BUCKHANNON, W.Va. West Virginia Wesleyan scored 21 unanswered points here Saturday to come from behind and hand West Liberty a 38-21 loss in Mountain East Conference action at Cebe Ross Field.
The Hilltoppers (3-5, 3-3) had taken a 21-17 lead midway through the third quarter on an 11-yard scoring toss from Dylan Lagarde to Dylan Potts but a combination of West Liberty mistakes and big plays by the Bobcats (3-5, 3-4) turned victory into defeat for the Black and Gold.
The Hilltoppers came away empty-handed on four trips into the Wesleyan red zone Saturday and it proved costly as two missed field goals and a pair of fumbles foiled excellent scoring opportunities. Another fumble, which came on the opening kickoff of the second half, set up a short Bobcat field goal.
"We got beat in all three phases of the game," head coach Roger Waialae said. "They made big plays against us on special teams. Our defense gave up some long passes and we wasted several good scoring chances on offense with penalties and turnovers."
West Liberty's lead proved short-lived as Wesleyan QB Jeremy Musselman rolled to his right off a play-action fake late in the third quarter and found speedy WR Zach Schademan 10 yards behind the WLU secondary. The 68-yard TD pass gave the Bobcats a 24-21 lead heading into the final 15 minutes.
Following a punt, the Hilltoppers recovered a Wesleyan fumble at the WVW 20 but couldn't move the sticks. Bryan Arbes, the leading field goal kicker in the MEC, came on for a 35-yard attempt only to see it twist wide left in the swirling winds with just under 13 minutes to play.
Musselman ignited a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive with a 45-yard bomb down the middle of the field to Schademan on the very next snap. A 17-yard completion to Lavaughn Hughes on third-and-10 from the WLU 18 set up first-and-goal from the 1 and Musselman squirmed into the end zone on the next play to make it 31-21 Wesleyan with 11:31 to go.
West Liberty tried to answer with a long march of its own. Lagarde kept it going with a pair of clutch third-down completions but the drive ended at the Bobcat 20 when TB Marty Bishop was stripped while trying to spin for extra yards and the hosts' Kevin Pharoan recovered at the 8:34 mark.
Musselman hammered the final nails into the Hilltopper coffin with a clock-gobbling 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive. The Bobcat QB scrubbed more than 6 minutes off the clock before firing an 8-yard TD strike to Connor Arlia to wrap up the scoring with just 1:51 remaining.
Musselman completed 29-of-41 passes for 393 yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions. Schademan had 8 catches for 208 yards and a pair of scores while Hughes caught 10 balls for 97 yards as Wesleyan racked up 479 yards of total offense on 75 snaps.
Bishop, a true freshman, posted the first 100-yard rushing game of his career with 108 yards on 18 carries while Lagarde completed 16-of-33 passes for 170 yards and a TD with one interception as WLU amassed a season-high 331 yards of total offense on 65 snaps.
"We have a short week coming up," Waialae said, "so we need to get back to campus, regroup and get ourselves prepared to face a very good Charleston team on Thursday night."
The Hilltoppers will host Charleston on Thursday in the first night game ever at historic Russek Field. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.