WHEELING - A calculated risk gave Bridgeport the early lead, and its defense dug down and made it pay off.
Quarterback A.C. Caldera broke off a pair of long touchdown runs in the first half Friday night and the Indians held Wayne out of the end zone on multiple occasions afterward to earn a 14-13 victory in the Class AA title game played on a snow-covered turf field at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The victory gave the second-seeded Indians (13-1) their seventh state championship and the first since 2000. It also denied No. 1 Wayne (13-1) a third straight crown and broke the Pioneers' 36-game winning streak.
"I'm as happy as I can be,'' said a tearful Caldera, whose 38- and 21-yard scoring runs in the second quarter put Bridgeport in front at halftime 14-13.
"This is the happiest I've ever been in my life. This team . . . we fought all season. We've been a family. It just feels great to be in this moment right now.''
The play that actually stuck the Indians in front was a 2-point conversion following Caldera's second TD run that came with nine seconds left before halftime. Tailback Anthony Bonamico crashed into the end zone to turn a 13-12 deficit into a 14-13 advantage.
That touchdown was set up by one of three uncharacteristic turnovers by Wayne. Few of the thousands of frosted fans could have imagined that neither team would score the rest of the night, and Wayne twice threatened in the second half.
The Pioneers took the second-half kickoff and plowed downfield from their own 8 to the Bridgeport 12 in 13 plays, but fullback Mason Hodge was tackled for no gain on fourth-and-2 by linebacker Tyler Morgan.
Wayne's final possession, a 14-play march, also looked promising as it moved from its own 10 to the Bridgeport 22 in the final minute.
However, a penalty and a sack of quarterback Grant Ferguson backtracked the ball to the 34, and Ferguson's floater into the end zone intended for Hodge on the last play was batted down, securing the victory and sending the Indians into a dogpile in the south end zone snowpile.
"The defense won this ballgame,'' said Indians coach Josh Nicewarner. "Undoubtedly, as good as their offense was. We bent but didn't break. That's the story of the night. I'd like to tell you we've been doing this all year, but this is by far the toughest [opponent].''
Bridgeport managed to win despite picking up just one first down and 36 net yards in the second half. Wayne ran 40 plays to the Indians' 14 following the break.
"There was not a whole lot of time for possessions,'' Nicewarner said. "We had a lot of third-and-long situations, and we don't get those very often. We never could get anything going. I'm proud of this team - the coaches did a phenomenal job.''
Wayne had the lion's share of stats when the game ended - 312 net yards to Bridgeport's 181.
Hodge, selected as his team's MVP in a media vote, gained 102 yards on 19 carries and scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter. Ferguson ran for 85 yards on 16 carries and hit on 5 of 10 passes for 67 yards, including a nifty 35-yarder to Kurt Langdon-Arthur with 7:09 left in the first half that extended the Pioneers lead to 13-6.
The extra-point kick following that TD, however, was partially blocked and went wide, giving Bridgeport a small opening to sneak through. And that's what the Indians eventually did.