Strong Rushing Attack, Clutch Defense Paves Way for Bridgeport's 40-20 Victory Against Polar Bears

By Chris Johnson on September 15, 2023 via

Although it was another banner day for Bridgeport’s prolific ground game out of the single-wing attack, it was a series of clutch defensive plays for the Indians that secured a 40-20 victory on Friday night at Wayne Jamison Field against Fairmont Senior.
It could easily be described as a game much closer than the final score indicates, which is nothing new when these two teams clash. It was tied at 20 entering the fourth quarter afterall as the Class AAA No. 9 Indians and Class AA No. 4 Polar Bears (3-1) were going back-and-forth with scoring plays on offense.
In fact, the only thing different about the matchup and how it was another tight contest in what has become one of the state's best rivalry, was Bridgeport's new black uniforms.
The first big defensive play for the Tribe, which improved to 3-1, came on special teams when Ryan Jones blocked a PAT attempt to keep it 20-20.
Next, Bridgeport’s Cale Culicerto came up with his first interception of the year on a ball that he tipped three times before realing it in. Zach Rohrig later had an interception to bring a Senior drive to a screeching halt.
The biggest of the plays however came with 2:40 to play and it came in tandem form. Defensive ends Beau Ford and Aidan Sparks have been making plays all season long for the Tribe. They entered Friday’s game with a combined 25 tackles, 11 of them for a loss.
Still just down one possesion at the time, Fairmont Senior had the ball around midfield. Quarterback Brody Whitehair dropped back but Ford busted through the Polar Bears interior line and was on Whitehair before he time to think and got a sack and forced a fumble. Sparks ran in, dived on the ball for the fumble recovery and give the ball back to the offense with just more than 2 minutes to go.
The next snap from scrimmage was a 28-yard touchdown run from Zach Rohrig and after the BHS defense forced a turnover on downs, Rohrig was in the end zone from 21 yards for his second TD in 33 seconds and the Indians were up by 20.
“The goal all week was to keep pressure on their QB, he’s a great athlete,” Ford said. “We were told all week that the D-line had to work as a unit and I really think that showed on that play. I had a great brother up their with me to finish off that play.”
Sparks said he saw the loose ball right away.
“I got a little nervous because I was kind of in a bad position,” Sparks said. “But I saw the ball pop out and I went straight for the ball.”
Whitehair was a handful for the BHS at times as he completed 17-of-32 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns. But BHS coach Tyler Phares was pleased with the way the Indians came up with the stops when they needed them the most.
“Coach (Casey) Stewart does a great job with those guys on defense,” Phares said. “We really wanted to keep them in front of us and at times that was tough because they are such a good football team. Being able to keep them in front and make plays was a big part of it. And when they did burn us our kids learned from it and we made some adjustments in the second half.”
The Polar Bears were also without big-play threat Dylan Ours for a large portion of the second half as he left with an undisclosed injury.
“It makes a big difference because he is a heck of a football player, Phares said in regard to Ours. “He’s a good running back, good receiver, he plays well in space. When he came off the field, we knew they were probably going to throw it a little more than run it so that helped us a little bit.”
It didn’t take long for Dylan Ours to show off his big-play ability as he caught a screen pass from Whitehair on the first play from scrimmage for the Polar Bears and went 64 yards for a touchdown.
However, the TD came off the board as Senior was called for a holding penalty.
The Indians proceeded to force a punt as Whitehair threw a pair of incomplete passes and Bridgeport’s Tanner Hathaway brought the Senior QB down for a loss of 5.
Hathaway would go on to cap an eight-play drive for BHS with a 5-yard touchdown run and Avery Williams’ first of two PAT kicks gave the Indians a 7-0 lead with 6:57 remaining in the first quarter.
Ours returned the enusing kickoff 33 yards and two plays later Whitehair hit Navaughn Jones in stride on a slant rout for a 64-yard touchdown and in the span of 44 seconds the game was tied at 7.
The Polar Bears recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and took over at the BHS 35.
Hathaway had another tackle for a loss for the BHS defense and the Polar Bears eventually were forced to punt.
The Indians took over at their own 20 with 3 minutes remaining in the first quarter and proceeded to chew up a decent amount of time with an 11-play drive that once again ended with a Hathaway touchdown run, this one from 3 yards out, to make it 14-7.
Rohrig had six carries out of the 11 plays including runs of 18, 24 and 10 yards, surpassing the 2,500 career rushing yard mark along the way.
It was Bridgeport’s turn to have a momentum-altering play come back on an penatly on Senior’s ensuing drive.
Cam Martin intercepted a Whithair pass right around the goal line and had a nice return out to to 30. But the Indians were hit with a roughing the passer penalty.
After the penalty yardage was marked off, the Polar Bears had a fresh set of downs at the BHS 16. They needed just one snap to tie the game at 14 when Whitehair hooked up with Jones for another touchdown pass.
The Indians were putting together an impressive drive to potentially take the lead back late in the first half as they marched down the field on a 12-play drive. But they tried to catch the Polar Bears in hibernation with a rare pass play. Rohrig rolled out to his right looking for a teammate but was picked off by Ours with 43 seconds on the clock. Senior was then content to run out the clock and head to halftime in a 14-all tie.
BHS didn’t need long in the third quarter to regain the lead. Josh Love picked up 48 yards on the first play of the Indians’ drive. Rohrig followed with a gain of 14 and personal foul face mask was tacked on to the end of his run to put the ball on the 7.
Hathaway struck again with his third TD of the game to put Bridgeport up 20-14.
Whitehair’s third TD pass came on a fourth down play as he found Gavin Michael from 10 yards out with 7:44 left in the third quarter. That’s where Jones’ blocked PAT came into play and set off the chain reaction of clutch defensive plays for the Tribe.
Following Culicerto’s interception, Love capped a nine-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown. Logan Anglin booted his first of two PAT kicks and the Indians led the rest of the way.
Rohrig went over 200 yards for the third time this season, finishing with 228 yards on 31 carries and two TDS (he now has nine on the season). He moved past Mark Gray on the all-time rushing yardage list in the modern era (since 1997) and now has 2,643 which is good for No. 8 on that list.
Love finished with 129 yards on 31 carries with the one TD and Hathaway added 75 yards on 13 carries to go along with his three TDs, the second time in as many weeks he has scored three times in a game.
The BHS defense limited Senior to 19 rushing yards. Through four games now, the Indians have allowed a total of 175 rushing yards.
Friday night’s win marks the fourth consecutive for the Tribe in the series that they now lead all-time, 34-14.
The Indians have another rivalry game on tap for next Week as they travel to face Robert C. Byrd.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Ford with his sack and force fumble late in the game, second photo features Hathaway looking for running room. Third photo is of Love leaping a Fairmont Senior defender. In the fourth photo Wes Brown Jr. (77) leads the way for another big play for the defense and in the bottom photo, Rohrig follows his blockers. Photos by Joe LaRocca.

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