Junior quarterback Dakota Conwell returned to the starting lineup and the West Liberty University football team returned to the winners circle Thursday night, breezing to a 28-12 victory against Urbana under the lights at West Family Stadium.
Conwell had missed all or part of the last two games with an ankle injury after helping lead the Hilltoppers (2-2, 2-1) to a season-opening upset of nationally-ranked Concord but his play making ability was on full display against the Blue Knights (1-3, 1-3) on Thursday.
The junior signal caller fired four touchdown passes – all 20 yards or more – and finished with 212 yards through the air as the Hilltoppers snapped their two-game losing streak in decisive fashion.
“I think we missed Dakota’s leadership more than anything else,” Waialae said. “He was our most improved player and he’s taken the majority of the snaps in spring and the preseason so the guys are just more comfortable with him.
“We limited his running to protect the ankle a little bit but you can see that he’s matured into an adequate passer and he continues to get better. He sees everything so much better now so we’re able to run our full passing package, which opens up a lot of things.”
Perhaps the happiest of the Hilltoppers was senior TE Daree Goodwin, who was on the receiving end of three of Conwell’s TD passes and finished with 5 catches for a career-high 115 yards. Goodwin’s touchdown catches covered 37, 28 and 23 yards with two of them being leaping circus catches in the corner of the end zone.
“Daree is just so big and so fast, he’s hard to cover,” Waialae said, “plus you can’t double him because he can line up anywhere. On that last touchdown, Dakota saw him 1-on-1 on the outside and just checked down to the fade. That’s not something you can call from the sidelines. You have to see that on the field and Dakota’s getting better and better at that.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the 6-5, 230-pound Goodwin opened the second quarter by jumping over two Urbana defenders for a tumbling TD catch in the back of the end zone.
After an exchange of punts, Andrew Faraimo intercepted a deflected pass at the WLU 33 and the Hilltopper offense seemed to find another gear.
A 19-yard pass to WR Micah Lowe and an 18-yard scamper by TB Jeremiah Ortiz put the ball in Urbana territory after just two snaps. Goodwin covered the final 28 yards with another leaping TD grab and the Hilltoppers carried a 14-0 lead into the half.
Conwell pushed the lead to 21-0 midway through the third quarter when he danced away from pressure and found freshman WR Ian Kelly near the sideline. Kelly caught the ball in stride, picked up a couple of key blocks from his fellow wideouts and darted untouched into the end zone for a 32-yard score.
A 36-yard Trevon Saunders punt return gave Urbana the ball at the WLU 13 early in the fourth quarter. The visitors got on the board when TE Larry Southall caught a 4th-and-goal pass inside the 5 and leaped into the end zone over a pair of defenders. The PAT try clanged off the left upright, leaving the score at 21-6.
Any comeback hopes Urbana may have been harboring were quickly dashed. Devan Wade had a 50-yard return on the ensuing kickoff and a facemask penalty moved the ball all the way to the Blue Knight 25. Two snaps later, Conwell checked down to the fade route and Goodwin hauled in his third TD catch of the night.
Urbana closed out the scoring when Saunders snatched a deflected pass out of the air and sprinted off to complete a 69-yard TD with just over two minutes to play but it was too little, too late for the visitors.
West Liberty had 134 rushing yards to go along with Conwell’s 212 passing yards. Ortiz was the team’s leading rusher with 15 carries for 60 yards. Kelly backed Goodwin in the receiving corps with 3 catches for 68 yards.
Blue Knight QBs Cale Burdyshaw and Eric Pelfrey combined to complete 34-of-61 passes for 326 yards. Saunders led the receivers with 4 catches for 84 yards. TB Ben Sasu had his first 100-yard rushing game, running for 105 yards on 19 carries in a losing cause. Urbana moved the ball pretty well between the 20s, finishing the night with 28 first downs and running 94 plays for nearly 500 yards of total offense, but was unable to turn the production into points.
“Our defense played well in the red zone,” Waialae said. “We’ve changed some things defensively this year and we’re getting more and more comfortable with it.
“We don’t play again until a week from Saturday and that break will be huge for us because we’re a pretty beat-up football team right now. Hopefully that will help with some of the nagging injuries and maybe we’ll start getting some of injured guys back on the field.”
The Hilltoppers return to action on Oct. 3 when they travel to West Virginia Wesleyan for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
West Liberty 28
Urbana 0 0 0 12 – 12
West Liberty 0 14 7 7 – 28
WLU: Goodwin 37 pass from Conwell (Morris kick), 14:53
WLU: Goodwin 28 pass from Conwell (Morris kick), 6:49
WLU: Kelly 32 pass from Conwell (Morris kick), 5:28
Urb: Southall 8 pass from Burdyshaw (kick failed), 11:23
WLU: Goodwin 23 pass from Conwell (Morris kick), 10:22
Urb: Saunders 69 pass from Pelfrey (run failed), 2:21
RUSHING: Urbana 33-167, Sasu 19-105, Burdyshaw 9-49, Pelfrey 4-13, Presley 1-0. West Liberty 33-134, Ortiz 15-60, Penick 2-36, Kapron 1-17, Gamble 5-16, Conwell 7-6, Wade 1-2, Team 2-(-3).
PASSING: Urbana 34-61-326-2td-2x (Burdyshaw 27-48-214-1td-2x, Pelfrey 7-13-112-1td-0x). West Liberty 11-21-212-4td-1x (all by Conwell)
RECEIVING: Urbana 34-326, Saunders 4-84, Jones 7-68, Roberts 5-43,Southall 4-40, Sasu 5-30, Carter 4-29, Morgan 3-30, Pelfrey 1-4, Green 1-(-2). West Liberty 11-212, Goodwin 5-115, Kelly 3-68, Lowe 2-19, Dodd 1-10.
First downs: Urbana 28, West Liberty 14
Fumbles: Urbana 1-1, West Liberty 2-1
Penalties: Urbana 8-80, West Liberty 9-115
Time of Possession: Urbana 37:31, West Liberty 22:29