Sep. 4—FAIRMONT — The Fairmont football team jogged to the end zone and huddled after Friday's game against Westover as a team that had lost 41-12 to the Wolverines, but as a team that had shown growth and improvement from their previous outing two weeks earlier.
And Golden Tornadoes coach Lonnie Cox let his team know how proud he was of them.
"We're not making excuses; I've got a little saying I got from (Scotland Coach Richard) Bailey and Coach (Cory) Johnson at Clinton, no B.C.D. — we're not going to blame, complain and defend," Cox said. "But we've got depth issues, in comparison to these 3A football teams we're playing, and I'm just proud of these kids. I don't think the score represents what kind of football game this was; I thought it was a physical football game. I thought that both teams were really competitive and got after each other.
"Even though the scoreboard didn't end up the way we wanted it tonight, I'm proud of our kids; we're taking steps forward and the Fairmont Golden Tornadoes are going to be OK."
That's not to say there's not still plenty for the Golden Tornadoes (0-2) to fix moving forward — and among those issues is the punting game, including long snapping. Westover's last four touchdowns came after a Fairmont punt attempt went poorly in one way or another, giving the Wolverines (2-0) strong field position for the ensuing drives.
"This is on me; we've got to do a better job coaching this," Cox said. "I don't think people realize that football really comes down to the little details, and we've got to work on some long snapping. That cost us a little bit against White Oak — not as much as it did tonight — but we gave Westover a lot of good field position that they shouldn't have had. But hey, that's something we've got to work on, and we're going to get better."
Fairmont led 12-8 at halftime, playing evenly with the Wolverines over the first 24 minutes. Westover ultimately outgained Fairmont 303-83 for the game, but that mark was closer in the first half at 140-115.
"I thought our kids were much better-conditioned — I think that would be evident to anybody watching this game tonight — in comparison to how we played against White Oak," Cox said. "Our kids have been working really hard in practice, and really pushing themselves through some really hard conditioning drills we've been doing."
The Golden Tornadoes scored on their opening drive on a 27-yard pass from Cameron Sweat to Savonte McKeithan; the two-point conversion was no good and Fairmont led 6-0. The Fairmont defense forced a turnover on downs and a punt on Westover's first two drives, before Jansen Gibbs scored on a 20-yard run with 8:45 left in the second quarter. A two-point conversion pass gave Westover an 8-6 lead.
Fairmont answered on the first play of the next drive with a 41-yard run by Armon Houston to take a 12-8 lead 8:32 before halftime; the two-point attempt failed.
Houston rushed nine times for 77 yards — six times for 85 yards and the touchdown in the first half — in a breakout performance for the senior.
"(Houston is a) 100% club guy; he showed up every day this summer, came to me and said 'coach, I'm all in,' and he just keeps giving me everything he's got every single day," Cox said. "Armon is really a model student in this high school; he's more than just a great football player, he's a great student, he's a great role model for these young kids, and Armon Houston's a guy that can really put a stamp on this program and make a difference going forward."
Westover turned the ball over on downs on its next two drives, and the half expired on the following possession.
Each team punted on its opening second-half drive before Westover drove 56 yards to score on a 15-yard Kaivaughn Spence run to take a 14-12 lead with 3:12 left in the third; the two-point conversion attempt — a fake field goal — failed.
The first of the Fairmont punting mishaps led to an 18-yard touchdown pass from Joshua Jones to Jamari Stallion for a 21-12 lead with 16 seconds left in the third. A blocked punt on the next Golden Tornadoes drive led to a 31-yard run by Jones two plays later to score and extend the Westover lead to 28-12 with 11:23 remaining.
Still within two possessions, Fairmont's next drive reached Westover territory before an incomplete pass on a punt attempt. After a Westover punt, two more botched punts by Fairmont led to a pair of one-play scoring drives for Westover over the last four minutes — a 25-yard run by Spence and a 7-yard run by Tayvon Gurley — to make it 41-12.
Fairmont plays one more 3A opponent in nonconference play next week at Southern Lee before beginning conference in the Southeastern Athletic Conference — and Cox thinks once his team plays fellow 2A schools they can show in the results how much they've already improved in his first season.
"I know that we're making strides and I know that this team is growing together," Cox said. "And we're going to build together, and when we get to conference play we're going to give people some issues."
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.