West Liberty Falls in Season Opener
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – Opportunity knocked repeatedly for both teams in Thursday night's season opener at West Family Stadium but it was visiting Walsh (Ohio) that came up with most of the answers in stealing a 27-6 non-conference victory at West Liberty.
"In a game like this, it just came down to them making more plays than we did," WLU head coach Rodger Waialaesaid. "Both teams had multiple opportunities in the red zone but they scored on all four of their red-zone chances and we were just one of five. You can't waste opportunities like that if you want to be a good football team."
Trailing 10-0 midway through the second quarter, the WLU offense got things going as a 13-play, 63-yard march set up a 30-yard field goal try by Owen Rozancthat twisted just wide at the last second.
The Hilltopper defense got the ball back in a hurry as Kenyon Felderforced a fumble while sacking Hodge for a 13-yard loss and Trevor Hoosierrecovered for the hosts at the Cavalier 9.
After a first-down rush was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, linebacker Preston Hodges stepped in front of Jack Allison's pass at the 3 and sprinted 97 yards the other way for a score that dropped West Liberty into a 17-0 hole.
The frustration didn't end there for the Black and Gold. The Hilltoppers drove deep into Walsh territory again with time running out in the half. With less than 10 seconds on the clock, Allison threaded the needle to Jerome Harris for a 26-yard TD only to have it wiped out by a holding call.
West Liberty settled for a long field goal try by Rozanc that fell just short as time expired.
The Hilltoppers were right back in business when Walsh fumbled the second-half kickoff and Nate McCutcheonrecovered at the Cavalier 26. West Liberty couldn't capitalize, however, and lost the ball on downs at the 19.
The WLU defense forced another three-and-out and the Hilltopper offense took over at the Walsh 35 when the visitors were flagged for a personal foul during the punt return. The hosts were turned away empty-handed once more, being stopped for no gain on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 from the 26.
"I thought our defense played well," Waialae said. "We had two great opportunities to get right back in the game at the start of the second half and didn't take advantage of them. We have to be better in the red zone."
Walsh managed less than 100 yards of total offense in the second half but took advantage of two more Hilltopper miscues – a fumbled punt snap and a muffed punt – to open up a 27-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Redshirt freshman Jamie Divenreplaced Allison for the game's final series, capping a 97-yard, 11-play drive with a 3-yard TD strike toT.J. Griffin with 25 seconds remaining.
Allison completed 17-of-34 passes for 142 yards with one interception while Diven was 6-for-10 through the air in the waning minutes for 80 yards and the score. Robinson led the WLU receiving corps with 7 catches for 70 yards while Tyler Molerwas the leading rusher with 30 yards on 10 carries.
The loss of All-MEC tailbackQuincy Wimbishto a leg injury during the final week of the preseason clearly took its toll on the WLU offense. After averaging nearly 200 rushing yards a game in the final three games of the spring with Wimbish getting the bulk of the carries, West Liberty finished Thursday's season opener with a net rushing total of minus-3 yards on 32 carries.
"Losing a back of Quincy's caliber that late in camp is a challenge," Waialae said. "He's one of those rare backs that's a total package and now you're trying to mix and match with guys who are stronger in some areas than others. As a coach, have to figure out how we need to distribute the ball differently to accomplish what we want to accomplish. We may need to attack different areas or attack the same areas in different ways but that's definitely one of the things we'll be looking at going forward."
West Liberty opens Mountain East Conference play on the road Sept. 11 with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Alderson Broaddus.