Frankfort, Keyser battle for playoff lives in Mineral Bowl tonight

Nov. 3—KEYSER, W.Va. — Frankfort and Keyser don't need playoff implications to get up for the Mineral Bowl.

They're certainly there. Both rivals will be fighting for their playoff lives tonight.

A Frankfort win would ensure a sixth straight Class AA playoff berth. Keyser would need some help to get in with a victory, but a loss and the Tornado are done.

Even without postseason berths on the line, the Mineral Bowl is a must-win game for the county rivals. It just so happens that one, if not both, of Frankfort (6-3) and Keyser (5-4) will have played its last game of the season when the final whistle sounds tonight. The action is slated to kick off at 7 p.m.

"I think it's going to be a big game," said Frankfort head coach Kevin Whiteman, who became the school's all-time wins leader last week. "They've lost to some good teams. They're going to be fired up to play us. We're going to be fired up for them.

"If you live in Mineral County, you're going to be fired up for the Mineral Bowl. The coaches, the kids, the fans. There's a lot to play for."

Frankfort comes into tonight riding a two-game winning streak after routing lowly Berkeley Springs (48-0) and Grafton (51-6). Those victories came after a string of three tight losses in four games, as the Falcons lost leads to Weir and Spring Mills and played Mountain Ridge well in a 24-14 defeat.

Despite not winning one of those close games, Frankfort is in good position slotted at No. 12 in the WVSSAC Class AA Playoff Ratings.

A loss and Frankfort is not necessarily out of the playoffs; Keyser doesn't have that luxury.

Keyser is hurting for bonus points because Hampshire and Moorefield have the most wins of anyone on its schedule (three). The Tornado missed chances against 9-1 Weir, 8-1 Mountain Ridge and 6-3 Allegany to improve their standing.

The result is Keyser is No. 21 in the playoff ratings and will need to beat Frankfort and get a lot of help to get in.

Perhaps more important, however, is Keyser looking to end Frankfort's two-game streak in the series and seize the bragging rights that come with it.

"It's one of those games, it doesn't matter if you're 10-0 or 0-10, it means something," Keyser head coach Derek Stephen said. "Even back before it was Frankfort and it was Ridgeley and Keyser.

"Just having the bragging rights, it's something the kids enjoy and they've been looking for. Both sides are going to be up for it."

Frankfort finds itself as the clear favorite in the game for a second year in a row, something that hasn't happened much in the past 20 years.

Between 2004 and 2015 under Sean Biser, Keyser beat Frankfort 14 out of 16 years. The Tornado are 30-17 all-time against their cross-county rival.

Now Whiteman and his Falcons have a chance for their first three-game streak in the series since the late-'90s.

"I don't like to try to even think like that," Whiteman said of Frankfort being the favorite. "What people think is insignificant. I know what Keyser brings to the table.

"Unfortunately they've had some injuries. We had to deal with injuries early in the year and last year. It's tough on small schools like us and Keyser. But anyone can win the game. You have to go out and play."

It all starts up front for Frankfort, which returned all but one starter and is blocking for a bevy of backs that are averaging 323.8 rushing yards per game.

Rocky Fontenot is the home-run guy out of the backfield averaging 16.8 yards every time he touches the football for more than 1,000 yards of total offense (845 rushing, 229 receiving) and 15 total touchdowns.

Fullback Tyrique Powell is a big, strong runner between the tackles, and he has 625 yards and 11 touchdowns on 73 tries.

Defensively, Frankfort has been solid allowing 17.1 points and 239.2 yards per game.

Third-down defense has been key for Frankfort, as its last two opponents Grafton and Berkeley Springs converted just 1 of 21 tries.

"I know that they're going to be a hard-nosed team," Stephen said. "They have running backs that run hard, a defense that doesn't give up a lot of points. They're going to be a very good opponent on Friday night."

Keyser doesn't have the deep unit of skill position guys Frankfort has due to injuries to backs Keith Lawrence, Tristan Root and Josh Shoemaker and split end Chase Davis.

Julian Pattison and Grayson Lambka have done well to fill those roles in the backfield despite limited experience.

"Our kids have done a great job," Stephen said. "We've been plugging and playing people. People have been learning new positions trying to create depth. The kids are taking it in stride.

"You can't ask for a better group of kids in that aspect. Doing everything we've asked them to. It hurts because all the people hurt are seniors and are multi-year starters."

The Tornado still have a dangerous passing game, led by quarterback Logan Rotruck and Jack Stanislawczyk.

Stanislawczyk has returned kicks for touchdowns against Allegany and Mountain Ridge — racking up four kicks for 221 yards with returns of 94 and 83 yards in Frostburg last week.

Whiteman was also impressed with Keyser's discipline on film.

"I always enjoy watching them because they're well-coached, disciplined in the way they play on both sides of the ball," he said. "Disciplined in how they run their plays. On defense they're where they're supposed to be."

Frankfort believes it can go on a playoff run, and why wouldn't it? The Falcons have made three state quarterfinal trips in four years.

There's still one more trophy to secure before Frankfort can shift its focus.

"It's your big rival," Whiteman said. "It's your rivalry game. Whoever wins takes the Mineral Bowl trophy back to your school. We've had it the past two years, and we'd like to keep it at Frankfort."

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.