W.Va. State Scores Late to Stun Hilltoppers

W.Va. State Scores Late to Stun Hilltoppers

Frustrating End to Final Home Game for 20 West Liberty Seniors

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – Dant’e Jones broke loose on a 28-yard touchdown run with less than a minute to play here Saturday, giving West Virginia State a 33-28 come-from-behind victory at West Liberty on Senior Day at West Family Stadium.

   Jones’ game-winning touchdown scamper spoiled an impressive fourth-quarter comeback for Coach Roger Waialae’s Hilltoppers (4-6, 4-5), who stung the Yellow Jackets (6-4, 6-3) with two long touchdown drives after entering the final 15 minutes looking up at a 27-14 deficit.

   Senior QB Jack Allison returned to the field after missing several games due to injury and enjoyed his best day as a Hilltopper, completing 31-of-43 passes for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns and helping spark the fourth quarter comeback.

   The teams traded leads throughout the first half but WLU trailed, 20-14, at the break after failing to convert a pair of short field goal chances on drives into the WVSU red zone.

    “We have to come away with points when we’re that close,” Waialae said, “but we dropped a snap on one and had a protection breakdown on the other. Those have to be automatic. Now did either one of those plays cost us the game? No. But it’s those type of unforced errors and missed opportunities that add up over the course of the game and leave the door open.”

   State pushed its advantage to 27-14 when Jones capped an 80-yard scoring march with a 6-yard touchdown burst at 2:26 of the third quarter but Allison and the Hilltopper offense weren’t backing down.

   Taking over at his own 23 following the kickoff, Allison led the Black and Gold 77 yards to paydirt on 10 plays. The lanky righthander lit up the scoreboard with an 11-yard strike to tight end Kameron Kruzelyak, who got a toe down just inside the back line of the end zone to make it 27-21.

   West Liberty got great field position at the WLU 44 following an exchange of punts midway through the fourth quarter and once more the Hilltoppers took to the air.

   Senior WR Wisdom Jenkins came through with clutch catches of 15 and 17 yards to give the hosts a first down at the Yellow Jacket 14. On the very next snap, Allison fired a quick bubble screen to Nate Phillips in the right flat and the elusive senior weaved his way through traffic and powered into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 5:02 to play.

   That turned out to be plenty of time for Yellow Jacket QB Donovan Riddick to come up with an answer.

   Riddick, who finished the day completing 23-of-31 passes for 364 yards and 2 TDs with 2 interceptions despite being sacked 5 times, was nearly flawless on WVSU’s final drive. Not only did he complete 6-of-7 throws on the 75-yard march, he converted a crucial 3rd-and-6 near midfield with a 7-yard run on a quarterback draw.

   With the clock turning under a minute to play, Jones took a delayed handoff from Riddick and broke through a pair of tacklers at the line of scrimmage before cutting to his left and breaking into the clear for the game-winning 28-yard score with 51 seconds remaining.

   “The guy made a great effort and we missed a couple of tackles but it should never have come to that,” Waialae said. “We played better offensively. Jack hit some big passes to keep drives alive and we had several guys step up after losing some pretty key guys to injury but we wasted too many chances.”

   Jenkins finished with a career-high 8 catches for 125 yards and a score while Phillips added 5 grabs for 63 yards and a TD. Kruzelyak, just a freshman, caught 6 balls for 37 yards and scored twice. Jones led all rushers with 93 yards on 20 carries for State. Barry Hill caught 9 passes for 173 yards with fellow WR Tyrone Lyte adding 112 receiving yards on 8 catches.

   “I’m disappointed we couldn’t get this win for our seniors. We honored 20 guys today and they all know how much I appreciate their sacrifice over the past four or five years. The best thing about them is they’re all on pace to graduate this year and 8 or 9 of them are headed to graduate school. I can’t thank them enough.”

   West Liberty closes out the 2021 season on the road Thursday night with a 7 p.m. kickoff at Frostburg State.

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