Hilltoppers Comeback Falls Short at UVa.-Wise

WISE, Va. — A gutty West Liberty comeback effort went for naught Saturday as UVa-Wise held on for a 31-19 Homecoming victory at sweltering Carl Smith Stadium.

Coach Roger Waialae’s Hilltoppers (2-2, 2-2) stormed back from a 24-6 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game with nearly four minutes still to play but that was as close as they could get.

After taking the ensuing kickoff, the host Cavaliers (3-1, 3-1) got a key first down on a pass interference penalty and hit a 33-yard pass on third-and-8 from the WLU 45 with 2:30 to go, setting up a game-clinching 5-yard TD run by QB Jarome Johnson with only 54 seconds showing on the scoreboard clock.

The Cavaliers had opened the scoring on Trevor Owens’ 19-yard field goal at 10:17 of the second quarter and that’s when the field position battle turned decisively in favor of the hosts.

The ball never crossed midfield again for the rest of the half as a staunch UVa-Wise defense was able to hold the WLU offense at bay while a combination of tipped punts, penalties and turnovers gave the Cavaliers offense several short-field opportunities.

UVa-Wise pushed the lead to 10-0 on a 5-yard TD run by Von Purvis after the hosts took over at the West Liberty 41 following a partially-blocked Hilltopper punt.

West Liberty’s defense kept the visitors in the game, however, forcing three-and-outs on the Cavaliers’ other two possessions of the quarter — each of which started inside the WLU 40.

The Hilltoppers offense had been almost completely shut down over the first two quarters, managing just four first downs and 44 yards of total offense in 30 snaps.

Senior TB Jeremiah Ortiz gave West Liberty a big lift when play resumed, ripping off a 45-yard run on the opening possession of the second half to set up a 20-yard TD pass from QB Brenton Colabella to HB Ian Kelly, cutting the lead to 10-6.

The Cavaliers answered by replacing starting QB Brycen Lee with the athletic Johnson and spent most of the final two quarters challenging the WLU defense with a run-pass option attack.

Johnson scored on an 11-yard touchdown run with 3:39 on the third quarter clock and an interception by the Cavaliers’ Andre Hamilton set up a 12-yard scoring toss from Johnson to WR Cedrick Watkins just before the end of the quarter.

The Hilltoppers refused to fold as Colabella capped a nine-play, 71-yard drive with a quick slant touchdown pass to WR Osman Kargbo on fourth-and-goal from the 8 at 13:01 of the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 24-12.

A 73-yard punt Christian Morris punt flipped field position back in West Liberty’s favor on WLU’s next possession and the Hilltoppers drove deep into Cavalier territory only to turn the ball over on downs when Colabella was sacked on 4th-and-9 from the UVa-Wise 17.

Another stop by the West Liberty defense set up a 10-yard TD pass from Colabella to TB Braxton Gamble, making it 24-19 with 3:44 on the clock, but Johnson’s late touchdown sealed the win for the Cavaliers.

After being held to 44 yards of total offense in the first half, West Liberty rolled up 219 yards of total offense over the final two quarters. Ortiz ran for 166 yards on 22 carries while Colabella completed 13 of 36 passes for just 87 yards but threw three TD passes to go along with the three interceptions. Cliff Clark had a game-high 11 tackles to lead the WLU defense while Musa Felder had nine tackles, two for loss, one quarterback sack and a pass break-up.

Johnson was the leading rusher for UVa-Wise with 56 yards on 11 carries. He combined with Lee to complete 20 of 35 passes for 201 yards with one TD and no interceptions. West Liberty was flagged a season-high 14 times for 128 yards while the hosts had a dozen penalties for 121 yards.

The Hilltoppers return home to host Notre Dame on Thursday in the MEC Game of the Week. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at West Family Stadium.

Westminster 41, Bethany 14

Bethany was defeated Westminster in a Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) contest at Harold Burry Stadium.

Sophomore running back Raekwon Wright had a career-high 119 yards rushing and one touchdown on 20 carries to lead the offense.

Senior quarterback Chase Kinemond finished the day 15 of 21 for 103 yards passing and threw his first interception of the season.

The Bison defense was led by senior defensive end Khallid Pierce who posted seven tackles, including three for loss, and two sacks. He is now tied with former Bison Matt Nardone (1996-99) for third all-time with 23.5 career sacks.