Dakota Conwell threw for three touchdowns, Isiah Moody ran for a career-high 153 yards and the West Liberty defense held West Virginia Wesleyan without a touchdown for the first time all season as the Hilltoppers rolled to their third straight win, 24-3, under the Thursday night lights at West Family Stadium.
The three-game winning streak is West Liberty’s longest since the 2010 season and the Hilltoppers (5-3, 5-2) have been dominant during that stretch, outscoring their three opponents by a combined margin of 107-33.
Conwell, a transfer from the University of Arizona has been a key factor during the surge. The sophomore signal caller completed 11-of-23 passes for 175 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Bobcats (3-5, 3-5) on Thursday night while running the ball 16 times for 81 more yards. Over the past three weeks, Conwell has completed 40-of-66 passes for 659 yards and 10 TDs with just 2 interceptions while adding more than 100 yards on the ground.
“(Quarterbacks coach) Zach Amedro has done a great job of bringing Dakota along,” head coach Roger Waialae said. “Zach has been telling Dakota to step up into the pocket and look to throw instead of running with it. Dakota did a great job tonight extending plays with his feet and working through his progressions to find the open man.”
Moody’s big night on the ground had a lot to do with creating opportunities in the passing game. The senior tailback carried a season-high 26 times for a season-high 153 yards as West Liberty ground out 284 rushing yards on 54 carries while holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
It was the Hilltoppers’ first 100-yard rushing game by a running back in exactly one year as Marty Bishop ran for 108 yards in last year’s game at Wesleyan.
“We came in wanting to run right at them (Wesleyan) because their defense is so fast,” Waialae said. “Our offensive line has been blocking well all year and Moody gave us the production we’ve been looking for all season from the tailback spot. I think we were able to wear them down a little bit in the second half.”
The Hilltoppers opened the scoring with a 32-yard Shawn Carl field goal on the game’s first possession and Conwell pushed the lead to 10-0 early in the second quarter when he scrambled out of the pocket and found Anton McCallum along the back line for a 20-yard touchdown.
Wesleyan moved the ball well between the 20s for much of the first half but came away with only a 47-yard Kasper Bernild field goal to show for it as two red-zone turnovers – a Dylan Dominico fumble recovery at the WLU 5 and an Alec Wood interception at the goal line – left the Bobcats trailing, 10-3, at the break.
The visitors – who had committed just 8 turnovers in their first 7 games – began the second half with their third turnover of the night and the Hilltoppers began to pull away.
Marcus Schumacher stripped the ball from a Wesleyan receiver at the WVW 38 and Zach Barnes scooped up the loose ball and carried it to the 28 to set the West Liberty offense up with great field position. Six snaps later, Conwell capped the short drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Potts for a 17-3 lead.
After a 3-and-out by the Hilltopper defense, Conwell led WLU right back down the field for another score. The 60-yard, 10-play drive was capped by a 4-yard TD toss to H-Back R.J. Thomas to make it 24-3 with less than 5 minutes left in the third quarter and the West Liberty defense took care of the rest.
Musselman completed 26-of-47 passes for 300 yards but the Bobcat rushing attack was virtually non-existent, netting minus-4 rushing yards on 10 attempts. TB Mike Anderson led all receivers with 6 catches for 106 yards.
“I’m proud of my defense,” Waialae said. “That’s a really good offense and a really good quarterback. The defensive line took away the run and we made some big plays in the red zone. We’ve had to play some young kids due to injuries but our two seniors, Alec Wood and Marco Ricchetti, bring it every week.”
West Liberty returns to action next Thursday when the Hilltoppers travel to Charleston for a 7 p.m. game.
West Liberty 24, W.Va. Wesleyan 3
W.Va. Wesleyan 0 3 0 0 – 3
West Liberty 3 7 14 0 – 24
WLU: FG Carl 32, 9:09
WLU: McCallum 20 pass from Conwell (Musilli kick), 12:29
WVW: FG Bernild 47, 9:03
WLU: Potts 8 pass from Conwell (Musilli kick), 10:36
WLU: Thomas 4 pass from Conwell (Musilli kick), 4:49
RUSHING: W.Va. Wesleyan 10-(-4); Mike Anderson 6-7; Jeremy Musselman 3-(-2); Tyler Bolen 1-(-9). West Liberty 54-284; Isiah Moody 26-153; Dakota Conwell 16-81; R.J. Thomas 6-45; Jeremiah Ortiz 4-5; Lukas Turley 1-2; Team 1-(-2).
PASSING: W.Va. Wesleyan 27-50-318-0td-1x (Jeremy Musselman 26-47-300-0td-1x; Tyler Bolen 1-3-18-0td-0x). West Liberty 11-23-175-3td-1x (all by Dakota Conwell).
RECEIVING: W.Va. Wesleyan 27-318; Mike Anderson 6-106; Dylan Davis 6-92; Stephen Rogalski 6-56; Chase Blackwell 6-40; Eric Lewis 1-15; Jamale Myrick 1-6; Dylan Clifford 1-3. West Liberty 11-175; Brandon Schroeder 2-27; Anton McCallum 2-21; Dylan Potts 2-20; Isiah Moody 1-38; Max Kapron 1-33; Jeremiah Ortiz 1-16; Lukas Turley 1-16; R.J. Thomas 1-4.
First downs: W.Va. Wesleyan 12, West Liberty 23
Fumbles: W.Va. Wesleyan 2-2; West Liberty 0-0
Penalties: W.Va. Wesleyan 5-30; West Liberty 5-56
Time of Poss.: W.Va. Wesleyan 21:29; West Liberty 38:31