Oct. 2—FAIRMONT — The Fairmont football team has had a few chances for coach Lonnie Cox's first win since coming home to his alma mater.
On homecoming — apropos perhaps — they finally finished one off.
The Golden Tornadoes earned a 20-8 win over East Bladen, snapping a nine-game losing streak.
"We've been right there the whole time," Cox said. "Led Westover for three quarters; we were a few plays away from taking down a good team in Lake View, and then last week at West Bladen we just made so many critical mistakes, mental mistakes early.
"Football is the greatest team game on earth, but it really boils down to a bunch of individual players doing their job on every single play to make it work. And I thought we did a much better job of that tonight. I thought we moved the ball effectively all night on offense; we've just got to learn to finish in situations like we did on that last methodical drive in the fourth quarter."
That drive was a seven-play, 47-yard scoring drive that took over four minutes off the clock and ended in a touchdown that increased Fairmont's lead from 14-8 to its final margin.
"Just execute and manage the time on the clock (was the goal)," said Fairmont quarterback Cameron Sweat, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 97 yards. "The O-line did good making holes for Armon (Houston) and we got in the end zone."
Houston, who rushed for 80 yards on 15 carries to lead the Golden Tornadoes (1-5, 1-2 Southeastern Athletic Conference), had 28 yards on that drive alone, including a 2-yard touchdown run with 4:30 remaining. The extra-point kick was no good, but the damage had been done.
"It was great to score and put it away, but I couldn't have done it without my O-line and my team," Houston said. "I'm so proud of the coaches for staying here and believing in us, throughout the whole process, throughout the ups and downs, the coaches have been here for us no matter what. All the blaming, they blame on them; they've just been there for us through the whole process."
East Bladen (2-4, 1-1 Southeastern) moved the ball slowly on the ensuing drive — far too slowly for a team down two scores — and ultimately was intercepted by Fairmont's Savonte McKeithan, who nearly returned the pick for a touchdown as time expired, kickstarting a Tornado celebration.
That was the fifth forced turnover by the Fairmont defense, who didn't allow a point as East Bladen's only touchdown came on a fumble recovery.
"(Defensive coordinator) Eric Gould works so hard with our defensive unit and with our kids, and while I believe this was a total team win, our defense gave us a huge opportunity tonight to win, and they've really done that several games this season," Cox said. "I just can't say enough about Coach Gould and how hard he works and how much attention to detail that he puts into this defense to make this successful."
Fairmont took the lead in the second quarter on the second of those takeaways. Derrick Baker appeared to have stripped the ball from an East Bladen ball carrier, and was running with no Eagles in front of him towards the end zone, but the officials ruled the runner's forward progress was stopped before the ball came loose. On the very next play, Baker stripped the Eagles again and ran 40 yards for the go-ahead touchdown; Houston's two-point conversion run made it 14-8 with 7:52 left in the first half.
"I just felt like I had part of my dad with me," said Baker, whose father died Tuesday. "So that made me push, and I felt unstoppable tonight. I just felt like I couldn't be bullied."
"I looked at Coach Gould on the sideline and said I believe God blessed us there, and he looked back and me and said 'God don't like ugly,' and he winked at me," Cox said. "He said it was probably a scoop-and-score on the last play, but the good Lord made sure he got it right for us."
Baker also rushed for 47 yards on 11 attempts.
Fairmont recovered an East Bladen fumble on the game's opening drive, but fumbled back to the Eagles four plays later; Jordan Mathis returned that fumble 94 yards for the game's opening touchdown. The two-point conversion run gave the Eagles an 8-0 lead.
Fairmont answered on its next drive when Sweat found John Poe for a 15-yard touchdown; the conversion failed, making it 8-6 with 6:38 left in the first quarter.
Baker's fumble recovery touchdown came two Eagle drives later, and the teams exchanged turnovers on downs before a Jaylen Davis interception just before the half ensured the Golden Tornadoes would take the lead to intermission.
Fairmont turned it over on downs on its first second-half drive but a fumble recovery by Poe halted what had been a promising East Bladen drive at around midfield. After Fairmont punted, the Golden Tornadoes forced an East Bladen turnover on downs at the Eagles' 42-yard line with 8:44 remaining before their drive to go up two scores.
The Golden Tornadoes have a bye next week before traveling to Red Springs on Oct. 15.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.