By Cody Shook, Sports Editor
The Yellow Jackets received the opening kick-off and drove down the field. After a holding penalty negated a touchdown, the Hilltoppers were able to stop West Virginia State from getting into the end zone by holding them to a 37-yard field goal. Junior quarterback, Lukas O’Connor got the start for the Hilltoppers and on his first drive, West Liberty was unable to get anything going on offense.
West Virginia didn’t waste any time as they ran down the field and found themselves in the end zone after an 11-yard touchdown run by running back Dionta Brown. After the successful point after attempt, the Hilltoppers found themselves in a 10-0 hole with six minutes left in the first quarter. West Liberty got into Yellow Jacket territory but were unable to get on the scoreboard as they were forced to punt.
The second quarter started as the Hilltoppers were starting their third offensive possession. It took O’Connor and the offense five plays to find the end zone, as Theodore Mayo hauled in a 36-yard pass from O’Connor to put West Liberty on the board early in the second quarter. The extra point field goal attempt by Christian Morris was blocked, so with 13 minutes remaining in the first half, West Virginia State led 10-6.
With less than six minutes left in the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets were deep in Hilltopper territory, but a holding penalty moved them back to the 15-yard line and they were unable to get a touchdown. However, another field goal by kicker Aaron Ball extended the West Virginia State lead to 13-6.
West Liberty was forced to punt on their next drive but a lucky bounce hit a West Virginia State player, which allowed a Hilltopper to jump on it and give West Liberty great field position. West Liberty faced another fourth down punt situation, but a fake punt pass gave the Hilltoppers a first down and on the very next play, running back Savion Johnson ran it in for a 20-yard touchdown to tie the ballgame up at 13 after a successful point after attempt by Morris.
West Virginia State was forced to punt on their next drive with minutes left in the first half, and the Hilltoppers capitalized immediately with a long pass down the left sideline to wide receiver Isaiah Robinson. With 30 seconds left in the second quarter, O’Connor found Ridge Durbin coming out of the backfield for an 8-yard touchdown reception. The extra point attempt by Morris missed wide right but the Hilltoppers took the lead for the first time in the game by a score of 19-13.
The first drive of the third quarter went for over five minutes and ten plays and was capped off with a 25-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jeremiah Ortiz. After a successful point after attempt by Morris, the Hilltoppers took the 26-13 lead. The defense continued to step up big as their bend-but-don’t-break structure forced the Yellow Jackets to attempt another field goal from inside of the red zone. With the 29-yard field goal splitting the uprights, West Virginia State cut the lead down to 10 with under four minutes left in the third quarter.
A mishandled snap on a punt attempt gave the Yellow Jackets possession deep in Hilltopper territory, but the defense stepped up big once again near the goal line holding West Virginia State to only a short field goal to make it a seven point ballgame with just 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
On the very next drive, O’Connor led the well balanced offense down the field and wide receiver Quinton Jones found the end zone after a beautiful throw from 32 yards out. The Hilltoppers extended their lead to 33-19 after the extra point attempt split the uprights with just over 12 minutes left in the game.
On the ensuing drive, West Virginia State drove down the field in three minutes and 45 seconds and scored a touchdown on a 7-yard run by running back Juawon Etheredg. Ball converted on the extra point attempt to cut the West Liberty lead down to 33-26 with nine minutes left in the game.
The Hilltoppers were forced to punt with just under five minutes left in the game. West Virginia State then put together a very good drive with a lot of running plays, but a Kinnick pass to Quinton Gray from 11 yards out tied the game up at 33 apiece. West Liberty got the ball one more time with 58 seconds left on clock in regulation, but were unable to get on the board before time expired.
The Hilltoppers were on offense first to start overtime and O’Connor wasn’t able to put West Liberty into the end zone, so Morris came on to attempt the 28-yard field goal but he missed it wide right. West Virginia State got their turn on offense and on the first play of the drive, Etheredg ran it up the middle for a 25-yard touchdown run to give the Yellow Jackets the 39-33 victory.
West Liberty comes away with the tough luck loss against West Virginia State to fall to 2-6 on the season. They will take on Concord University next Saturday at West Family Stadium with a scheduled 1 p.m. kickoff time. Be sure to grab this week’s issue of the Trumpet for a game preview. If you can’t be at next weekend’s game, you can tune in to WL-TV14 or listen on 91.5 WGLZ.
Photo credit: Megan Sayre