Nov. 2—FAIRMONT — The final game of the regular season, No. 8 East Fairmont and No. 4 Fairmont Senior continue their timeless rivalry at East-West Stadium for the 103rd East-West Game on Friday, Nov. 3.
"It's always a big game," Fairmont Senior Head Coach Nick Bartic said in a previous interview. "It's our favorite game because it means so much to the town, to our area, and there's so much history. It's the oldest continuously played game in the state. That alone makes it special, and then both teams are having successful seasons. There's a lot of playoff implications on the line. You have a Top 10 matchup, and it's going to be a big time atmosphere."
East Fairmont (8-1, 6-1 Big X) enters this game after a one-point road win against Lewis County (4-4, 3-4). The designated home team despite the shared home field, East Fairmont hosts Fairmont Senior (6-2, 5-1), who hasn't played since its 42-8 win against Elkins on Oct. 13.
Fairmont Senior's predicament of two weeks of no games finally ends with the East-West Game. Junior quarterback Brody Whitehair previously mentioned how the practices the past two weeks have felt slow, but he said that this week feels much faster knowing there's a game at the end of it.
"Knowing you're about to play, it definitely gives you a sense of adrenaline," Whitehair said. "I get a little adrenaline. That definitely helps when it comes game time. You got to just make sure your nerves are a little calm. Try to keep it slow to start. Points don't come in one play, just got to slowly go with it."
The Polar Bears spent the two off weeks preparing for this game, and according to Whitehair, there's no excuse for poor play. But he's not expecting the game to be a breeze.
"I'm expecting a win, but we got to come out," Whitehair said. "It's each play at a time. You can't just score 50 points in one play. We just steady the pace, play our game and expect us to pull out the win."
East Fairmont Head Coach Shane Eakle fully expects a tough challenge from Fairmont Senior. He said that he and other coaches in West Virginia try to have the same success as Bartic and Fairmont Senior because of the consistent success that program has.
"Fairmont Senior's one of the best in the state," Eakle said. "Year-in, year-out, they're one of the teams that every year competes for a state championship.... We've got to make sure that we clean our stuff up and do what we can do and do it well to try to execute on Friday night."
For the Bees, Fairmont Senior is the only thing standing between them and a home playoff game. East Fairmont last hosted a playoff game in 2007, which was also the first time in school history. Coincidentally, East Fairmont last beat Fairmont Senior in 2007.
The stakes of this game aren't lost on the players.
According to Eakle, the team's focused on doing what it needs to win the game, and according to senior quarterback Ian Crookshanks, the team also sees the home playoff game and equal status as the '07 team as the prize lying ahead of them.
"It's definitely a big focus for us," Crookshanks said. "We got told all the time stories about how the '07 team played for one another. Their quarterback, Carter DeVault, he's our offensive coordinator now, so we get inside stories on that stuff of the game type, how they had team chemistry and whatnot.
"To go down and be remembered like that, still getting talked about to this day, would definitely be a big honor for this team."
Both teams braved cold weather for practice Wednesday as temperatures dropped to the 30s and 40s all across the state. According to Eakle, Tucker County received three inches of snow earlier, and its football team practiced with snow still on the ground.
According to The Weather Channel, Fairmont will be 53 degrees and dropping by the time the game kicks off on Friday at 7 p.m. Crookshanks believes the cold temperatures for practice will prepare the players for the conditions they will face come game time.
"We had guys saying it was too cold, but then we mentally focused and locked in and realized that our goal was for Friday and how this temperature was going to be like this Friday," Crookshanks said.
A win for either team clinches a home playoff game, as Fairmont Senior isn't guaranteed one if it drops far enough from losing to East Fairmont, whose strength of schedule, some might argue, isn't very strong. East Fairmont could still have a home playoff game with a loss to Fairmont Senior, but other teams in the state have to provide help by beating the teams right below the Bees in the rankings.
Ultimately, it's up to the rankings released by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to decide who gets a home playoff game.
Reach Colin C. Rhodes at 304-367-2548