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WLU Nets Homecoming Win

Hilltoppers score 3 TDs in final minute

Photo Provided by WLU West Liberty defender David Gilcreast celebrates during the team’s 52-31 win over Fairmont State Saturday.

ATHENS, W.Va. – West Liberty exploded for three touchdowns in the final minute Saturday to break up a tightly-played contest and run away to a wild 52-31 victory to the delight of a raucous Homecoming crowd at West Family Stadium.

Senior WR Isaiah Robinson put coach Roger Waialae’s Hilltoppers (4-3, 4-2) ahead to stay, 38-31, with a 46-yard TD catch and 2-point conversion grab with just 54 seconds remaining and WLU defensive backs J’Aire Pritchett and Elijah Hadley had “pick-6” interception returns on the next two possessions by visiting Fairmont State (3-4, 3-3) to put the game on ice.

Waialae said the go-ahead TD pass from Diven to Robinson – which produced the sixth lead change of the highly-entertaining game – was a perfect example of a veteran wide receiver and young quarterback making a great adjustment in a high-pressure situation.

“That wasn’t the play we called,” Waialae said, “but Isaiah and Jamie were on the same page. Isaiah converted the route, Jamie hit him in the hole between the two DBs and Isaiah took it to the end zone.”

Aided by a pass interference penalty that converted a 3rd-and-23 near midfield, Fairmont State had driven 93 yards in 12 plays to take its final lead of the game, 31-30, on a 17-yard TD pass from Michael Floria to Jeremiah Taylor.

A penalty on the ensuing kickoff put WLU deep in a hole at its own 4 with just 2:22 remaining but Diven and the Hilltopper offense didn’t even blink.

The steady southpaw needed only six snaps to put the Black and Gold in the end zone, completing passes of 21, 7, and 10 yards – all for first downs – before hooking up with Robinson to cover the final 46 yards for what proved to be the game-winner.

“Jamie is extremely composed,” Waialae said. “I never have to tell him to calm down. He doesn’t ride that emotional roller coaster and that allows him to be successful in pressure situations.”

Diven had a huge game, completing 19-of-25 passes for 367 yards and 3 TDs while guiding a WLU attack that racked up a season-high 479 yards of total offense and averaged nearly 8 yards a play against a Fairmont State squad that rode into West Family Stadium on the crest of a three-game win streak.

Tyler Moler rushed for 133 yards and a TD on 28 carries – his third 100-yard rushing game of the season – while Robinson finished with 6 catches for 119 yards and 2 scores and fellow WR Nate Phillips had a career-high 140 yards on 4 catches, highlighted by a 77-yard TD bomb from Diven that put the hosts up 28-24 in the final minute of the third quarter.

“Nate made some big-time plays in crucial situations today,” Waialae said. “On that long TD pass, he saw Jamie had been forced out of the pocket so he ran back to that side of the field, found the open area and outraced everyone down the sideline for the score. That was huge.”

Despite yielding 31 points and 451 yards of total offense to the high-powered Falcons, there was no shortage of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball for West Liberty.

Along with the two interception returns for touchdowns, junior defensive end Trevor Hoosier was virtually unstoppable. Hoosier finished with a game-high 10 tackles – including a career-high 6 tackles-for-loss – to go along with a pair of quarterback sacks and a pass break-up.

Hoosier’s biggest play of the game, however, may have come on special teams.

Fairmont had scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-7 lead into halftime and forced a WLU punt on the opening possession of the third quarter. The West Liberty defense held, forcing the Falcons to punt from their own 39, but Hoosier had other ideas.

Leading a black-shirted wave that overwhelmed the FSU punt protectors, Hoosier swatted the punt back toward the Fairmont State end zone. Teammate Jordan Wood scooped it up without breaking stride and ran it in for the score, cutting the lead to 17-14 and putting the hosts right back in the game.

“The players came to us on the sidelines and said, ‘Coach, we can get to that punter.’ They’re the ones who made that call and it really seemed to kick start the offense,” Waialae said. “The defense had a good series and a special teams play lifted our offense. That’s good team football and a good team win.”

West Liberty goes back on the MEC road next week with a Saturday afternoon test at Ohio County rival Wheeling. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Bishop Schmitt Field.

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