Hilltoppers Hold Off Bobcats
Westbrook, Phillips both surpass 100
WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty football coach Roger Waialae spoke at length this week about how one very good football team was going to leave Russek Field at West Family Stadium on Thursday night with an 0-2 record. Waialae and the Hilltoppers are breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them.
Zach Phillips and Charles Westbrook each eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark and Josh Ojo returned an interception 20 yards for a third-quarter score as West Liberty (1-1 overall, 1-1 Mountain East Conference) ran out to a large lead before having to hold off a furious West Virginia Wesleyan (0-2, 0-2) rally for a 37-34 conference victory.
“I’m obviously happy with the outcome and I thought we made the plays to win the game,” Waialae said. “We got a little lull there in the beginning of the fourth quarter where we kind of relaxed a little bit too much.
“But (the Bobcats) are a good football team. I guess that’s the thing about this conference, is that there are no easy games.”
It looked like that wasn’t going to be the case, however. After going into the locker room with a 20-13 halftime lead, the Hilltoppers exploded in the third quarter.
After forcing the Bobcats into a punt on the first possession of the second half, WLU drove 47 yards in 11 plays before the march stalled and it had to settle for a 35-yard field goal from Owen Rozanc.
Ojo increased the margin to 30-13 minutes later when he stepped in front of a Luke Casey second-down pass and waltzed into the end zone.
“Our coaches teach us to read the quarterback and to sit at the sticks and things like that,” Ojo said. “All the other guys were getting coverage and the defensive line was getting to the quarterback.
“Our coaches always put us in great position to make plays and we’ve just got to make them. That’s all that really happened.”
Lherri Fontilisse gave WLU the ball back by jumping on a Bobcats fumble at the Wesleyan 32. Then it was time for a Wheeling Park connection to take center stage.
Phillips bought some time before finding Mazei Mosby over the middle for a 6-yard score to make it 37-13 in favor of the Toppers.
“It’s absolutely huge to get that first win off your chest and now we can enjoy this for a couple days,” Phillips said. “We’ve got Charleston next week and we’ve got some momentum going.
“It’s going to be another Thursday night game, which we like.”
Momentum quickly changed, however. After a nice kickoff return by Jujuan Linzy game the Bobcats possession at the WLU 38, it took them three plays to get into the end zone before the third quarter expired. Casey connected with Kenny Lewis Jr. for a 19-yard score. Sterling Dewdney came down in the back of the end zone with a 2-point conversion catch.
Good coverage on the ensuing kickoff pinned WLU deep in its end.
“Especially in college football there are going to be momentum swings,” Waialae said. “We took the momentum early in the third quarter and did a lot with it.
“The momentum they got, they were down pretty much the whole game and I don’t think they were used to coming off a short week.
“They caught their second wind and I thought they would. I told the coaches at halftime ‘they’re going to play faster in the second half (because) they’re going to get their legs back.'”
Wesleyan forced a punt and went back to work. Casey finished a six-play, 55-yard drive in 1:50 when he hit Derek Drapen in the back-corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown, though the try for two was no good leaving the deficit at 37-27.
The Bobcats forced a turnover as Shondell Parks came up with a loose football at the WLU 26, but they eventually had to settle for a 35-yard field-goal attempt. Tyler Fischer, who early connected from 25 and 41, was wide right on this one.
Dewdney won a jump ball for a 40-yard touchdown with 1:19 remaining, but Isaiah Robinson recovered an onside kick to help West Liberty hold on.
“Just as long as we win,” Waialae said. “We lost two jump-ball situations where the quarterback was scrambling and we can’t lose those.
“We did enough early in the game and the third quarter. I was comfortable knowing that for them to win they were going to have to recover an onside kick.”
Wesleyan jumped out early when cornerback Zechariah Johnson scooped-and-scored a West Liberty fumble from 48 yards out.
However, Phillips, who rushed 15 times for a game-high 126 yards, and company were just getting started.
Phillips engineered an eight-play, 67-yard drive that he finished from the 27 to even things at 7-7. Fischer sandwiched his two field goals around a 2-yard TD run by Westbrook, who gained 117 yards on 30 carries.
The Hilltoppers, though, took the lead for good when Phillips got into the end zone from the 1 with 18 seconds left in the first half.
West Liberty ran up 267 yards on the ground against a stacked Wesleyan front.
“They were putting a lot of guys in the box and for us to consistently move the chains and chew the clock, that’s just big for those guys up front,” Phillips said. “They were playing really well and moving their down guys and giving us lanes to run.”