Fairley head coach Fred Copeland has the look – albeit a wet one – of a winning coach in a big game. (Photo: Terry Davis)

Twice this season, the title-hungry Fairley Bulldogs had a chance to rack up a win by way of forfeit and each time they decided to reschedule a game with a team that had an open week.

The Bulldogs went 1-1 in those games, losing 29-22 last week to Trinity Christian Academy of Jackson, Tennessee.

In a game of great importance to both teams, Fairley hosted their neighborhood rival – the Mitchell Tigers – at JP Freeman Stadium last Friday (October 8), holding on for a 18-12 victory. The win in the Class 2A Region 8 District battle secured a playoffs spot for the Bulldogs (8-1,6-0 District). 

Mitchell will have to finish in the top four to qualify for postseason play.

Fairley and Mitchell grinded it out in the trenches. (Photo: Terry Davis)

Fairley is ranked No. 13 in the state in Max Prep Class 2A rankings. Head coach Fred Copeland is in his second year at Fairley and his first coaching after COVID forced last season’s cancellation.

The difference in the game literally came down to one play, the first play of the game. Sophomore Malik Mason returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. That six-point score was the margin of victory.

Mitchell (5-2, 3-2 District) scored on a 6-yard run touchdown by Jalen Vardaman. 

In control of the line of scrimmage, Fairley scored 12 unanswered points, taking a commanding lead into the fourth quarter.

The Tigers were determined. They mounted a drive – keyed by a 46-yard run by quarterback Antonio Jenkins – that yielded a touchdown with 4:35 left in the game.  The Bulldogs did not allow the Tigers to mount another drive in the time remaining.

Nelly Price made key plays for Fairley on defense (an interception) and as quarterback. (Photo: Terry Davis)

The Bulldogs had 175 rushing yards, with Mason gaining the bulk (104). Nelly Price made essential plays as quarterback and on defense, where he played defense and intercepted a pass.

Mitchell’s Jenkins had 93 rushing yards and 118 passing yards but had two interceptions. Penalty yards (65) hurt the Tigers.

Fairley will have the week off before playing at Freedom Prep on Oct. 22. Mitchell will host Oakhaven on Friday (Oct. 15).

Fairley head coach Fred Copeland

Fairley head coach Fred Copeland has the Bulldogs in the hunt for post-season glory. (Photo: Terry Davis)

“Good game played by Mitchell, but our kids came out and executed. I feel good to continue the win that coach Robinson (Gene) had on those guys. This is the fourth straight year we have won.”

He called Mason, who scored the opening touchdown, “one of the best guys in the state. He is one of the best guys around. He is our rock. We live and depend on Malik.”

Staying grounded is paramount for Fairley.

“We are just keeping it week to week,” said Copeland. “We are going to come back on Monday and we will move on to our next opponent.”

Mitchell head coach Nathan Cole

Mitchell head coach Nathan Cole and the Tigers still are eyeing the playoffs. (Photo: Terry Davis)

“They just wanted it more than we did. The little things are what hurt us. That’s where the ninth graders come in at and a first-year quarterback,” said Mitchell head coach Nathan Cole.

“This season is not over. We can still make the playoffs. The seniors are upset, but this is their last game. They will never play Fairley again. They have to understand the rules and regulations in different situations. Be upset in a positive way.”

Reflecting on the meaning of the game, Cole said, “All the players are friends.  They are neighborhood friends. We have got to learn to come together when things go wrong.”