When a fourth down conversion is needed, an offense will often rely on a play where there is a comfort level of execution.
Normally, that play doesn’t involve a pitch back to a different player from the individual who first touched the ball. Bridgeport’s single-wing offense looks at things a little differently though.
Cam Cole took a pitch from Landyn Reppert on a fourth-and-2 play with 1:27 left to play for a 19-yard touchdown run that gave the Class AAA No. 8 Indians (3-0) a thrilling 35-28 victory against Class AA No. 13 Fairmont Senior (2-2) on Friday night at Wayne Jamison Field.
It was actually the second time in the game that the exact same play led to another Cole touchdown run on fourth down. Overall, the Tribe converted three different fourth-down plays into touchdowns en route to the win.
“We knew they were going to be blitz heavy, they were going to suck in, so we wanted to hit them with our buck lateral pitch,” BHS coach Tyler Phares said. “That’s a play that takes a lot of ball handling, takes a lot of guts and the kids executed it on fourth down.”
Cole finished with 155 rushing yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns and surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for his career. He now has 2,053 yards which puts him in 11th place on the all-time modern era list in school history.
The Indians needed every one of those yards too as the big-play ability of Kayson Nealy nearly led to the Polar Bears pulling out a victory.
Nealy returned a fumble 65 yards for a touchdown and caught touchdown passes of 90, 64 and 60 yards from freshman quarterback Brody Whitehair, who was also making his first career start.
Whitehair replaced Dom Stingo (who moved to receiver on offense) under center and completed 8-of-9 passes for 270 yards and the three touchdowns to Nealy.
BHS was actually stout against the Senior ground game, allowing just 45 yards.
“I thought we could control their run game and we did for the most part,” Phares said. “The things in the secondary was just communication. Kids trying to switch when they shouldn’t be switching. A lot of little things that I never would have expected for them to let that happen."
The first drive of the game was shaping up to be a trademark BHS drive that moved the chains and chewed up a significant amount of time off the clock.
Eight plays in, Cole had a huge pick up of 16 yards on a buck lateral pitch that came on third-and-14. However, two plays later, Ty Martin fumbled near the BHS sideline and Nealy recovered and returned it untouched for a 65-yard touchdown.
After being forced to punt on their second possession, the Indians took advantage of a Senior turnover. Whitehair never really had control on the ball on an option play as a host of BHS defenders converged on him. Landyn Reppert recovered a fumble and the Indians had the ball just outside of the red zone.
On fourth-and-2 from 4, Ryan Hall plowed his way into the end zone and following a Taylor Thomas PAT kick, the Indians led 7-6.
The momentum from Hall’s touchdown run seemed to carry over to Fairmont Senior’s next drive as Reppert and Ty Martin came up with a big stop on first down. Following a delay of game penalty on the Polar Bears, Whitehair was brought down for a loss of 1 by Tate Jordan.
On the next snap, Whitehair looked like anything but a freshman quarterback making his first start against a rival as he threw a perfect pass down the left sideline to Nealy who caught the ball in stride against decent BHS coverage and he was off to the races for a 90-yard touchdown.
Down 14-7, the Indians got the ball back with 10:00 showing on the second quarter clock. They kept it for nearly 9 minutes on a 14-play drive that was capped by a Cole 14-yard touchdown run on the buck lateral again on fourth-and-4.
BHS got the defensive stop it needed to start the second half and turned a Senior punt into an-eight play drive that ended with another buck lateral to Cole and a 22-yard touchdown.
The 21-14 lead for the Tribe quickly disappeared as Whitehair and Nealy connected for their 64 and 60-yard touchdown passes in the span of about 2 minutes late in the third quarter.
Midway through the final quarter, Hall found the end zone again on a 2-yard run and the PAT kick from Thomas tied it at 28.
“I thought Ryan ran the ball harder than anybody in the game,” Phares said.
The ensuing Senior drive sputtered and the Polar Bears were forced to punt. Making matters worse for them, the punt traveled just 2 yards, giving Bridgeport the ball on the 25 with 3:11 to go. Cole’s third TD of the game and seventh of the season came four plays later.
The Indians finished with 328 rushing yards. Reppert complemented Cole’s efforts with 89 yards on 18 carries. Hall finished with 49 yards on 13 carries to go along with his two TDs.
Germaine Lewis, Senior’s top rusher coming into the game, was held to 11 yards on eight carries. Whitehair finished as Senior’s leading rusher with 30 yards on 15 carries.
“I’m proud of them because they kept fighting,” Phares said. “There were plenty of times we could have quit playing and hung our heads. We played probably the sloppiest game since I’ve been here. They could have quit playing and they didn’t. They took the coaching and found a way to get better as the game went on and we found a way to pull that one out.”
Next week, the Indians will travel to Clarksburg to face Robert C. Byrd, while the Polar Bears will also be on the road to take on University.