Fairmont State tailback Terrell Charles scored on a 10-yard run with just 2:18 remaining Thursday night and the unbeaten Falcons handed West Liberty a hard-to-swallow 21-20 loss in the Mountain East Conference Game of the Week at West Family Stadium.
It was the second one-point loss in as many weeks for Coach Roger Waialae’s hard-luck Hilltoppers (0-3, 0-2), who never trailed until Charles’ late touchdown capped Fairmont State’s comeback from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we really battled tonight after (senior QB) Dakota Conwell went down in the first quarter,” Waialae said. “(Brenton) Colabella stepped up and hit some big throws and we made some plays on both sides of the ball.”
Conwell left the game late in the first quarter when his helmet was ripped off as he dove into the line on 1st-and-goal from the Fairmont State 2. The senior standout, who was off to a great start with 85 passing yards and 28 rushing yards before the injury, was unable to return.
After opening up a 17-7 halftime lead on a pair of touchdown passes from Colabella to senior WR Dan Monteroso, West Liberty added a 28-yard Christian Morris field goal in the third quarter to push the count to 20-7 heading into the final 15 minutes.
“When Dakota left the game, that took away the threat of the quarterback run,” Waialae said. “Fairmont was able to tee off on the pass rush and we couldn’t hold up against the charge consistently enough in the second half.”
A strong effort by the Hilltopper defense kept the high-powered Fairmont State offense at bay through the first three quarters, coming up with several key stops and intercepting three passes by Falcon senior QB Cooper Hibbs, but Fairmont refused to fold.
The visitors closed the gap to 20-14 on their first possession of the fourth quarter when Charles slammed into the end zone from 4 yards out to cap a 4-play, 46-yard scoring drive with 11:42 remaining.
West Liberty was able to pick up a first down before punting it back to the Falcons and the WLU defense delivered a huge 3-and-out to force a Fairmont punt with just over 7 minutes remaining.
The Hilltoppers ground out another first down but a fumble on 3rd-and-7 gave the ball back to the Falcons at the West Liberty 37 with 4:47 to go, setting up Charles’ game-winning TD run. West Liberty’s final possession ended on an interception at the Falcon 45.
“Every game we’ve lost this season, we’ve lost due to self-inflicted wounds,” Waialae said. “We did a good job of turning Fairmont over for the first three quarters but then we gave it back at the end. When you’re in a one-score game, every mistake is amplified. We’re a good football team. We just need to find a way to get over the hump.”
It was a tale of two halves for the West Liberty offense, which racked up 216 yards of total offense over the first two quarters but managed just 69 more the rest of the night. Colabella completed 6-of-20 passes for 121 yards and 2 TDs with one interception while Conwell was 6-of-9 through the air for 85 yards. Monteroso led all receivers with 4 catches for 118 yards and two scores.
Hibbs completed 25-of-38 passes for 250 yards and a TD with 3 interceptions, two by WLU senior Solomon Dixon. Fabian Guerra led the Fairmont receiving corps with 112 yards on 8 catches while Charles ran for 90 yards on 22 carries.
The Hilltoppers return to action on Sept. 24 with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Urbana.
Fairmont State 21
West Liberty 20
Fairmont State 0 7 0 14 – 21
West Liberty 3 14 3 0 – 20
WLU: FG Morris 34, 2:34
WLU: Monteroso 37 pass from Colabella (Morris kick), 13:07
FSU: Guerra 13 pass from Hibbs (Keil kick), 9:21
WLU: Monteroso 10 pass from Colabella (Morris kick), 3:48
WLU: FG Morris 27, 6:58
FSU: Charles 4 run (Keil kick), 11:42
FSU: Charles 10 run (Keil kick), 2:18
RUSHING: Fairmont State 35-123; Charles 22-90; Darden 4-29; King 1-9; Hall 1-9; Hibbs 4-0; Team 3-(-14). West Liberty 42-79; Ortiz 11-48; Conwell 9-28; Gamble 5-26; Peterson 7-11; Penick 2-6; Hardesty 1-2; Long 1-(-6); Colabella 6-(-38).
PASSING: Fairmont State 25-38-250-1td-3x (all by Hibbs). West Liberty 12-29-206-2td-1x (Colabella 6-20-121-2td-1x, Conwell 6-9-85-0-0).
RECEIVING: Fairmont State 25-250; Guerra 8-112; Boyd 5-38; Hall 5-36; King 4-25; Jackson 1-15; Charles 1-13; Darden 1-11. West Liberty Monteroso 4-118; McCallum 3-16; Peterson 2-31; Hardesty 1-19; Kapron 1-15; Kelly 1-7
First downs: Fairmont State 25, West Liberty 17
Fumbles: Fairmont State 0-0, West Liberty 1-1
Penalties: Fairmont State 13-135, West Liberty 9-95
Time of Possession: Fairmont State 31:08, West Liberty 28:52