Bridgeport 3-peats after routing Rebels

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — Dylan Tonkery rushed for 157 yards, including a pair of 63-yard scoring runs, as two-time defending champion Bridgeport beat Tolsia 39-0 on Friday night for the Class AA championship.

Dante Bonamico added 61 yards and a touchdown for top-seeded Bridgeport (13-0-1) at Wheeling Island Stadium.

James Harris took the second-half kickoff 68 yards for a touchdown to start a 22-point quarter. The Indians’ Elijah Drummond had a 1-yard TD run.

Tolsia (12-2) was limited to a Class AA championship record-low 67 yards of offense. Bridgeport linebacker Chapin Murphy sacked Rebels quarterback Seth McMillon in the end zone for a safety.

Bridgeport won its sixth state title. Poca was the last school to win three straight Class AA titles from 2001-03.

It was Bridgeport’s fifth shutout of the season.

Third-seeded Tolsia made its second championship appearance in school history. The Rebels allowed more than 35 points four other times this season.

It’s also the ninth overall title for Bridgeport, which blasted Frankfort 43-7 in last year’s finals at Island Stadium.

“All of them have been different experiences,” said Indians coach Josh Nicewarner, “but this one took a lot of life out of me. Not only the expectations we set on ourselves, but since the last snap of last year’s game, everybody has been expecting us [to win] — preseason No. 1, No. 1 all year.

“These kids rise to the occasion and work their tails off in the offseason. We overcame some adversity and some injuries and saved our best for last.”

Tolsia, the No. 3 seed and the champion of the Cardinal Conference, came into the game averaging more yards rushing than the Indians (346-340), but never managed to break off the long gainers for which it became synonymous.

Luke Presley, who led the Rebels in rushing with 2,138 yards and 28 TDs coming into the game, was held to 16 yards on 12 carries. McMillion, another 1,000-yard rusher on the season, managed just 15 yards on 10 carries.

“We just couldn’t block them,” said Tolsia coach Mike Smith, “and that’s about all you can say about it. We just couldn’t block them. Obviously, they’re the best team we’ve seen all year. It’s evident that they’re the class of Double-A. A very, very great team.”

The Rebels started off with a blast as Presley returned the opening kickoff 36 yards to the Bridgeport 40, but Luke Southern forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate J.T. Harris.

Tonkery broke off his 63-yard TD run on Bridgeport’s third possession to make it 7-0, but the lead was only 14-0 at halftime. The Rebels forced a pair of first-half fumbles – Presley had his seventh recovery of the season at his own 2-yard line – and they were still in the game.

Tonkery was selected as his team’s MVP in a media vote for his two long touchdown runs. The first one was a seriously athletic move, as he was hit near the line of scrimmage and spun 180 degrees, but landed right back on his feet and took off for the end zone.

He said there was a feeling-out process early in the game as Bridgeport gauged Tolsia’s effectiveness.

“We didn’t really know who this team had played,” Tonkery said. ‘On film, they looked really tough. They looked similar to us. But it’s just like any other game – that’s how we treated it.”

Tonkery agreed with the assessment that the Indians have been performing at an entirely different level than the rest of double-A teams in the state – but only in title games. He pointed to last week’s narrow 28-20 win over Fairmont Senior in the playoff semifinals.

“Last week in the semifinals was a tough game,” Tonkery said, “and they were a tough team to play.”

Bridgeport got its other scores on a 24-yard run by Tonkery’s backfield mate, Dante Bonamico, a 1-yard run by fullback Elijah Drummond, Koby Kiefer’s 31-yard field goal and a third-quarter safety when Chapin Murphy sacked McMillion in his own end zone for a 10-yard loss.

Presley was selected as the Rebels’ MVP. Despite his lack of rushing yardage, he completed a 23-yard option pass, handled the punting duties, returned four kickoffs for 62 yards and was second on the team with nine tackles.

“Our kids played their guts out,” Smith said, “but they were just too much for us. They have a heck of a team, and it was a tough night for us. It’s not the result we wanted, but we’ll take this home and go back to work. We’ll be back. We drop down to Class Single-A next year.”

(Thanks to Rick Ryan of the Gazette-Mail for part of this story.)
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