West Liberty Falls to Bloomsburg

Photo by Alex Kozlowski West Liberty receiver Shane Phillips (1) is wrapped up by a Bloomsburg defender while Hilltoppers’ Omar Kargbo looks on.

WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty scored two touchdowns in the final 4:21 Saturday but couldn’t recover an onside kick with under a minute to play and Bloomsburg (Pa.) held on for a 34-31 win on Senior Day at West Family Stadium.

Junior QB Zach Phillips passed for 261 yards and three touchdowns while running for another score and senior WR Shane Phillips had a career-high 109 receiving yards as coach Roger Waialae’s Hilltoppers (3-7) threw a scare into the Huskies (6-4), a perennial PSAC East power who clinched their 20th consecutive winning season.

Untimely penalties and a crucial turnover turned a one-possession game into a 17-point deficit for the Black and Gold early in the fourth quarter.

Trailing just 24-17 after Owen Rozanc drilled a career-long 46-yard field goal midway through the third quarter, the Hilltoppers appeared to have recovered a muffed punt at the Bloomsburg 13 only to be flagged for kick catch interference.

The WLU defense then forced a three-and-out, leaving the Huskies with fourth-and-2 from their own 36, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Hilltoppers gave the visitors a first down at the West Liberty 49. That set the stage for a Bloomsburg field goal and a 27-17 lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

The Hilltoppers were pinned back at their own 13 following the kickoff and Huskie DB Dexter Jordan pushed the count to 34-17 with an interception and 17-yard TD return.

West Liberty failed to move on its next possession but after the visitors misfired on a 37-yard field goal try with 7:29 remaining, the WLU offense began to roll.

Zach Phillips capped a 9-play, 77-yard drive with a 19-yard TD pass to senior WR Osman Kargbo, trimming the deficit to 34-24 with 4:21 to play.

The ground-oriented Huskies feature a trio of backs with multiple 100-yard rushing games on their resumes but the West Liberty defense came up big with another 3-and-out, forcing Bloomsburg to punt the ball away with 2:25 remaining.

The Hilltopper offense needed less than a minute to roll 80 yards in nine plays for another score. This one came on a 34-yard bomb from Zach Phillips to Shane Phillips, who high-pointed the ball above two defenders inside the 5 and stretched across the goal line for the score with just 50 seconds remaining.

The 6-5 wideout’s second TD reception of the day kept West Liberty’s comeback hopes alive.

The Hilltoppers tried an onside kick but Bloomsburg recovered and ran out the clock.

The Huskies had nearly a 10-minute edge in time of possession but total offense was virtually even. Bloomsburg finished with 379 yards to 364 for the hosts. West Liberty was flagged 10 times for 128 yards while Bloomsburg had 4 penalties for 56, ending WLU’s 12-game streak of fewer penalty yards than their opponent.

Zach Phillips completed 24 of 40 passes for 261 yards and three TDs while rushing for 28 more yards and another score. Shane Phillips had six catches for 109 yards and two TDs. Senior TB Charles Westbrook ran for 69 yards on 15 carries.

West Liberty wraps up the season at home on Thursday night when the Hilltoppers host Fairmont State in the MEC Game of the Week. Kickoff is set for 7:10 p.m. at West Family Stadium.

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