FAIRMONT - There were no secrets or surprises. Frankfort knew entering the contest with Fairmont Senior on Friday that not only were they facing the defending class AA state champions, but that the Polar Bears had shown all year that they are fully equipped to repeat their state championship season from a season ago.

By Chapin Jewell
Tribune Correspondent
FAIRMONT - There were no secrets or surprises. Frankfort knew entering the contest with Fairmont Senior on Friday that not only were they facing the defending class AA state champions, but that the Polar Bears had shown all year that they are fully equipped to repeat their state championship season from a season ago.
In 11 prior contests, the closest anyone came to Fairmont Senior was Bridgeport, the second ranked team in class AA, and even the Indians fell 19 points short (34-15) of toppling the Polar Bears.  Despite Frankfort’s impressive and really season-best 58-12 trampling of Nicholas County in last week’s first round playoff game, Frankfort coach Kevin Whiteman knew in facing the defending state champions, “We’ve got to be ready from start to finish. We’re definitely going to have to be near perfect.”
The issue with having to play perfect or near perfect is that your ability to do so is determined not just by your own efforts, but those of your opponent as well. Despite Frankfort’s best efforts, and the effort was indeed a solid one, top-ranked Fairmont Senior would prove to be too much in their 31-7 defeat of the Falcons on Friday.
“I can’t say enough about the effort the kids gave. We were facing a very good football team, they are number one for a reason. We battled them for 48 minutes and didn’t quit. That’s really all you can ask,” Whiteman stated.
According to Whiteman, “Sometimes when you are losing to a better team it can be easy to lay down and not keep fighting. They knew we were there and that says a lot about our team.”
In Fairmont Senior, Frankfort faced a true juggernaut, and a team eager to get back to Wheeling Island to repeat as the West Virginia class AA state champions. At this point, Bluefield, and then the winner of the Bridgeport/Oak Glen matchup stand in their way.
“They are a very good AA football team, one of the better ones I’ve seen. They have size up front and they have a lot of speed and athleticism. The quarterback (Gage Michael) can hit you throwing the ball and running the ball. I really think he is the key to their team,” Coach Whiteman stated.  
The story of the game was the Polar Bears front seven and their ability to stymie, really snuff out, Frankfort’s potent running attack, the three-headed monster led by seniors Nick Marley, JJ Blank and Peyton Shanholtz that had given Frankfort’s opponents fits all year. Last week for example, Frankfort rushed for 439 yards against Nicholas County.
Against Fairmont Senior, Frankfort would muster only 154 yards of total offense, with 151 of those being rushing yards and three being through the air.  78 of those total offensive yards, just over half, came in the fourth quarter on Frankfort’s only scoring drive.
Nick Marley led the Frankfort running game with 76 yards on 14 carries along with the Falcons’ touchdown; Peyton Shanholtz was next, carrying the ball six times for 46 yards; JJ Blank carried the ball six times for 15 yards; The Jansen’s (Knotts and Moreland) each had 8 yards rushing on four and two carries respectively.
Jansen Knotts completed one pass in six attempts for the Falcons, a three-yard gain to JJ Blank.
This compares to the Polar Bear’s offensive production, which tallied a total of 371 offensive yards, more than twice Frankfort’s amount. It was a balanced offensive attack, with 186 yards coming on the ground and 185 through the air.
Kieshawn Cottingham led the Polar Bears’ rushing attack with 92 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries; quarterback Gage Michael was next, rushing four times for 41 yards and a touchdown.  
Michael also led Fairmont Senior in passing, completing 9 of 23 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. Four separate Polar Bears caught passes, with Camden Longwell catching the lone touchdown pass.
Fairmont Senior led in total first down 17 to five and each team committed seven penalties.
The Polar Bears got on the board first in the first quarter with a 13-yard passing strike from Gage Michael to Camden Longwell.  Frankie Smith’s kick gave the home team a 7-0 lead.
Kieshawn Cottingham (38 yards) and Gage Michael (5 yards) had Fairmont Senior’s two rushing touchdowns in the second quarter with Smith’s extra points giving the Polar Bears the 21-0 lead.  Smith then connected on a 21-yard field goal to close out the first half with the top-ranked team up 24-0 at the half.
The only scoring of the third quarter was Will Runyan’s scooping up a Frankfort fumble and returning it 12 yards for a touchdown, that along with Smith’s kick, gave the Polar Bears a 31-0 advantage.
Frankfort’s lone score of the night came on 12-yard touchdown run by Nick Marley, capping off a 78-yard drive. Brady Aldridge’s kick made the final score 31-7 in favor of Fairmont Senior.
Frankfort finishes the season with a highly respectable 9-3 record, and most importantly, with a return trip to the playoffs, after what had been a three-year playoff drought and three-straight losing seasons prior to the 2018 season.
The goal heading into this season for the Falcons was to not just make the playoffs, advance with a win or wins once getting there.  Mission accomplished. Frankfort not only qualified for the playoffs but earned the right to host a playoff game. In front of a packed house at Falcon Stadium, Frankfort had their best performance of the year, earned a playoff win, and advanced to take on the defending state champion and current top-ranked team.  
“I’m very happy with the season and the accomplishments of our team, especially the seniors who set high goals and worked very hard to try and attain them. This group came out every day striving to get better and making it to the final eight of teams in the state is something to be proud of,” Whiteman explained.
“Nine and three is a good season and for the size school we are I think we do pretty good. The last game is always difficult. You always develop a special bond with the players. Friday night was really emotional, I truly do love those boys like they are my own sons. They represented Frankfort High School, their families, and the community very well,” Whiteman expressed.
According to Whiteman, “It will be very hard to replace them with everything they brought to the table, both on and off the field.  It’s an honor to be called their coach.”
Last year, Frankfort’s program rose from the ashes, in the sense that they shook off the baggage of three straight losing seasons and made the playoffs, just reward for one heck of a turnaround season.  This year, Frankfort built on that success, taking things one step further in terms of success and signaling to everyone that the Falcons were right back where they belonged.