West Liberty Comes Up One Play Short Against Pioneers
The West Liberty University football team had Glenville State on the ropes coming down the stretch Saturday but couldn't deliver the knockout punch and the Pioneers slipped out of town with a 17-14 victory.
"We have to learn how to win," Hilltopper head coach Roger Waialae said. "We made plays on both sides of the ball today against a very good football team. If one more play swings our way at any point, we're probably walking out of here with a win. We just couldn't come up with that play."
Glenville (2-3, 2-0) jumped out to a 14-0 lead on two first-quarter TD passes by senior quarterback Darold Hughes. The veteran signal caller tossed a 6-yarder to Darian Cleckley following an early West Liberty (2-3, 1-2) turnover and closed out the quarter with a 29-yard post route to Orlandus Harris.
The Pioneers, who entered the game averaging 37 points and nearly 500 yards of total offense against NCAA Division II competition, appeared on their way to another offensive extravaganza only to see the Hilltopper defense slam the door.
West Liberty held Glenville to just one field goal over the final three quarters and limited the Pioneers to just 285 yards of total offense while intercepting a season-high 5 passes.
"The most discouraging thing to me right now," Waialae said, "is that we're 2-3 and our defensive front has controlled the line of scrimmage in every game. They're giving us a chance to win every week."
On the offensive end, Hilltopper true freshman Dylan Lagarde provided a spark in relief of starting QB L.D. Crow, passing for a career-high 232 yards and guiding a pair of long scoring drives.
Lagarde entered the game on WLU's first possession of the second quarter and ignited a 6-play, 68-yard drive that put the Hilltoppers' first points on the board.
The freshman completed 3-of-4 passes for 36 yards on the march and set up Isiah Moody's 15-yard scoring run with a 22-yard scramble after being flushed from the pocket.
"L.D. has been nursing a sprained ankle for the past couple of weeks," Waialae said. "Once we saw that we needed to move the pocket in order to open things up for our offense, we made the change with Dylan. He's healthier and more mobile so it was a good situation for him."
Lagarde also impressed on the 2-minute drill late in the second quarter when he led West Liberty from its own 10 to the Glenville 24 before being picked off in the end zone with just 19 seconds left in the half.
A 50-yard punt return by the Pioneers' Robert Jiles set up a 47-yard Eddie McKay field goal on the visitors' first possession of the second half. West Liberty nearly answered but Jeff Hoak's 36-yard field goal attempt into the wind clanged off the left upright to preserve the Pioneers' 17-7 lead.
The Hilltoppers trimmed the margin to 17-14 midway through the fourth quarter when a 41-yard bomb from Lagarde to a tumbling Darrell Stanley put the Black and Gold at the GSC 21. Tailback Kenjay Trueblood did the rest, carrying three straight times before bulling into the end zone with 7:26 left.
The WLU defense got the offense two more shots but the Hilltoppers couldn't get into field goal range and the game ended with Lagarde's desperation pass from midfield falling incomplete in the end zone.
West Liberty finished with 358 yards of total offense to just 285 for Glenville State. Pioneer TB Rahmann Lee – the WVIAC's leading rusher at 116 yards per game – was held to 81 yards on 21 carries while Hughes completed just 19-of-34 passes for 175 yards with 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Lagarde and Crow combined to complete 19-of-44 passes for 265 yards with Brandon Schroeder's 108 yards on 8 catches leading all receivers.
"We're close. That's two weeks in a row that we're one play away from a win and I really believe it comes down to confidence," Waialae said. "The coaches and I know we have a good football team. We just need the players to believe it and make that one more play we need to put us over the hump."
West Liberty travels to West Virginia State next week. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Institute.