WEST LIBERTY Quarterback L.D. Crow fired three touchdown passes and the West Liberty defense held West Virginia Wesleyan to just 7 rushing yards Saturday afternoon as Russek Field as the host Hilltoppers opened West Virginia Conference play with a convincing 33-16 victory.
West Liberty (2-1, 1-0) never trailed, scoring on the game's first possession and taking a 17-3 lead into the locker room at intermission. Coach Roger Waialae's Hilltoppers pushed the lead to 27-3 heading into the fourth quarter before the Bobcats (0-3, 0-1) tacked on a couple of late scores to make the final margin a bit more respectable.
"We're getting better," said Waialae, whose squad has now won two straight after last week's 14-13 squeaker at Virginia State. "I think we came together as a team a little bit with last week's win and I saw improvement in all three phases of the game. We're certainly not where we want to be yet but our goal is to keep getting better every week and we did that today."
FORMER Martins Ferry standout Marco Richetti makes a tackle of a Wesleyan player during Saturday’s game at Russek Field.
The Hilltopper offense, which entered the game ranked last in the WVIAC, didn't put up huge yardage numbers but used a solid rushing attack to control the clock and kept the scoreboard operator busy with a number of big plays.
Crow opened the scoring with a 4-yard TD toss to Bo Whitney, capping a 7-play, 58-yard march set up by Dominic Cooper's 42-yard return on the opening kickoff.
West Liberty's Jeff Hoak and Wesleyan's Kasper Bernild traded field goals in the latter stages of the first quarter and the Hilltopper took a 10-3 edge into the second quarter.
That lead grew to 17-3 when Crow found Cooper running free behind the Bobcat secondary for a 58-yard touchdown the longest play of the season for the WLU offense.
"We wound up with Cooper being covered by a linebacker on that play," Waialae said, "and that's a good match-up for us."
Kenjay Trueblood, Isiah Moody and Dirone McBride split the carries at tailback throughout the game. The talented trio combined for 153 rushing yards on 40 carries, helping West Liberty rack up nearly an 11-minute advantage in time of possession and gashing the gambling Bobcat defense with big gains on several occasions.
The WLU running game helped the passing game put the football game out of reach for the visitors in the third quarter.
An 18-yard run by Moody and a roughing the passer penalty against Wesleyan put the ball at the Bobcat 43. Crow faked a handoff to Moody and rolled out to find Brandon Schroeder cutting across the field at the 25. Schroeder took the ball in stride and tight-roped the right sideline into the end zone for a 24-3 Hilltopper lead.
"That's why being able to run the ball is so important," Waialae said. "We were close to 50-50 in our mix today so they bit on L.D.'s play action and that opened things up for Brandon. This is more like what I expected to see from our offense coming out of camp. We're getting more guys on the field and they're becoming more comfortable in their roles. Everybody's contributing."
Hoak added a 43-yard field goal tying his carer-high and Moody added a 22-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to complete the West Liberty scoring.
Backup QB Jeremy Musselman directed a couple of late scoring drives for Wesleyan.
Crow completed 13-of-33 passes for 205 yards and 3 TDs with one interception. Moody was the game's leading rusher with 80 yards on 19 carries while nine different Hilltoppers caught at least one pass, led by Whitney's 4 catches for 35 yards.
Musselman completed 18-of-31 passes for 245 yards and 2 TDs. Lavaughn Hughes was the leading receiver with 6 catches for 121 yards but Wesleyan managed just 7 net rushing yards on 17 carries.
The Hilltoppers travel to Fairmont next Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff against the Falcons.
The newest members of the West Liberty Hall of Fame Steve Gilson, Brandon Hinkle, Mark Schwertfeger, Mike Young and the 1977 national championship bowling team were introduced to the crowd at halftime
This was the Hilltoppers' 11th win in the last 15 meetings with Wesleyan
Waialae improved to 6-2 as a head coach against the Bobcats
The West Liberty defense had held the Bobcats to just 140 yards of total offense before the visitors' final two scoring drives
Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana's son, Nate, started at quarterback for Wesleyan and completed 6-of-14 passes for 57 yards
W.Va. Wesleyan has lost 5 consecutive games since getting off to a 9-0 start last fall