WHEELING — In the latest installment of the tortoise versus the hare, consider a good portion of the state shell-shocked.
Carson Winkie bulldozed his way for 200 yards and all three of his team’s touchdowns on 43 carries Friday night as Bridgeport rallied for a 21-14 victory against big-play Bluefield in the Class AA title game at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The win avenges a pair of losses for the Indians against the Beavers in the playoff semifinal round the last two seasons.
Winkie’s 1-yard run with 6:47 left in the game and his ensuing 2-point conversion put the No. 2 seed Indians in front for good, and Bridgeport rebuffed three final possessions by the No. 4 Beavers (12-2), never letting them cross midfield.
Bridgeport, which only threw one pass that resulted in a defensive penalty, ran 62 times for 269 yards and dominated the time of possession nearly 2-to-1 (31:56 to 16:04) with long, deliberate drives.
“We knew they had a big line,’’ Winkie said, “but the thing about Bridgeport football that people don’t really understand is the physicality we bring for four quarters. Our line did an amazing job, and that’s the only reason I did a great job.’’
Bluefield led 14-7 early in the third quarter when Carson Deeb and Brandon Wiley hooked up for their second longball of the game, this one from 61 yards. Earlier, Wiley hauled in a 59-yard scoring pass from Deeb.
But while Bluefield’s two scoring “drives’’ consumed a total of just 2 minutes, 44 seconds, Bridgeport’s three touchdown possessions out of its traditional stick-I offense chewed up long stretches off the clock — 8:11, 6:26 and 7:25.
“It’s ball control. They kept the ball away from us,’’ said Beavers coach Fred Simon. “We had penalties that hurt us and we had that fumble down at the goal line [in the first quarter]. Still, they just moved the ball on us and we couldn’t stop them. If you get up on them, you don’t have to worry about that. It is what it is.’’
Following Winkie’s winning TD run, Bluefield got to midfield and it looked like Deeb and Wiley connected again on a deep throw for a touchdown, but Wiley was called for offensive pass interference and the Beavers eventually had to punt it back, facing fourth-and-42 from their own 18.
Bridgeport even survived the first video review sequence in Super Six history when Winkie fumbled the ball at the Bluefield 34 with 2:40 left in the game. The Indians challenged the ruling, saying Winkie’s knee hit the ground before he lost the ball, but replay confirmed the call and the Beavers took over.
It was a big turnaround for the Indians on the ground, as they were held to 109 yards last year in a 35-14 loss at Bluefield in the state semifinals. The previous season, Bridgeport fell 37-14, again at Bluefield, in the semifinal round.
“Our kids really worked hard,’’ said Bridgeport coach John Cole. “In the off-season, we knew we had to get strong. We run the football. That’s what we do. So if you’re going into 2019 when everyone else is working out, you’ve got to work a little harder, and this group did.
“We won this game on the line of scrimmage, and not only with the line but with the backs blocking. Yeah, they out-athleted us on a couple plays but after that [the assistant coaches] made some adjustments on defense, and we finally started to get a little heat on that quarterback, and that was huge. That was a tired bunch. I think we were in better shape, too. But beating them up front and the backs blocking won the ballgame.’’
Deeb completed 11 of 19 passes for 234 yards with one interception and was sacked once. Wiley caught four passes for 150 yards with the two scores and had 12 total tackles on defense. He was selected as his team’s MVP in a media vote, while the 6-foot-3 220-pound Winkie was chosen for Bridgeport.
As a linebacker, Winkie had seven tackles.
The first half was over in well under an hour as long possessions were the norm, helped along by just two penalties and one punt.
The game was tied at 7 and each team missed a golden opportunity with a fumble deep in the opponent’s end on its first drive — Bridgeport at the Bluefield 24-yard line and the Beavers from inside the Indians 1.
Bluefield running back J.J. Davis finished with 18 carries for 76 yards.
Bridgeport got on the board first with a 15-play, 80-yard drive capped by a Winkie 5-yard run with 5:55 left until halftime. Only 85 seconds later, Bluefield caught up on a 59-yard Deeb pass to Wiley.
Winkie had 19 carries for 97 yards in the first half. Deeb was 5 of 6 passing for 103 yards.