Anton McCallum caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Dakota Conwell with just 29 seconds remaining Thursday night to lift West Liberty to a 28-24 victory against West Virginia Wesleyan in the Mountain East Conference Game of the Week at rainswept West Family Stadium.
Coach Roger Waialae’s Hilltoppers (2-3, 2-2) began their game-winning drive at their own 45 with 2:55 remaining.
Conwell picked up a pair of key first downs with his feet which, combined with a defensive holding call, gave West Liberty a first down at the Wesleyan 23. An 8-yard run by Tyler Peterson set up 2nd-and-2 as the clock turned under a minute but a false start penalty pushed WLU back to the 20.
Conwell picked up a key first down at the 13 with a 7-yard out route to WR Dan Monteroso but his next two passes fell incomplete, making it 3rd-and-10 from the 13 with 34 seconds on the clock. Taking a quick drop, Conwell fired a laser into a tight window to McCallum at the goal line and the senior wideout pulled it in for the game-winning score.
“We knew they were going to double Dan on the outside so Anton got to the right hole and Dakota threw right on time,” Waialae said. “It was the best pass he threw all night.”
It was a tale of two halves for the Hilltoppers and the Bobcats (1-4, 1-4) as Wesleyan dominated play for most of the first half before taking a 17-0 lead into the locker room at intermission.
West Liberty had just 118 yards of total offense in the first two quarters and Conwell completed just 4-of-18 passes for just 29 yards with an interception in the rainy, windy conditions. The Black and Gold were unable to sustain offensive possessions, going 0-for-7 on third down conversions. Wesleyan produced 233 yards of total offense and even added a special teams score on a 54-yard punt return by Marcus Smith and seemed to be in complete control.
It was a different West Liberty team that returned to the field in the third quarter.
“I’m normally not very emotional with the guys,” Waialae said, “but I felt I needed to be tonight. We got after them pretty good at halftime and they responded in the right way.”
Senior DT Darnell Vickers, who sat out the first half, got the ball rolling by stripping Anderson on the second possession of the third quarter with DE Mohammed Sankoh recovering at the Wesleyan 21.
The Hilltoppers capitalized on the short field when Peterson walked into the end zone after taking a 6-yard screen pass from Conwell to make it 17-7 with 7:14 remaining.
The WLU defense came through with another stop and TB Tyriq Dorsett wasted little time getting into the act, bouncing off several would-be tacklers before breaking into the clear on a 57-yard touchdown run, cutting the deficit to 17-14 at 4:41 of the third quarter.
After forcing yet another punt on the first play of the fourth quarter, West Liberty drove 85 yards in 7 plays for the go-ahead score. Flushed from the pocket on 3rd-and-8 from his own 45, Conwell found Monteroso deep down the right sideline. The rangy wide receiver made a circus catch near the 15 and outmuscled a pair of Bobcat defenders to dive into the end zone for a 21-17 Hilltopper lead.
Anderson – the leading rusher in the MEC – answered with a 70-yard touchdown sprint down the right sideline less than a minute later but West Liberty would not be denied. Vickers forced another Anderson fumble to set up a potential game-tying 20-yard field goal try with 4:30 left but a bad snap gave the Bobcats a chance to run out the clock.
They couldn’t do it as the West Liberty defense forced another three-and-out to set up the game-winning drive.
“Vickers made a big difference in the second half,” Waialae said. “I sat him out in the first half as a disciplinary thing and he really responded. He forced a couple of fumbles and was really disruptive. Anderson’s a great back but outside of that big run, we did a pretty good job on him after halftime.”
Anderson – coming off a 247-yard rushing game against Concord last week – finished with 141 yards on 28 carries Thursday night. He had 17 carries in the second half. One of them went for 70 yards and a touchdown but he had just 21 yards on the other 16 attempts and lost a pair of fumbles.
The Hilltoppers ramped up the ground game in the second half, rushing for 188 yards on 24 carries over the final two quarters to finish with 277 rushing yards on 41 attempts for the game. Conwell led the way with 94 yards on 17 carries but Dorsett added a career-high 88 yards on just 6 attempts while Peterson and Jeremiah Ortiz combined for 79 more yards on 14 carries.
Conwell completed just 10-of-34 passes for 116 yards in the brutal conditions but three of his throws went for touchdowns. Monteroso led all receivers with 4 catches for 71 yards while LB Cliff Clark was the game’s leading tackler with 12 stops and two tackles-for-loss.
“All we talk about in practice is making plays,” Waialae said. “The other team practices, too, so they’re going to make plays. When you’re in a close game, like we have been every game this season, you just have to make one more play than they do. We did that tonight and had to overcome a lot of adversity in the process. I’m really proud of my guys.”
The Hilltoppers return to action on Oct. 8 with a 1 p.m. game at the University of Charleston.
West Liberty 28
W.Va. Wesleyan 24
W.Va. Wesleyan 7 10 0 7 – 24
West Liberty 0 0 14 14 – 28
WVW: Anderson 11 run (Fischer kick), 6:14
WVW: Smith 54 punt return (Fischer kick), 12:41
WVW: FG Fischer 34, :25
WLU: Peterson 6 pass from Conwell (Morris kick), 7:14
WLU: Dorsett 57 run (Morris kick), 4:41
WLU: Monteroso 55 pass from Conwell (Morris kick), 12:14
WVW: Anderson 70 run (Fischer kick), 11:44
WLU: McCallum 13 pass from Conwell (Morris kick), :29
RUSHING: W.Va. Wesleyan, Anderson 28-141; Jones 2-4; Deal 2-2; Team 1-(-3). West Liberty, Conwell 17-94; Dorsett 6-88; Ortiz 6-44; Gamble 8-35; Peterson 2-16; McCallum 1-3; Team 1-(-3).
PASSING: W.Va. Wesleyan 19-39-244-0td-1x (all by Deal). West Liberty 10-34-116-3td-1x (all by Conwell)
RECEIVING: W.Va. Wesleyan 19-244; Smith 5-60; Anderson 4-29; Waddell 3-37; Schademan 2-29; Rogalski 2-13; Myrick 1-59; Myers 1-11; Lewis 1-6. West Liberty 10-116; Monteroso 4-71; Kelly 3-21; McCallum 2-18; Peterson 1-6.
First downs: W.Va. Wesleyan 19, West Liberty 19
Fumbles: W.Va. Wesleyan 3-2, West Liberty 0-0
Penalties: W.Va. Wesleyan 10-78, West Liberty 11-73
Time of Possession: W.Va. Wesleyan 31:07, West Liberty 28:53