Frankfort posts memorable 41-35 victory in the 45th Mineral Bowl
KEYSER - For the sixth time in 45 Mineral Bowls played, the Falcons and Golden Tornado needed overtime to determine a winner, with Friday’s game tied 35-35 at the end of regulation.
In that overtime session, Frankfort got the ball first and scored a touchdown with the extra point no good. Keyser then got the ball and failed to score. The final tally was 41-35 in favor of Frankfort.
With the win, Frankfort gave head coach Kevin Whiteman his third win in the series in 11 tries, with the first two coming in 2009 and 2014. With the win, the Falcons elevated their Mineral Bowl record to 16-29, and 16-30 overall including the playoff game in 1997.
But there was way more at stake Friday night than just another win or loss in the all-time win column.
EVERYTHING was on the line Friday night when Frankfort and Keyser met to do battle. School pride, Mineral County bragging rights? Check. But more than that, the season was literally on the line. The winner would advance to the West Virginia class AA playoffs. The loser’s season would end.
True to projections, Frankfort, the 41-35 overtime victor, now advances to the playoffs as the 13th seed to play at fourth-seeded Lincoln in Shinnston this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Keyser, by contrast, finished the season with an overall record of 5-5 and ultimately finished in 19th position, three spots on the outside of the 16-team playoff field.
“I’m so happy right now, thank you Jesus, wow! That was a long time coming, I’m so glad for the kids,” an exuberant and relieved Frankfort coach Kevin Whiteman stated at midfield after the contest.
Frankfort scored the game’s first touchdown and held a 21-14 advantage at intermission. With the game deadlocked at 35-35 and literally seconds left on the clock, the Falcons lined up for what would have been a game-winning field goal. It was wide right, however, and Frankfort would need overtime to ultimately get the job done.
While Frankfort never trailed in the contest, a multitude of momentum shifts meant that when the Falcons would develop a lead, Keyser would respond by quickly evening up the score. The game was tied at 7-7, 21-21, 28-28, and 35-35 before Frankfort finally went up 41-35 for good in overtime.
“We were the underdog coming in. We were relentless, we didn’t quit, we kept battling. The tide turned back and forth, Keyser played a great game, and we were very fortunate to win the game,” Whiteman explained.
Personally, the last 12 months have been rough for Whiteman, who lost his beloved mother Camilla to COVID-19 the day after Christmas in 2020. The two were very close. While it’s been a struggle, Whiteman has also drawn inspiration from the memory of his mother.
“This one was pretty special. I’m not going to say it means any more than the other ones, but this one means a lot. My mom was with me tonight, I can feel it,” Whiteman explained.
“I’m probably the happiest man alive right now. We’re taking the Mineral Bowl back to Frankfort and it’s a great, great feeling. I can feel my mom with me, I prayed all day, and coming up I was crying coming up on the bus. I was looking at old pictures of her and I told her ‘you need to talk to God tonight and ask him to shine on the Falcons,’ and he did, it’s awesome,” Whiteman detailed.
It seems the Falcons saved their best performance for last. Despite the momentum shifts, the ups and the downs, Frankfort weathered the storm, and despite enormous pressure, never fell behind to the favored Tornado.
According to Whiteman, “It’s tough. That’s what I’m proud of. There have been games where we’ve gotten down and we haven’t kept the intensity up. And this one, we knew there was a lot riding on this game, and the kids just kept their intensity up the entire game and it paid off.”
Whiteman, in addition to the play of his players, was quick to give credit to his coaching staff, who he insists worked diligently to prepare an effective game plan.
“You know, our coaches meeting was six hours on Sunday, and I’m so glad, because there’s things that we did tonight that came out of that meeting,” Whiteman explained. “I’m just so proud of everyone. I’m happy for our community, I’m happy for our kids, and I’m just so happy to finally get this monkey off our back.”
Whiteman was asked what was most important about the win, prolonging the season with participation in the playoffs or simply just knocking off county-rival Keyser.
“Both of them. We want to be a playoff team every year. That was our goal coming in to make the playoffs, have a winning season, and we did all that. Winning the Mineral Bowl and all that is just the icing on the cake. But again, hats off to Keyser, they did a heck of a job, their coaches, their players, they did a heck of a job. It was a great game,” Whiteman stated.
According to Whiteman, “This is very satisfying. It’s awesome for the Frankfort community. We had a good crowd, I know the fans are very happy about this win.”
Then comes the emotional flipside of the coin. Epic, memorable games like this one are both a blessing and a curse. The winner experiences the highest highs of emotion. On the flipside, the loser experiences the lowest lows of emotion. It’s a shame there has to be a losing team in a game as quality as this one.
For Keyser coach Derek Stephen, there’s a range of emotions. There’s disappointment and pain from the loss and seeing Keyser’s season come to an end without a trip to the playoffs. That’s counter-balanced by a feeling of pride in his kids for a job well done and for giving it their all.
“It’s just like I told the kids, I thought they gave everything they had and then some. They just made a couple more plays late in the game than we did. Hats off to them, like you said, it was a great Mineral Bowl, it just stinks that it had to turn out this way for us,” Stephen detailed.
According to Stephen, “They gave me everything. I think we finally started clicking on offense. There was no big disciplinary stuff, we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, other than the one holding penalty, I think we made it up. They just made a few more plays than we did tonight.”
Keyser’ season concludes with an even, .500 record of 5-5. The Golden Tornado bested Berkeley Springs, Robert C. Byrd, Hampshire and Moorefield on the field, and received a forfeit COVID-related victory over Oak Glen. The Black and Gold posted losses to Northern, Point Pleasant, Allegany, Mountain Ridge and Frankfort.
Frankfort (6-4) now advances to the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The Falcons posted a first-round loss to Bridgeport in 2018, defeated Nicholas County in the first round in 2019 before falling to Fairmont Senior in the second round, and qualified for the playoffs in 2020 but had their game cancelled due to COVID.
The 2021 Mineral Bowl, the 45th Mineral Bowl overall, will surely go down in the annals of history as one of the most memorable contests in the storied rivalry.