For a school with three state football championships and four appearances in its rich history, 43 years is a long time to wait to get back to that potential lofty status.
On Friday afternoon, Keyser, led by ninth-year head coach Sean Biser, put an end to the state championship journey drought with a convincing 42-14 victory over the Bridgeport Indians, no stranger themselves to state championships, with six titles in seven appearances. The Indians’ first title came in 1955 (Class A) followed by championships in 1972 and 1974 (Class AAA), and 1986, 1988 and 2000 (Class AA). Bridgeport lost in the 2001 AA title game.
Keyser’s titles, under legendary coach Fred “Tack” Clark, were won in Class A in 1956 and Class AA in 1962 and 1969. The loss followed his first championship team in 1957, 14-13 to Vinson in Class A.
So coach, how does it feel to be the second bald man to take a Keyser football team to the state championship game?
“That’s right,” Biser laughed shortly after pacing the sidelines at Alumni and Friends Stadium at Tornado Alley. “To even be mentioned in the same breath as the first guy is pretty special especially for me coming from Keyser and knowing what that’s all about — knowing about Coach Clark and how influential he was and how every coach that comes to Keyser is going to be compared to Coach Clark.
“It’s very special, especially being an alum and playing at Keyser. My family played at Keyser, my kids play at Keyser so it means a lot to me.”
So how did Keyser do it?
In the regular-season meeting against Bridgeport, then rated No. 2 in the state to Keyser’s fourth-place standing, the Golden Tornado thoroughly dominated, holding the Indians to only two first downs and 33 total yards while scoring a touchdown in each quarter for a methodical 25-0 victory.
On Friday, it was early big plays that continued to be the postseason theme for the Golden Tornado, which led 14-0 after the first quarter. In three playoff games, all at home, Keyser has been up 73-0 after the first 12 minutes.
“We scored on such big plays in the first half, we didn’t really have a chance to get a rhythm going and find the one thing that was working,” Biser said.
The first two big plays belonged to junior Blake Ravenscroft. He scored on a 28-yard run on the Tornado’s first play from scrimmage and its fourth, a 73-yard highlight-reel run. He touched the ball three times in the first quarter for 102 yards.
Keyser only had the ball for 2:18 of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Cody Eversole, on his first pass attempt of the game, hit J.R. Flint on a 37-yard touchdown pass.
At halftime, Keyser led 21-0 even though it only had four first downs (three came on the scoring plays) and possessed the ball for less than a third (7:02) of the half’s 24 minutes.
“The defense played great,” Biser said. “The offense struggled a little bit in the first half. We put points on the board but they were big plays more than anything. With the adjustments we made in the second half, we were able to come out and just bash, bash, bash and ground the ball at them and then hit them with a couple of wide plays once they started sucking to the inside — that was huge.”
It didn’t look that way at first. Receiving the kick to start the second half, Ravenscroft, who finished with 243 yards on 14 carries, struck again, this time racing up the right sideline for 55 yards on the team’s fifth play, thus putting the game out of reach at 28-0.
From here, things evened out as the teams exchanged touchdowns on drives of 71 and 57 yards for Bridgeport and two 75 yarders for Keyser. The Tornado also gained a slight edge in time, holding the ball for 12:46 to the Indians’ 11:14. Keyser outgained the Indians 390-294, with a 340-199 edge in rushing.
“They did what they do well,” said Bridgeport head coach Josh Nicewarner. “They spread the wealth between 20 (Ravenscroft) and 33 (Danny Fife, who had 71 yards on 12 carries and a one-yard touchdown). They do a good job of spreading that around.
“They get so many guys to the point of attack (defensively) its just amazing and unfortunately for us, they’re probably as young or younger than we are so its probably going to make for a nice matchup next year.”
Who knows? Maybe it won’t be another 43 years before Keyser returns to the state championship.
Jeff Landes is a sportswriter for the Cumberland Times-News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.