WHEELING - Bridgeport's 14-13 win over Wayne in the Class AA state championship game Friday night gave the Indians seven state football titles, a number surpassed by only Parkersburg, Bluefield and Wheeling Central, among active programs.
What was different about Bridgeport's first state title since 2000 was its use of a freshman starter. In fact, 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker Mackenzie Holmes was the first ninth-grader to play the entire season with the Indians varsity since 1968.
Indians coach Josh Nicewarner must have had a hunch about Holmes when he made the decision to dress the youngster with his "A" team back in August. He sure came in handy Friday night.
With 7:09 left in the fourth quarter and the Indians clinging to the lead, Holmes got a finger on the back end of a Grant Ferguson pass just enough to send the ball skyward. Holmes followed the ball in the air, grabbed it and held on for an interception that was another blow to the body delivered in the prize fight of defensive heavyweights.
"In that coverage right there, I've got flats,'' Holmes said. "I saw the quarterback cock [his arm] back and I thought, 'This is my play right here, I've got to get it.' I saw the ball come up, I tipped it up just to try to get a deflection or something like that. Then the ball was in the air, so I caught it, and there it is.
"I felt like it turned the whole game around right there."
By the time the Pioneers (13-1) got the ball again, they were on their own 10-yard line and had just 4:59 to work with. Wayne burned its final timeout with 3:28 left, and though quarterback Grant Ferguson put them in striking distance of a score in the final minute, Anthony Bonamico batted down a pass from Ferguson intended for Mason Hodge in the end zone on the game's final play.
Holmes' interception came one play after Indians senior quarterback A.C. Caldera fumbled the ball away for what was Bridgeport's second lost fumble.