By DAVE MORRISON
It is not a regular-season, geographically-friendly rivalry like Graham, Va. or Princeton.
Yet it’s hard to argue that Bluefield vs. Fairmont Sr. hasn’t developed into a great postseason rivalry, as good as any that you will see on the Class AA level.
When they meet it is generally for all the proverbial marbles.
That will again be the case when the two titans of two-A meet at Mitchell Stadium Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Class AA semifinals.
You need only look at the last three meetings.
Last season the two meet in this slot, a semifinal at higher-seeded and favored Fairmont, which was 12-0. Fairmont had not lost since falling to Bluefield in the 2017 title game (26 straight) but the Beavers came out on top in that meeting, 40-24, thanks to some timely plays (including a Shawn Mitchell interception return for a touchdown and three big sacks) and the offense of Carson Deeb and J.J. Davis.
Deeb had been on fire through the 2019 postseason throwing for almost 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Davis rushed for 154 yards. Deeb is back this year.
In 2018 the Polar Bears beat Bluefield 23-13 to avenge a 2017 state championship-loss (29-26) to the Mookie Collier-led Beavers
And it’s hardly a one-sided affair. The duo will be meeting for the 12th time, Bluefield having won six overall. That is a great way to gauge a rivalry.
And speaking of gauge the Polar Bears are triggered by a gauge – make that Gage – in quarterback Gage Michael. The Kennedy Award candidate has passed for over 2,000 yards (2,026) and has thrown for 27 touchdowns. Not only that but he is one of Class AA’s leading ground gainers with 1,455 rushing yards and 16 more touchdowns.
In last year’s title game Michael was 16 of 27 passing for 225 yards and he carried the ball 33 times for 173 yards.
He is the main weapon again but not the only one. Last week in a 43-15 victory against Independence, Kieshawn Cottingham who had 125 scrimmage yards and his three rushing touchdowns (four total) surpassed the two he had in the regular season.
The matchup is a showcase of arguably the top two quarterbacks in the state. If Michael is No. 1 Deeb is 1A. The Bluefield signalcaller has passed for 1,691 yards and 17 touchdowns in just eight games, and, has five rushing touchdowns this season.
His also has a stable of capable receivers, including last year’s postseason leader Brandon Wiley, who this season has 31 receptions for 687 yards and seven touchdowns. Jacorian Green (23-394-4), Juwan Green (28-381-3) and Ryker Brown (18-237-4) complete a nice complement of receivers.
There are a couple of keys for the Beavers, one being the obvious, getting stops on Michael.
Two will be keeping Deeb upright, something that has been a struggle at times this season, and feature some semblance of a running game. Fairmont has been good against the pass this season but teams have found some success in the run game.
Independence’s Atticus Goodson had 112 yards against Fairmont last week despite missing two linemen in the game. Th caveat is of course that Goodson is a rare breed, mixing a hard running style with size and speed.
If there is one certainty it’s that Bluefield Fred Simon has been as good as any coach at scheming and implementing wrinkles on short order.
Bluefield averaged 180.6 rushing in the regular season and 212.5 in the postseason.
Jaeon Flack (62-447-6), Jacob Martin (28-320-4) and Amir Hairston (35-272-2) lead a balanced running game.