Bridgeport Advances to Class AA Football Semifinals for Seventh Straight Year with 42-13 Win over Winfield

By Jeff Toquinto on November 17, 2017 via Connect-Bridgeport.com

When Jake Bowen headed to the locker room at the start of the third period, his vision was impacted because he had been poked in the eye. As it turned out, it was the only time all night the junior tailback didn’t see things clearly.
 
Bowen was equal parts thunder and lightning and his vision crystal clear for the Indians this evening as he led the way in a 42-13 Class AA semifinal win over Winfield at Wayne Jamison Field this evening. The Tribe advances to the semifinals where they will play the winner of Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. contest between No. 2 Bluefield and No. 7 Point Pleasant next week.
 
It would be hard to argue Bowen didn’t have a lot to do with it. And it would be wrong to say he didn’t have help from a potent offensive line and backs leading the way.
 
Bowen finished with 212 yards rushing on a career-high 29 carries and four touchdowns. Only three of his runs were for more than 10 yards, but two of those double digit yardage runs went for scores as the Indians rolled to their seventh straight semifinal appearance. Six of those have come since BHS moved back to Class AA.
 
“He’s a complete back,” said Cole of Bowen. “With his vision and the toughness, and he played good on defense tonight, just, my goodness. If we can get a couple more big games out of him that would be huge.”
 
Although Bridgeport seemed to have things in control with a 28-7 halftime advantage, Bowen headed to the locker room after the second play of the third period after Cole said he got poked accidentally in the eye. On the very next play, the Tribe fumbled and Winfield seemed to have life.
 
The defense would quickly make sure that heartbeat of hope would be snuffed out. The Generals would not threaten again until late in the game when they would score against the Indians’ reserves.
 
Bridgeport would manage to ice the game thanks to a 28 second spurt that produced 14 points. The first came when Bowen capped a four-play, 72-yard drive with a 55-yard run to the left where he exploded through a gaping hole at the 2:28 mark of the third that left BHS up 35-7.
 
If there was any hope left for Winfield after that it would be gone in short order. On Winfield’s first play from scrimmage after BHS scored, Josh Osborn snagged an interception near midfield and returned it 19 yards to the guest’s 32-yard line to put Bridgeport back in business.
 
After a 15-yard penalty was tacked on, the Indians handed the ball to Bowen on the first play. The tailback again broke free, this time from 17 yards, for six. Less than a half a minute later, BHS was on the board again and the last of six successful Koby Kiefer point-after kicks left it 42-7 with 2 minutes on the third period clock.
 
Winfield scored with 6:51 to play, but by that time the game’s outcome had long been decided.
 
“Coming out of last week I told the kids you need to play emotional and with excitement,” said Cole. “That’s what they needed to do and that’s what they did.”
 
Bridgeport would finish with 345yards of offense in the game with 290 of it coming on the ground. The Tribe’s John Merica hit two big pass plays for 55 yards in the win as the Tribe had yet another blowout win in the 2017 season.
 
“If we can keep completing passes when we need to and involve John in our offense (passing), offenses they’ve got a handful. That’s what we want,” said Cole.
 
While the result was fairly typical of most BHS wins this year, about the only thing that wasn’t typical in the first half was the manner in which the Indians scored. Three of the four drives needed eight plays or more and, most surprising, was that only one running play netted double digits for the Tribe.
 
“(Those types of drives) are what we’ve traditionally been able to do,” said Cole. “That’s great when we can get scores like that against a team like that.”
 
The first score of the game, however, was the drive that was different from the other three in the first two quarters. And it was set up by the Bridgeport defense.
 
On Winfield’s first drive, a third-and-12 proved disastrous for the visitors as a pass sailed high and Merica was more than happy to take advantage of it. Merica picked off the pass in Winfield territory and returned it 38 yards to the Generals’ seven.
 
Two plays later, the Tribe was on the board. Bowen did the honors with a one-yard plunge off left tackle. The first of four first half point-after kicks by Kiefer left it 7-0 and there was still 10:07 showing on the first period clock.
 
“At times with the secondary they haven’t made big plays, but they’ve covered well,” said Cole. “To get an interception like that was big … Any time you can get a play like that in a game of this magnitude will get you going.”
 
After forcing a quick three-and-out on Winfield’s next offensive series, Bridgeport went to work again. Starting at their own 34, the Tribe would use an eight-play drive to take the lead to 14-0. The big play on the series was a 36-yard pass play from Merica to Caleb Strakel on a second-and-16 play after BHS was called for holding.
 
The pass play set the stage for Bowen to do the honors as he once again went off left tackle, this time from 11 yards out with 4:36 showing in the first period. The run by Bowen would be the longest run by the hosts in the first two quarters.
 
While it appears the route was on, Winfield had other ideas. The Generals broke from their tight formation on offense and spread the field, primarily with three wide receiver sets. The strategy initially worked.
 
“They came out and tried to run the ball and do what they normally do in that single wing,” said Cole. “How many teams have you seen just go to the spread and be able to execute like that?”
 
Winfield used a 10-play, 70-yard drive to get right back into the contest. Andrew Huff, whose early passing in the drive opened up some running lanes, threw and scrambled his team into scoring position.
 
On a second-and-12 play from Bridgeport’s 27, he connected with Jacob VanScoy in the right corner of the end zone for a 27-yard scoring strike. Chase Littman’s point-after kick made it 14-7 with 55.8 seconds to go in the first period and WHS appeared to be right back in it.
 
Bridgeport would soon put an end to the momentum. The Tribe had a pair of long second quarter drives to regain control of the game as BHS would manage to score on its first four possessions of the first half.
 
Following WHS’s score, a pooch onside kick was fielded cleanly by Carson Winkie and the Tribe started at their own 48. Bridgeport would then use nine plays to go the final 52 yards with Merica keeping from five yards out to put the Tribe up 21-7 with 8:22 to go.
 
The Indians’ next drive came following another three-and-out forced by the defense that featured a Cody Spring sack of Huff that left the guests in poor field position. That field position would cost them as the eventual punt rolled to a stop at the 49 of Winfield.
 
Bridgeport would use 12 plays to cover the distance. Included in the surge was a fourth down conversion and a finish by Merica on a keeper from the three that ended it. The point-after made it 28-7 with 1:48 to play before the half.
 
“We needed to get John a little more involved in the offense and that was the plan,” said Cole. “He’s a dynamic runner who gives the defense something else to worry about.”
 
The Indians had 185 yards of offense in the first half on 32 plays. Bowne had 117 yards on 22 carries to lead the Tribe’s offense.
 
Winfield had just 100 yards of offense on 24 plays in the first half. Seventy of those yards came on the Generals’ one scoring drive. WHS would finish the game with 229 yards of offense on 46 plays. BHS made its foe one dimensional as the Generals finished with just 49 yards rushing on 18 carries.
 
Rush would finish 16-of-28 passing in the game with 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was also intercepted twice, the last of which was by D’Andre Holloway in the fourth quarter.
 
“That’s a quarterback out there. For a guy that was 200 pounds he was running all over the place and we were skating out there,” said Cole.
 
Bridgeport, the No. 3 seed, moves to 11-1 with the win. The No. 11 Generals close their year at 8-4.
 
If Bluefield wins Saturday, the Indians will be on the road next week. If Point Pleasant wins, the Tribe will host the Big Blacks.
 
The team that will be the visitor will determine the game day and time. The visiting team can choose Friday at 1:30 p.m. due to the Thanksgiving holiday or 7:30 Friday. The same times are an option Saturday.
 
Cole said if he had to choose he couldn’t make a decision at the moment. He said he needs to see the health of his team before making that decision if it is necessary.
 
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Jake Bowen grinding out first half yardage, while Christian Olivio (57) and Chapin Murphy (23) celebrate a tackle in the game. In the third photo, John Merica looks for the end zone on one of his two scoring runs, while Caleb Strakel heads up field on one of the Indians' two big receptions in the game in the fourth picture. In the fifth photo, BHS Coach John Cole yells out instructions to his team, while Josh Osborn (8) celebrates with the defensive unti after his interception. Bottom photo shows linebacker Trey Pancake putting on pressure. Photos by Ben Queen of www.benqueenphotography.com.


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