By Tony Viola, Staff Writer
Concord forced six total turnovers and scored 21 defensive points as the Mountain Lions (6-3, 6-1) defeated West Liberty, 32-29 on Saturday at Russek Field.
The Hilltoppers (1-9, 1-7) had a chance to even the score late in the fourth quarter, but West Liberty quarterback L.D. Crow’s pass was intercepted by Concord’s Joe Greenway at the Mountain Lions’ 30-yard line with 34 seconds left in the game.
Greenway led a Concord defense that ranked number one in the WVIAC in total defense, scoring defense, pass defense and turnover differential coming into Saturday’s game.
Despite the Mountain Lion’s high rankings, West Liberty was still able to pass for 374 yards and wide receiver Brandon Schroeder had another career-high day with 12 receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the turnovers, which have plagued the Hilltoppers all season long, that proved to be the deciding factor in the loss.
The first came in the opening quarter when quarterback Ben Rodgers, who had his first start of the season, was intercepted by Concord’s Josh Clark at the Mountain Lions’ 43-yard line.
After the defense forced a punt, West Liberty found themselves backed up deep in their own territory.
On the first play of the drive, running back Jimmy Burress fumbled the ball at the Hilltopper eight-yard line.
Concord’s Ethan Perry then returned the ball for the score and the Mountain Lions grabbed a 7-0 lead with 5:58 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next West Liberty possession, head coach Roger Waialae decided to go with Crow in favor of Rodgers, who then went back to the sidelines in obvious frustration.
The switch, however, did not seem to matter as the Hilltoppers ended the possession with a punt.
West Liberty’s defense then tied the game on the next play as free safety Marco Ricchetti forced a Brain Kennedy fumble at the WLU’s 26. Strong safety Alec Wood, who entered the game ranked sixth in the WVIAC in fumble recoveries, scooped up the ball and ran 74 yards for the touchdown.
Concord’s defense answered right back on the Hilltoppers next drive. On first down, Crow was intercepted by CU’s Zach Gibbins, who raced 46-yards for a Concord touchdown.
The pick was the 18th of season for Crow.
On the opening drive of the second quarter, Crow threw another pick six, this time to Greenway, in his first of two interceptions for a touchdown.
Trailing 21-7, Crow then completed five passes in a row to lead the Hilltoppers downfield inside the Concord 10-yard line.
Running back Brandon Davis finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run.
Following a Concord drive in which CU quarterback Zach Grossi was sacked three times, the Hilltoppers started where they left off.
Starting on it’s own 13, West Liberty went on a 14 play, 81 yard drive that chewed up the last five minutes of the second quarter only to have kicker Jeff Hoak’s 23-yard field goal attempt miss wide right.
The Hilltoppers were still able to keep that offensive spark, however, as they took their first possession of the third quarter downfield 41 yards.
After a sack on third and goal, Hoak attempted a 25-yard field goal, this time making it through the uprights to cut Concords lead to 21-17.
West Liberty’s defense stiffened again and forced a Concord three and out, followed by Wood’s 30 yard punt return to the Mountain Lions 30-yard line.
The Hilltoppers tried to take advantage of the good field position, but Crow threw his third interception of the game, which resulted in a Concord field goal to start the fourth quarter.
WLU’s offense then cranked out a 12 play drive ending with a eight-yard touchdown pass from Crow to Schroeder on third and goal.
Of the 76 yards accumulated on the drive, Crow to Schroeder compiled for 45 of them.
Hoak’s extra point attempt was blocked by the Mountain Lions and the West Liberty Hilltoppers found themselves down by one, 24-23 with 9:30 left in the fourth.
After another solid effort by the defense, the Hilltopper offense got the ball on the Concord 40 and only needed three plays to get into the endzone again with a Schroeder 41-yard catch from Crow.
Hoak’s PAT was good and West Liberty led 29-24.
The Mountain Lions offense, which had been held to 161 yards of total offense, went on its longest drive of the day, a 13 play, 64-yard backbreaker which ate up 5:34 and ended with a Kennedy four-yard touchdown rush.
The two-point conversion was good, and Concord sealed it 32-29.
The Hilltoppers finished with 24 first downs and 404 yards of total offense while holding Concord to just 14 first downs and 225 yards of total offense.
Crow finished the game 28 of 43 for 316 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions, while wide receiver Tyler Tucci finished with career highs of 12 catches for 114 yards.
On the defensive side, LB Kyle Agustin, who ranks seventh in total tackles in the WVIAC, notched 10 total tackles, seven of which were solo stops.
The defense as a whole racked up four sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
For Concord, Grossi threw for 138 yards in the win.
Jimmy Keating caught three passes for 55 yards and Greenway had a team-high seven tackles to go along with two interceptions.
With CU’s win and West Virginia Wesleyan’s loss, their game on Nov. 12 will be, in essence, a WVIAC championship game.
The Hilltoppers will play their last game of this season against University of North Carolina-Pembroke.