West Virginia State holds off Braves football in MEC opener

Sep. 8—INSTITUTE, W.Va. — West Virginia State tallied 495 offensive yards and had possession for nearly 37 minutes on the way to fending off the UNC Pembroke football team 37-35 on Thursday evening at Lakin Field at Dickerson Stadium for the Mountain East Conference opener.

The Braves (1-1, 0-1 MEC) were called for 12 penalties for 110-yards during Thursdays setback. The Yellow Jackets (1-1, 1-0 MEC) picked up their first win at home on Thursday, as well as their first win against the Black & Gold in the six-game series.

West Virginia State's defense forced UNC Pembroke to a three-and-out to start the game, but on just the second offensive play for the Yellow Jackets, LaTrell Jewsome intercepted a pass and ran it into the end zone for a UNCP touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Yellow Jackets used a 21-yard run from Donovan Riddick to move up the field followed by a pass up the middle to Javion Monroe for 18 more yards. The Braves defense rejected the hosts on the goal line and WVSU settled for a 20-yard field goal from Brennen Schmitt to make it 7-3.

UNCP started the next drive with a Caleb Pierce 12-yard completion to EJ Gatling. A trio of rush plays continued the offensive surge for the Braves. Pierce found an open Trey Dixon for a 24-yard competition as the drive ended with an Antonio Crim Jr. touchdown run. UNCP took a 14-3 lead, which it maintained until the end of the quarter.

Riddick connected with Devin Washington for a 19-yard gain followed by a competition to Nolan Johnson for a 19-yard gain to get to the 3-yard line. Riddick saw Jones in the end zone to a WVSU touchdown, cutting the Braves' lead to 14-10.

West Virginia State made quick work on offense using just 1:55 and needing only five plays to score. Riddick's pass up the middle to Joe Jones was complete as Jones ran in for a 36-yard touchdown, giving the Yellow Jackets their first lead, 17-10.

Colin Johnson's rush to the left on fourth-and-1 kept the offense alive for UNCP later in the period. Crim rushed the next three plays for 32 yards to set up Pierce for a 9-yard pass completion to Dixon for a touchdown. UNCP held a 21-17 lead at halftime.

WVSU once against wasted no time on offense to start the second half, starting with a 25-yard kickoff return. Joel Felder rushed up the middle for a 28-yard touchdown to put the hosts back on top, 24-21.

West Virginia State drove 63 yards down the field, but the UNC Pembroke defense forced an incomplete pass. Brennen Schmitt's 26-yard field-goal attempt was good to extend the Yellow Jackets' lead to 27-21.

E.J. Gatling sparked the offense for the Braves with a 37-yard rush for a first down. Crim followed it up with an 8-yard rush before Pierce ran it up the middle for a touchdown, as UNCP retook the lead 28-27 and took that lead to the fourth.

Raydarius Freeman and Sean Hill sacked Riddick for a six-yard loss which forced the Yellow Jackets to settle for a field goal on their first fourth-quarter possession. Brennen Schmitt's attempt from the 30-yard line was good, resulting in the game's fifth and final lead change, with WVSU taking a 30-28 lead.

Felder found an opening up the middle and rushed for 54 yards to put West Virginia State in great field position. The Yellow Jackets continued to drive down the field and got to the UNCP 8-yard line, which allowed Riddick to find Nate Baker for a one-yard touchdown pass, extending the lead to 37-28.

Pierce hit Jovany Doe for a 20-yard completion followed by a 33-yard completion to Dixon as UNCP was threatening at the goal line. Pierce found Malik Tobias in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown reception, cutting the lead to 37-35, but the Braves were unable to recover an onside kick and the Yellow Jackets ran out the clock.

Pierce finished the night 12-for-23 on pass completions for 165 yards. The newcomer also rushed for 22 yards. Crim rushed the ball 16 times for 94 yards and one touchdown. Dixon caught four passes, one of which was a touchdown, for 82 receiving yards.

Hill and Saige Ley each tallied 11 tackles. Jamae Blank finished the night with 11 tackles for loss.

Thursday's result marked the first time in four seasons that UNCP has lost its conference opener. It is the second time in the six-game series between the two teams that the outcome was deicded by less than three points.

The Braves will be back in action at home on Saturday, September 16 against Charleston (2-0, 1-0 MEC) for Parents & Families Weekend presented by The View. Kickoff is set for noon at Grace P. Johnson Stadium.