West Liberty wins MEC opener, 16-13

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. The West Liberty University football team blanked a high-powered Glenville State offense over the first three quarters before surviving a late Pioneer charge to claim a 16-13 win Saturday afternoon in a mutual Mountain East Conference lid-lifter at sun-splashed Russek Field.

“I think we’d like to finish a little better,” head coach Roger Waialae said, “but even though we had that little bit of a lull, we came up with the big play when we needed it to put the game away.

“This is a team game and today we got points from all three phases of the game offense, defense and special teams. We’re still pretty young on the offensive side of the ball but for right now, I’m comfortable with living off our experience on defense and special teams as the offense continues to develop.”

Following a scoreless first quarter, the Hilltoppers (1-1, 1-0) combined special teams and defense to perfection for the first score of the game.

Junior punter Griffin Yocum pinned Glenville State (0-2, 0-1) deep in the hole with a 59-yard bomb of a coffin corner kick that rolled out of bounds inside the GSC 1.

Pioneer QB Sean Steele bobbled the first-down snap and West Liberty DE Sam Robinson recovered in the end zone. Bryan Arbes’ PAT put the hosts on top, 7-0, at 13:23 of the second quarter.

The Hilltopper offense closed out the half with its most extended march of the day. Arbes’ 34-yard field goal with just 46 seconds left in the half, put the WLU special teams on the board while closing out a 14-play, 61-yard drive.

West Liberty’s first offensive touchdown of the season came in explosive fashion midway through the third quarter.

Taking over at his own 48 following a short Glenville punt, sophomore QB Dylan Lagarde found WR Daree Goodwin downfield with a 39-yard completion to the GSC 13. On the next snap, Lagarde flipped a short toss to slot receiver Dylan Potts, whose flashing feet took care of the rest on a 13-yard scoring play. The PAT attempt failed, keeping the WLU lead at 16-0 at 6:50 of the third quarter.

The Pioneers had racked up 27 points and nearly 500 yards of total offense in a Week 1 loss at NCAA Division I FCS Virginia Military Institute but found the going much tougher against the veteran Hilltopper defense.

Held below 100 yards of total offense in the first half, Glenville suddenly seemed to hit its stride and made its first forays into the WLU red zone on its next two possessions only to come away empty-handed each time.

Senior CB Rod White ended one drive when he picked off a pass at his own goal line and returned it to the West Liberty 22. The Pioneers got the ball right back on a Hilltopper turnover but lost it on downs when safety D’Andre Muhammad sacked backup QB Steffen Colon on fourth-and-4 from the WLU 15.

Another interception by White, this time at his own 14, snuffed Glenville’s opening possession of the fourth quarter but the visitors still managed to make things interesting.

A blocked West Liberty punt and a successful onside kick set up back-to-back TDs but All-Region TB Rahmann Lee, cutting the Hilltopper lead to 16-13 with just over 3 minutes remaining.

The Pioneer defense forced West Liberty into a 3-and-out, getting the ball back at the GSC 36 with 2:08 to go, but Jovontae Johnson’s diving interception with 1:37 to go the fourth turnover of the day collected by the Hilltopper defense sealed the win.

Kenjay Trueblood rushed for 93 yards on 25 carries to pace the Hilltopper ground game. Lagarde completed 14-of-25 passes for 144 yards with a TD and an interception while Potts led the WLU receiving corps for the second straight week with 5 catches for 58 yards and a score.

Defensive standouts included Johnson with 6 tackles, 2 pass break-ups and the game-clinching interception; Muhammad with 4 tackles, 3 tackles-for-loss and a pair of quarterback sacks; and White, who had 4 tackles to go along with his 2 interceptions.

Lee led Glenville in rushing and receiving with 99 yards on 17 carries while adding 77 more on 5 pass receptions. Colon and Steele combined to complete 22-of-41 passes for 239 yards and a TD with three interceptions.

West Liberty hits the road next week with a trip to West Virginia State. Kickoff at Lakin Field is set for Saturday at 1 p.m.