WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. - The West Liberty University football team won a thrilling game this afternoon against West Virginia Wesleyan, 23-21, at West Family Stadium. Justin Kaplan split the uprights on a 48-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining to improve the Hilltoppers to 3-1 on the season.
In his second consecutive start, Rudy Garcia passed for 272 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Black and Gold offense that totaled a season-high 410 yards. Chris Charles was the go-to target, racking up seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Quincy Wimbish Jr.returned to the lineup and led the ground game with 86 yards on 18 carries.
The Hilltoppers chose to receive the opening kickoff and capitalized on the opportunity with a 7-play, 61-yard touchdown drive. Facing 4th-and-9 at the WVWC 29 yard line, Coach Waialae left the offense out on the field. T.J. Griffin leaked free across the middle of the field and Garcia connected with him for the 29-yard score to put West Liberty up 6-0 early. A botched snap led to a missed extra point after the Griffin touchdown.
After a three and out by both teams, Wesleyan put together a nearly seven minute drive and went the entire length of the field for a touchdown and converted the PAT to take the 7-6 lead. The drive officially went for 97 yards, but Cameron Rice pinned the Bobcats to the one inch line on the first play of the drive. Wesleyan bounced back with 99 yards over the next 12 plays for the score.
The Hilltoppers missed a 32-yard field goal attempt at the start of the second quarter in their only other scoring chance of the first half.
A turning point came at the 10 minute mark in the third quarter after Wesleyan accepted a running into the kicker penalty and chose to go for the 4th-and-5 at the West Liberty 33 yard line. Rice wrecked havoc again when he swatted the 4th down pass away and gave the ball back to the Hilltoppers with momentum.
That momentum carried over to the 'Topper offense as they only needed five plays to put it in the endzone and take the lead, 13-17, with 8:15 to play in the third. Garcia put West Liberty in the redzone with a 31-yard rush and then found Griffin for his second touchdown of the game on the next play.
Charles went to work on the ensuing drive for WLU with a 41-yard highlight reel catch and capped off the drive with his first touchdown of the season to extend the 'Topper lead to 20-7.
Wesleyan answered with 14 fourth quarter points of its own to take the lead back.
The Bobcats stopped the Hilltoppers on 4th down at their 35 yard line to preserve the lead with just over two minutes left in the game. West Liberty got the ball back a minute later after stopping three straight rushes and got into field goal range off a pass interference on Wesleyan.
The Hilltoppers turned to Kaplan after a trio of incompletions set up fourth down on the Wesleyan 31 yard line. The snap was good, the hold was good, and the junior kicker belted it right between the uprights for the win.
Shyoun Petteway made it official with an interception on the Wesleyan hail mary attempt. Petteway also led the defense with seven tackles.
West Liberty will be on the road next week at Glenville State for another 1 pm Saturday kickoff.