KEYSER, W.Va. — Make the reservations, pack the bags and get the car ready, Keyser. You have a date Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Thanks to Blake Ravenscroft and the steady, stingy Keyser defense, the Golden Tornado will be making its first trip to the Class AA state championship for the first time since 1969.
Ravenscroft scored three touchdowns and rushed for 237 yards on 13 carries to lead second-seeded Keyser to a 42-14 victory over the third seed Bridgeport Indians Friday afternoon at Alumni and Friends Stadium at Tornado Alley.
The Tornado (12-1), which defeated Winfield 21-20 in its last state championship appearance, will play top seed and undefeated Wayne Friday evening at 7:30 in Wheeling. The Pioneers (13-0) defeated Robert C. Bryd last night, 18-0.
Ravenscroft touched the ball three times in the first quarter and scored twice, staking Keyser to a 14-0 lead with 5:24 remaining in the opening 12 minutes.
It took the Golden Tornado one play from scrimmage to score. After forcing Bridgeport to punt from its 30-yard line after three plays on the game-opening possession, Amonte Turner fielded the punt at the Keyser 35, ran to the left, found a wall of blockers, and raced down the sideline before being stopped at the Indians 28. On the next play, Ravenscroft came to the right, broke up field through an opening, stepped out of a tackle near the five, barely regaining his balance as he crossed the goal line for the first touchdown with 9:36 left to play in the first quarter. Robert Horner made the first of his six extra points.
“It was kind of eerie,” said an elated Keyser head coach Sean Biser. “I told the coaches before the game, we need to get the coin toss, defer, hold them, make them punt, get a good return and that will set the tone for the game and then we’re going to score on the first drive. And that’s what happened.”
Bridgeport got a first down on its next drive, which began at its 18, before punting after four Brett Hathaway runs gained 17 yards. The punt was downed at the Keyser 25.
On the third play of the drive, Ravenscroft had the highlight run of the game as he broke through the line and headed to the end zone. He made three cuts, first to the left, then right, then left again stepping out of three tackles to complete the 67-yard touchdown run.
“They started coming across the field and I did what I had to do,” Ravenscroft said about his second touchdown.
“He’s got some wheels,” Biser said. “That first touchdown run was a testament to the weight room. Last year, he would have gotten tackled by that. This time, that kid had a hand on him and he ran right through it and was gone and made a great run, breaking a couple of tackles.”
Trailing by two touchdowns, the Indians, who had been held to 33 total yards and only two first downs in their first meeting in October at Keyser, a 25-0 loss, showed that wasn’t going to happen this time.
Bridgeport marched from its 34 to Keyser’s 15 in 11 plays before turning it over on downs at the 25 after Anthony Bonamico was caught behind the line for a 10-yard loss with 38 seconds remaining in the quarter. The Indians made four first downs — one on a 12-yard pass from Troy Anderson to fullback Cameron Stanley, an 11-yard run by Bonamico, an eight yarder by Hathaway and a five yarder by Stanley.
“From a coach’s perspective, those two touchdown runs, we were there,” said Bridgeport head coach Josh Nicewarner. “And that kid broke tackles, and hey, that’s a testament to him.
“We take pride in the fundamentals and when that ends up hurting us it’s a little hard to swallow. But all in all, I definitely feel we can at least say we gave them a lot better game this time.”
In a well-played, hard-fought contest, there were only six penalties — three by each side — that totaled 45 yards and two turnovers. Those occurred on the same play.
After forcing a three-and-out by Keyser at the start of the second quarter, Bridgeport moved from its 39 to Keyser’s 27 where it faced a fourth-and-seven. Following a time-out, Anderson fired a pass to his left only to see Keyser’s Wes Nelson pick it off and race toward the end zone. The Indians’ Hathaway gave chase and inside of the 10 caught up with Nelson, bringing his right arm down in a chop motion as he and Nelson fell to the ground. The the ball came out, rolled into the end zone and Hathaway crawled over and fell on it for the touchback.
Biser said he thought Nelson was down before he fumbled and questioned how the referee, who he said was at the 20, could tell when the ball came out.
With new life, the Indians only gained six yards and punted to the Keyser 49.
The Golden Tornado moved to the Indian 37 where Cody Eversole’s first pass was caught by J.R. Flint at the Bridgeport 10 and he, too, had to regain his balance while going into the end zone that gave Keyser a 21-0 halftime lead. Eversole finished with 50 yards passing, completing two of four attempts.
Keyser scored on its first possession of the second half when Ravenscroft took a handoff and raced around the right side and up the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown run that put Bridgeport in a 28-0 hole.
“It went well,” said Ravenscroft when asked if he had any idea in practice that he would have those kind of results. “We were looking forward to it and we completed what we wanted to.”
Bridgeport (9-3) finally scored against the Tornado on its next possession, marching from its 29 to the Tornado one where Stanley scored on a fullback dive. He finished with 27 yards on five carries. Hathaway did most of the work, gaining 41 yards on nine of the almost six-minute drive’s 13 plays. He finished as the Indians’ leading rusher, gaining 184 yards on 37 carries.
Keyser used up the rest of the quarter, moving from its 25 to the Indians’ one where Danny Fife scored on the first play of the fourth quarter. Fife finished with 72 yards on 12 carries and his 25th score of the season. He had a 20-yard run and Ravenscroft had gains of six, 21 and nine yards.
After Fife’s touchdown, Hathaway scored from the eight, completing the 57-yard drive. He gained all but two yards in the march, getting it started with a 34-yard run to Keyser’s 23.
On the Tornado’s ensuing drive, Ravenscroft came a yard short of his fourth touchdown when he was forced out at the one at the end of a 42-yard run. Austin Ravenscroft scored from there, on his only carry of the game, to complete the scoring with 6:11 to play.
With two minutes to go and the Keyser players congratulating each other with high fives and hugs, the Keyser crowd gave the team a standing ovation.
Seconds before the final horn, Biser received the obligatory water bath and the team celebrated on the field and began thinking about their next game — in Wheeling.
Jeff Landes is a sports writer for the Cumberland Times-News. He can be reached at email@example.com.