Nov. 10—FAIRMONT — It's another year of Thunderdome for the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears.
Nick Bartic's team enters the playoffs as the second seed, behind county rival North Marion (9-1), after beating No. 8 East Fairmont (8-2) in the East-West Game 48-14 to end the regular season.
"It's great to come off a big win, carry some momentum in the postseason," Bartic said. "And now you have all three Marion County teams hosting. So the 2023 Class AA playoffs, presented by Toyota, should be exciting for local fans."
And making the playoffs is a cause for celebration for any team, even one that has made it every year for the past 11 years. Fairmont Senior decorated the weight room and locker room with balloons and banners celebrating the occasion, and Bartic said there's no reason not to have fun with it.
"In our class, we are one of 16 teams still playing, and that is something we do not take for granted," Bartic said. "It's something we feel like our program has gotten to a point where we expect that, but that doesn't mean we don't enjoy it. So we always want to make a big deal about it."
Taking the second seed means Fairmont Senior (7-2) won't have to go on the road the whole postseason before the championship game should it make it that far. As Bartic pointed out, No. 3 Roane County (9-1) is two and a half hours away from Fairmont, and not having to worry about traveling gives the team more energy to focus on winning each game as it comes.
"When you come into the playoffs, you have all your games at home, you're very confident," junior quarterback Brody Whitehair said. "You have all the fan base you need, less travel, so you definitely feel warm coming in. You get a feel for the field. It's definitely important when it comes to chemistry wise and overall tradition of everything with the team in the playoffs."
Waiting for Fairmont Senior in the first round, No. 15 Wayne (6-4) travels over three hours to East-West Stadium on Friday.
According to Bartic, Wayne's a deceptive 15 seed. The Pioneers' only losses came from teams also in the playoffs — No. 4 Scott (9-1), No. 6 Winfield (8-2), No. 9 Herbert Hoover (7-3) and No. 13 Nitro (7-3). None of those losses were by more than 11 points. Wayne allowed no more than 14 points in each of its wins.
"All of [the losses] were no more than a two-possession game that they had opportunities to win in the end," Bartic said. "So we know that it's kind of a tough draw when you're talking about a typical 15 seed. We're gonna have to play our A game in order to win this one."
It's vital for Fairmont Senior to take it one game at a time, Bartic said. While expectations may be high, the Polar Bears need to pay attention to the here and now and not get ahead of themselves. If they do that, the rest of the postseason will take care of itself, according to Bartic.
Something Bartic said his team needs to make sure it plays clean and fair. Fairmont Senior committed multiple personal fouls during the East-West Game, something Bartic thinks the two weeks off may have contributed to.
"That's been our focus of playing cleaner now that we feel like we got a game under us and back into the swing as we go into the playoffs," Bartic said. "You want to try to start peaking now at the right time as you get into the postseason."
And as November keeps moving along, the temperatures continue to drop with fall slowly progressing into winter. Whitehair believes the team needs to ignore all the outside factors and keep rolling if it wants to get far.
"Keep pushing forward," Whitehair said. "A bunch of people complain about the weather conditions being cold and everything, but I think if you just keep your energy up and keep the mojo rolling, we'll be good."
Fairmont Senior kicks off the first round of playoffs against Wayne at East-West Stadium the night of Friday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 p.m.
Reach Colin C. Rhodes at 304-367-2548