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WLU Mistakes Pile Up in Loss

Photo by WLU Athletics West Liberty’s Isaiah Robinson makes a leaping catch during Thursday’s season opener against Walsh.

WEST LIBERTY — The scoreboard read 27-6 at the end of the game when Walsh defeated West Liberty Thursday evening, but the final score was not at all representative of how close the game actually was.

WLU coach Roger Waialae estimated that Thursday’s loss came down to only nine or 10 plays that determined the outcome. Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, it felt like all 10 of those plays turned out to be self-inflicted mistakes.

“It’s not one play that won or lost us the game but it’s the totality of the nine or 10 plays together that causes you to lose games,” Waialae said afterwards. “It just magnifies those (mistakes) even more.”

The Hilltoppers had their fair share of dropped passes, missed blocks and needless penalties, but what really hurt the team was the high amount of uncharacteristic mistakes.

Junior placekicker Owen Roznac entered Thursday’s season-opener as the most accurate field goal kicker in all of division II. He missed both of his field goal attempts in the first half. In the third quarter, he fumbled the snap on a punt that led to Walsh scoring points.

“It was a weird night,” Waialae said. “We’ve got one of the best kickers in the country and he misses two that he normally makes every day of the week. He’s been here three years and never has dropped a punt snap.”

The game started out slowly, the only scoring in the first half was a Walsh field goal. A passing touchdown from Jeremy Hodge to Tyre Gray early in the second quarter gave the Cavaliers a 10-0 lead, nothing that could not be overcome.

That is when the Hilltoppers started to buckle. Roznac’s first miss came shortly after the Walsh score. On the ensuing Walsh possession, however, defensive tackle Kenyon Felder registered a stip-sack on Hodge that gave WLU’s offense the ball in plus territory. A few plays later, though WLU quarterback Jack Allison threw an interception to Walsh’s mason Brown, who returned the ball 97 yards for a pick-six.

Near the end of the half, WLU looked to have a touchdown pass from Allison to Jerome Harris only for it to be wiped off the board because of a holding call. That led to Roznac’s second missed field goal as time expired and gave Walsh a 17-0 halftime lead.

West Liberty got a break to start the second half when they recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff in Walsh territory, just for the offense to turn the ball over on downs. Their very next drive looked promising as well, only to end in the same result.

“Early in the second half, I thought we needed to get seven points on the board, and I thought even if (we failed and) they get the field position, our defense had been playing well,” Waialae said. “We had two opportunities right off the bat and didn’t take advantage of them.”

From there, the wheels fully fell off for the Hilltoppers. Walsh kicked another field goal to go up 20-0 and then WLU receiver Isaiah Robinson fumbled a punt return that turned into another touchdown pass for Hodge and a 27-0 deficit.

“Today, Isaiah got tired, he had to pull himself out of the game a couple of times,” Waialae said. “He doesn’t drop punts, he hasn’t dropped a punt all camp. Some weird things happened to us that we don’t normally do in practice. Normally, you practice how you play and we didn’t play like we practiced.”

WLU’s only score of the day came on the team’s final drive with backup quarterback Jamie Diven. Diven completed 6-of-10 passes for 80 yards, including a three-yard scoring strike to T.J. Griffin.

“They made more plays than we did, that’s the bottom line,” Waialae said. “We had opportunities to score in the redzone, we might’ve been 1-of-5 or 1-of-6 in the redzone. If you want to win and beat good football teams, you’ve got to take advantage of that offensively and we didn’t.”

West Liberty finished 1-for-5 on redzone trips.

“I’ve got to be a little more patient, lean on our experience – which is our offensive line – and probably run it more than we did,” Waialae admitted. “In the third quarter, I thought we came out and tried to establish the run but there was a time in the fourth quarter where, if you want to get in it, you’ve better try to get some scores. And then you’re fighting the clock.”

For WLU (0-1), Allison finished 17-of-34 passing for 142 yards and an interception. Tyler Moler (30) and Savion Johnson (21) led WLU’s rushing attack. Robinson finished as the team’s top receiver, making seven receptions for 70 yards.

For Walsh (1-0), Hodge went 9-of-22 for 131 yards and two scores. Devin Kenerly ran for 53 yards and Koby Adu-Poku had 31. Gray finished with four receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. Jaden Gresham caught Walsh’s other score.

Playing on Thursday, West Liberty has a longer week to prepare for next week’s game, their MEC-opener at Alderson Broaddus on Saturday, Sept. 11.

WIMBISH OUT FOR SEASON

West Liberty’s All-MEC running back Quincy Wimbish will miss the entire 2021 season after suffering an achilles injury during practice this week. Wimbish ran for 350 yards and three touchdowns in four games last season. Senior Savion Johnson and freshman Tyler Moler will work together to replace him.

SETON HILL 16, WHEELING 14

The Cardinals hung with PSAC opponent Seton Hill but could not do enough to win their opener Thursday evening. New quarterback Trent Jackson threw for 128 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Running back Sy Alli carried the ball 21 times for 98 yards. Receiver Jaquan Davidson caught five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Jermichael Ison led the team with 11 tackles, three for a loss, and recovered a fumble in the endzone for a touchdown. SHU kicked three field goals and scored a second-half touchdown to secure the win.

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