Fairmont’s first trip to the playoffs in nearly a decade could hardly have started better — or ended worse.
The Firebirds scored on their first two possessions, twice taking seven-point leads at Hilliard Bradley on Friday night.
The second-seeded Jaguars showed why they were undefeated in the regular season, though, taking the best shots Fairmont had and powering into the second round of the playoffs with a 49-14 win Friday night.
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“We made a lot of mistakes,” Fairmont coach Dave Miller said. “They tightened down on defense like good teams do. That’s why they’re 10-0 and advancing to the next round. We looked like a team that just got in the playoffs for the first time. We’ve got a lot of growing up to do. I’m proud of our kids, though. They hung in until the end, kept battling. We’ve gotta get a lot better. That’s all there is to it.”
David Stamer ran for 158 yards and a touchdown while Kennon Burroughs added 80 yards for the Firebirds.
Fairmont (7-4) came out firing, taking the opening kickoff and driving 67 yards for a score in less than two minutes.
Stamer took a pitch from Braden Miller then fired downfield to Ryan Hall for the first score of the game, a 33-yard lightning bolt that put the underdogs on top 7-0 early.
Bradley answered quickly, driving 60 yards for a game-tying score on a 3-yard run by Grant Buehl.
Undaunted, the Firebirds came right back, going 60 yards themselves — all on the ground this time.
Stamer took an option pitch and found all kinds of green grass before cutting off a block downfield and sprinting into the end zone from 39 yards out to put Fairmont back on top.
Asher Rohm’s PAT kick gave the Firebirds a 14-7 lead with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.
Making just their second playoff appearance (2008 was the other), they looked like they could cook up and upset.
That lead was short-lived, though, as Daevon Anderson got behind the Firebird secondary and Josh Stewart found him for a 41-yard score.
Stewart was hit-and-miss early on, but he started to find holes in the Fairmont defense on a 70-yard scoring drive late in the second quarter as the Jaguars drove for what turned out to be the deciding touchdown.
He went 5 for 6 as the Jaguars marched inside the 10-yard line, and his 5-yard run set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Jack Richards that gave the hosts a 21-14 lead with 3:46 to go in the half.
Fairmont started the second half with an onside kick that was awarded to the home team after a scramble for the ball.
That set up a 47-yard touchdown drive for the hosts capped when Stewart hooked up with Kory Taylor from 9 yards out to give the Jaguars a 28-14 lead.
“You get here and you’ve gotta play football,” Miller said. “You’ve got to play four quarters. We came out for about a half and we played pretty well. Not getting the onside kick there, I guess that was a huge gamble. If we get it we look like geniuses, I guess. We had a really good shot at it.”
His team had a hard time getting any traction in the second half as the Bradley defense started to get a handle on Fairmont’s triple-option offense.
After watching his team gather in the end zone to sing with the Firebirds band one last time this season, Miller was ready to look ahead to 2018.
“Get better,” he said. “We’ve got to come back to work. We did a lot of good things this year. We just tonight didn’t do enough of ‘em, and that’s a good team. They’re really good. Hats off to them.”