“We honored 21 seniors before the game and they led us today,” Hilltopper head coach Roger Waialae said. “This was the last game they’ll play on this field and they played with a lot of pride. I’m really happy to see them walk off this field for the final time as winners. They’ve meant a lot to our program.”
The victory clinched the eighth winning season for West Liberty (6-4, 6-3) in 10 years under Waialae but the scrappy Cavaliers (1-9, 1-7) didn’t go away quietly.
Conwell had a 19-yard TD pass to TE Daree Goodwin in the first quarter and found WR Anton McCallum on a 45-yard scoring strike in the second quarter but UVA-Wise answered with a pair of short touchdown runs to forge a 14-14 halftime tie.
The Hilltoppers went ahead to stay with an adventurous 12-play, 87-yard march in the third quarter. The Cavaliers appeared to have forced a 3-and-out inside the WLU 20 when a late hit personal foul gave the hosts a first down at the 31.
West Liberty crossed midfield before stalling again. Waialae sent out the punt team on fourth-and-3 from the UVA-Wise 42 but the Hilltoppers caught the Cavaliers by surprise as punter Griff Yocum flipped a 9-yard pass to backup quarterback and long snapper Dan Leonard on a center-eligible play.
Two snaps later, TB Isiah Moody bounced outside and found daylight off right tackle. Spinning between a pair of would-be tacklers at the 10, he darted into the end zone for a 33-yard TD and a 21-14 West Liberty lead.
The Hilltopper defense stuffed UVA-Wise on fourth-down near midfield and Conwell capped a 6-play, 49-yard scoring drive with a 7-yard jump pass to Goodwin in the end zone.
The visitors got a pair of Trent Martin field goals to make it a one-possession game, 28-20, in the fourth quarter but Conwell’s fourth TD pass of the day – a 28-yard rainbow to McCallum off a pretty play-action fake – wrapped up the scoring and put the game on ice with just 1:52 left to play.
Conwell completed 20-of-30 passes for 207 yards and 4 TDs to go along with a pair of interceptions and also ran the ball 10 times for 39 more yards.
“We made big plays in the run game today which helped set up some play-action stuff for us,” Waialae said. “We put a lot on Dakota’s plate today. I’m sure there were some decisions he’d like to have back but the bottom line is we ran the ball effectively, got some match-ups that we wanted and were able to take advantage of them.”
West Liberty finished with 180 rushing yards on 38 carries. Moody led the way with 77 yards on 14 tries while R.J. Thomas added 69 yards on 10 attempts. McCallum had 3 catches for 82 yards, Goodwin caught 4 balls for 56 yards and Dylan Potts had 6 grabs for 26 yards. DE Quinton Sifford and LB Alec Wood led the West Liberty defense with 10 tackles each. Sifford had 3 tackles-for-loss and a QB sack while Wood was credited with 3 pass break-ups.
UVA-Wise QB Jeremy Eubank completed 16-of-30 passes for 211 yards while freshman TB Carlton Griffith notched his third straight 100-yard rushing game with 32 carries for 105 yards. Juwaine Massenburg led all receivers with 7 catches for 99 yards.
“Senior Day is really important to us as a team,” Waialae said. “With 21 kids, this was another big senior class for us and that’s kind of become our trademark. Kids come here and they stay here. There’s no mass exodus. That tells me they’re being treated right and they’re getting the education they want.
“That continuity and dedication has a lot to do with those 8 winning seasons in 10 years here. It’s a tribute to the hard work put in by the kids and the coaches and the support of the university community as a whole. It all works together.”