Local Sports, Preston, Sports

Preston faces tall task against No. 6 Bridgeport

KINGWOOD — Mark Deep looks at a football team like Bridgeport and dreams of the day he can help take Preston to that level. Deep, the first-year Knights head coach, helped lay the foundation for the Preston County program for the past seven years as a coach at the middle school level.

For now, the winless Knights look to stun the state by knocking off the unbeaten Bridgeport Indians on Friday in Harrison County.

Bridgeport is 6-0 and checks in at No. 6 in the current WVSSAC Class AAA rankings. 

“That’s what we need to be,” Deep said. “That’s what we want to become. When you play a program like Bridgeport, you can look at them and tell the kids that this is what we need to be. If we’re going to build our program, we need commitment. That’s all it takes.

“We can do it here at Preston but we need that commitment and dedication just like everyone else does. They’re ranked every year, they’re in the playoffs every year. That’s what we want to be doing in the future.”

This is Preston’s second-consecutive, somewhat normal week. Last Thursday, the Knights fell to North Marion 31-12, after not having played since Sept. 10. It was a close game with the Huskies early on but things got away from the Knights in the second half.

“There were some mistakes and, yeah, the score was 31-12 but we competed with them,” Deep said.

North Marion scored a touchdown on a punt return and another on a pick-six, which doomed the Knights. 

“Take those away and it’s a 19-12 game,” Deep said. “We were in it. The kids saw, firsthand, that they can compete.”

It was encouraging, Deep said, especially because the players and coaches could not gather in-person for an extended time. Classes and extracurricular activities were shuttered for two weeks in September due to rising COVID-19 cases in the area. Distance and e-learning, which had been the norm in 2020, returned again for the students, including the football players.

“We weren’t allowed to do anything in person,” Deep said. “That was the tough part. Anything we could do virtually and on Hudl, we did. For those two weeks, all in-person contact was not allowed.”

The Knights practiced for three days before taking on North Marion last week.

“Maybe the time off helped,” Deep said. “Because our guys we focused and ready to play.”

Standouts for the team included Ethan Harper who carried 32 times for 120 yards and two rushing touchdowns and Zach Blosser who had 13 total tackles and a pass deflection.

Deep noted that quarterback Trevor Thomas “managed the game well” and that the offensive line “played really well.”

“Defensively, Gage Lance, Tyler Jeffries, Jacob Jennings and Todd Fraley really played well,” Deep said. “I’m proud of the focus our team has after showing up last week. We’re improving.”

This year, Bridgeport has wins against Buckhannon-Upshur, Morgantown, Liberty, Fairmont Senior, Robert C. Byrd and East Fairmont. The Indians focus on a powerful rushing attack as 16 players have at least one carry. Cameron Cole leads the way with 62 carries for 652 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Cole is also the team’s quarterback but has attempted only 11 passes this season.

Landyn Reppert has 58 carries for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, the Indians have forced five fumbles this season with two interceptions. They have also recorded 17 tackles for a loss with Charlie Brazier standing out as the team’s leading tackler.

“I don’t lie to our guys, they know what we’re up against,” Deep said. “They’re sixth in the state for a reason. They’re a good team and they run a good system down there. We have to be ready for them.”

Bridgeport is also led by a first-year head coach, Tyler Phares. The Elkins native and EHS grad was an offensive coordinator at his alma mater and also served as an assistant at Morgantown and William Cambell (Va.) before coming back to North Central West Virginia.