West Liberty Rally Falls Short at Urbana, 21-19

Toppers score 19 unanswered points

URBANA, Ohio — The West Liberty University football team dropped a 21-19 decision at Urbana on Thursday night in a mutual season opener at Urbana University Stadium.

Coach Roger Waialae’s Hilltoppers dominated the second half but were unable to come all the way back from a 21-0 first-half deficit.

West Liberty had one touchdown called back on a penalty and drove inside the Urbana 20 on each of its first three possessions but came away empty-handed each time thanks to two interceptions and a fumble.

Urbana broke the scoring ice with 3:14 on the first quarter clock when Khaliq Muhammad got behind the WLU secondary to haul in an 85-yard scoring toss from Blue Knight QB Eddie Stockett.

Muhammad pushed the margin to 14-0 early in the second quarter when he fielded a punt at his own 17, slipped through a seam and sprinted 83 yards to paydirt.

Urbana’s only sustained drive of the night followed as Stockett marched the Blue Knights 75 yards in five plays. Jesse Bray split a pair of defensive backs on a quick post and outraced everyone to the flag for a 47-yard touchdown catch and a 21-0 Urbana lead with 5:19 to go before halftime.

West Liberty refused to run up the white flag, taking the ensuing kickoff and driving 59 yards in nine plays with junior QB Zach Phillips darting in from 2 yards out 90 seconds before intermission.

The Hilltopper defense then forced a quick 3-and-out with a 16-yard Urbana punt setting up a 31-yard field goal by WLU freshman Owen Rozanc with 10 seconds showing on the first half clock.

After surrendering 216 yards of total offense in the first half, the West Liberty defense pitched a shutout over the final two quarters, holding the hosts to six first downs and 99 yards of total offense.

A 38-yard Rozanc field goal at 9:34 of the third quarter cut the lead to 21-13 and the momentum appeared to have changed.

West Liberty forced another punt from near midfield and Osman Kargbo broke into the clear after fielding it his own 10. The senior speedster was hauled down 81 yards later at the Urbana 9.

Unfortunately, back-to-back sacks forced the Hilltoppers out of field goal range and a desperation pass on fourth-and-goal from the 35 fell incomplete.

The teams traded punts until midway through the fourth quarter when West Liberty mounted its final drive.

A Brandon Gaither interception at the WLU 46 got things started and completions from Phillips to Mike McLean, Ridge Durbin and Kargbo gave the Black and Gold a first down at the 19.

A procedure penalty pushed the ball back to the 24 but Urbana was flagged for roughing the passer on the next snap, giving the visitors a first down at the 12.

Phillips handed off to senior TB Charles Westbrook, who darted into the middle of the line and then cut to daylight on his left for a 12-yard TD. With just 3:41 remaining, the Hilltoppers went for a tying 2-point conversion only to see Westbrook hauled down inches shy of the goal line.

Urbana was able to run out the clock with a pair of first downs to preserve the win.

Phillips completed 23-of-37 passes for 209 yards with two interceptions and added 83 more rushing stripes on 14 attempts in his first game at West Liberty.

Westbrook matched Phillips’ 83 rushing yards on 19 attempts while Durbin led all receivers with 10 catches for 66 yards. Senior LB Cliff Clark paced the WLU defense with 10 tackles while Gaither and Brandon Morrison had interceptions.

Stockett completed 15-of-26 passes for 211 yards with 2 TDs and 2 interceptions to lead the Blue Knights.

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