own 30, including their penultimate one which sealed the game.
An 11-play, 66-yard drive, which featured a 15-yard Atticus Goodson run on fourth-and-1, ended at the Fairmont Senior 3-yard line when the all-state running back was stripped of the ball and the Polar Bears recovered with 9:42 left.
From there Fairmont deployed a heavy backfield set, chewing up six minutes on a drive that ended at its own 45. On Indy’s last gasp, Phalin was sacked with just under two minutes left, delivering the Polar Bears their second straight championship and third in the last four years
“They’re all special in their own way,” Bartic said. “I think as you go there’s more maybe relief than joy and you really feel a lot of pride for the guys and what they were able to battle for. You really appreciate what they’ve done and sacrificed to bring back to the town.”
In his final game as a Patriot, Atticus Goodson earned MVP honors for Independence, carrying the ball 26 times for 131 yards while also intercepting a pass on defense. Germaine Lewis earned MVP honors for Fairmont, carrying the ball 13 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
As a team the Patriots, who finish the season 11-1, compiled 275 yards of total offense but yielded 337.
“Early in the game we got behind the ball,” Indy coach John H. Lilly said. “We had that penalty early in the game and that kind of set us back 15 yards after a pretty good gain and we had to play on our side so it’s hard to get going offensively. I thought our defense played as good as you could play tonight and I’m really proud of them. I’m really proud of our kids because they battled hard. We had a great season. Sometimes when you get up here there’s really no losers. Just somebody happened to win tonight and it wasn’t us.”
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FS: Germaine Lewis 13-121-2, Dylan Ours 5-15, Landen Tasker 2-9, Evan Dennison 1-7, Dom Stingo 6-4; I:Atticus Goodson 26-131, Judah Price 7-63, Logan Phalin 6-26, Trey Bowers 1-(minus-2).
FS: Dom Stingo 15-27-2INTS-1TD, Evan Dennison 1-1-39-0; I: Logan Phalin 3-10-56-0-1TD, Atticus Goodson 0-1-1 INT, Trey Bowers 1-1-14
FS: Kayson Nealey 6-81, Evan Dennison 5-89, Germaine Lewis 2-25, Dylan Ours 2-17, Jace Dalton 1-; I: Trey Bowers 2-50-1, Cyrus Goodson 2-20.