MATEWAN -- The Matewan Tigers got an emotional victory Friday night as they defeated the Man Hillbillies, 42-20, in the last regular season home game at Tiger Stadium.
Justin Bradford scored five touchdowns and a two-point conversion to lead the Tigers over the visiting Hillbillies and the Matewan defense limited Man to just 128 yards rushing to get the win.
Matewan Coach Danny "Yogi" Kinder, who has been coaching the Tigers since 1986, said his team played hard.
"Man has a good football team, but we're a little tougher than we were last year," Kinder said. "Those little babies they thumped over there last year has grown up. These kids have worked hard. They have really improved with their attitudes and the way they play."
Man ground-pounded the ball six plays from their own 31-yard-line to reach pay dirt first. Derek Lomax scored the first touchdown of the game on a 45-yard jaunt at the 9:38 point in the first quarter to give Man a 6-0 lead.
The Tigers, though, were quick to answer.
Matewan took the kickoff down to their own 40-yard-line and Joe May carried the rock for a five-yard gain before breaking lose on the second play of the drive to score a 55-yard TD less than a minute after the Man score. The game was tied 6-6.
The Hillbillies were forced to punt on their next possession and that set up the next Matewan touchdown.
The Tigers started the six-play drive on their own 33 and marched down to the Man 5-yard-line and Bradford punched in the first of his touchdowns to make it 12-6 with 4:03 left in the first period.
The Hillbillies tied the game on the ensuing possession, as Lomax ran in the three-yard TD to make it 12-12 just eight seconds into the second quarter.
Matewan aided the Hillbillies in their touchdown-scoring drive by getting flagged five times for a total of 35 yards that helped move Man into the red zone and set up the touchdown.
After the two teams exchanged punts, Bradford broke free on a 75-yard run that took the ball down to the Man 1-yard-line. From there, Bradford scored his second TD and Nate Anderson booted the point after touchdown to give Matewan a 19-12 lead that would last until late in the third quarter.
The Tigers put some distance between them and the Hillbillies when Bradford scored an eight-yarder and Anderson kicked the PAT to make it 26-12 with 2:34 left in the third, but Man's Cody Frye took the kickoff near the Man sideline, fumbled and recovered the ball, zipped through six Matewan tacklers and ran down the Matewan sideline for an 85-yard touchdown. Cody Owens then ran untouched into the end zone for the two-point conversion and the Hillbillies were back in the game. Matewan led by a slim margin, 26-20.
On their next drive, the Tigers chewed up a lot of clock, taking the game deep into the fourth quarter and scoring on the 16th play of the possession.
Bradford scored on a one-yard run and Matewan Quarterback Cody Centers passed to May for the two-point conversion to make it 34-20 with seven minutes remaining in the game.
Man couldn't get the first down on its next possession and turned the ball over to the Tigers on downs on the Matewan 40. From there, the Tigers ran three plays with the last resulting in Bradford's fifth touchdown, a 35-yarder at the 3:16 mark in the fourth. Centers hit Bradford with the two-point conversion pass to put the icing on the cake.
"My kids played really hard," Kinder said. "I'm proud of them."
Matewan rolled up 408 yards of offense on the ground on 56 carries and three yards in the air for 411 total yards.
Bradford led the Tigers with 229 yards, five touchdowns on 30 carries and a two-point conversion reception. May was next with 162 yards and a TD on 17 carries and a two-point conversion catch. Centers ran the ball seven times for 17 yards. Austin Reed ran the ball twice for the Tigers. Anderson scored two PATs.
Centers completed 1-of-5 passes for three yards and an interception. on defense, Reed and Paul Hammond each got a fumble recovery, while May and Jacob Staten each broke up passes.
With the win, Matewan locks up homefield advantage for the upcoming playoffs, which start next week.
Man was led by Lomax with 59 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Owens ran the ball seven times for 32 yards and a two-point conversion. Quarterback Shane Browning carried the ball 10 times for 28 yards and completed 2-of-10 passes for 38 yards. James Duba caught a pass for a 33-yard gain and ran the ball twice for nine yards.
Duba picked off a Matewan pass.
"They took it to us," Man Coach Harvey Arms said. "They outplayed us and they ran right at us."
Matewan Assistant Coach John Fry was very emotional following the win. Fry started out with the Tigers in the late 1980s as a team manager when he was just three years old walking the sidelines with his dad, the late John Fry Sr. He has been with the Tigers ever since and said playing the last regular season game at Tiger Stadium was bittersweet.
"I thank God that I was able to be a Matewan Tiger all my life," Fry said. "I got to know Coach Kinder and he got me to fall in love with the game of football. There's a lot of men on my mind tonight, all the old players who are gone, like my father, John, who is in Heaven, and Blaine Pruitt, Roger May and Coach Kinder's dad, Malcolm. There's nothing like Matewan football. All these guys are a family. No matter how far we move away nor what is going on, Matewan football always brings this community back together. It will never die, because it will live in our hearts forever. Coach Kinder has been an inspiration for so many young men. If it wasn't for him, all these people here tonight wouldn't
have all these wonderful memories. They need to get one right and give him the coaching job at the new school, because look what he's built here. We are a single-A school and we have the best facility in West Virginia. This is beautiful. And I want to thank our principal, Marcella Charles, because she is the hardest working principal in the county."
Fry said the Tigers made a complete turnaround from the team that had a severe meltdown at Man last year.
"These guys have come such a long way. We came out of the pits of Hell last year," Fry said. "The character is the difference in this whole team."
It was alumni night and more than 1,000 people attended the game and festivities before and afterwards. Following the win, former Matewan athletes joined with current players and cheerleaders to walk the field one last time.
"I'm proud of all my old football players who came back here tonight," Kinder said with tears in his eyes. "I think everyone of them that played for me was here. I really appreciate that. We started this thing with Butch Pope, Kevin Starr and Timmy Dixon and those guys and they were all right here tonight. I look around and see Harley Hall and Melvin Cunningham and big Sid Cisco and we were all thinking about (the late)Richard Allara. It was great that we could all come back here and win this last football game."
Alumni football, basketball, softball and baseball players were all announced during the breaks between quarters and a video by Greg Adkins was shown at halftime of photos of the Matewan seniors. Former Matewan football players gave a pep talk to the team before the game. Following the contest, Matewan alumni gathered in the high school cafeteria for a dinner. The cafeteria was packed to capacity with Matewan grads who came from Virginia, North Carolina and all across the country to attend the final game.
It was also senior night for the Tigers and all 12th-grade football players, cheerleaders, flag girls and band members were brought onto the field and announced in front of the packed stadium.
Ironically, Matewan's final home game in Tiger Stadium ended much like it started. The Tigers beat Huntington Vinson, 42-20, in their first game in Tiger Stadium after they left the old O'Brien Park in 1986.
Next year, Matewan, Burch, Williamson and Gilbert will all be consolidated under one new school.
(Logan Banner Correspondent Jerry Fekete also contributed to this report.)