Less than two minutes into last night’s season opener with visiting Seton Hill University at Duvall-Rosier Field all first-year Fairmont State head coach Jason Woodman could do was shake his head.
His team had touched the football twice in the game’s first 1:32 and had turned it over twice inside of its own 25-yard line.
Not the kind of first impression you want to make in your head coaching debut.
“It seemed like we were killing our defense all night long,” said Woodman. “We kept putting them in bad spots, especially early on there, but they bailed us out.”
Indeed Fairmont’s defense did. The Falcons held Seton Hill to just three points on its first two “gift” trips into the red zone and as a result Fairmont’s offense then rallied, protected the football and reeled off 30 consecutive points to take a 30-3 lead late in the first half en route to a 37-29 victory over the Griffins.
“Offensively early on once we got into the red zone we were effective and did the things we were supposed to do,” said Woodman. “Fortunately our defense put our offense in some situations we were able to capitalize on.”
FSU senior linebacker Ryan Watts picked off a pair of passes in the victory both of which led to touchdowns for the Falcons. Sophomore cornerback Dominik Mensah added another pick which led to a score, and sophomore cornerback Jordan Armstrong intercepted another pass and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. The Falcons also got a fumble recovery by true freshman tight end Joshua Compton on a Seton Hill punt return which resulted in a 43-yard field goal by Johnny Dearstine.
“Give credit to all of the guys on the defense for the turnovers,” said Watts. “On my first pick their quarterback was under a heavy rush and on the second one Anthony Domico tipped it and it just fell into my hands.
“Our offense then took advantage of those turnovers. I thought they did a phenomenal job tonight. Cooper (Hibbs) for it being the first game of the season and of his college career to throw four touchdowns was outstanding.”
Hibbs, the Falcons’ true freshman quarterback from Odenton, Md., threw an interception on the first pass attempt of his college career which led to a Seton Hill field goal and early 3-0 lead by the Griffins. He, however, bounced back from that and completed 11 of his next 19 passes for 191 yards and four touchdowns.
“I couldn’t imagine what was going through everyone else’s head after that first pick I threw, but I just tried to stay positive and bounce back the best that I could,” said Hibbs, who connected with senior receiver Chris St. Hilaire on a pair of TD passes in the win. “Our team really came together. I thought our defense did a great job tonight.”
After Fairmont built its early 30-3 lead, the Griffins responded with a quick touchdown right before the half when backup quarterback Nick Halfhill connected with Norman Darden on a 61-yard scoring strike to make it 30-10 at the break.
After Watts’ second interception ended Seton Hill’s first drive of the final half, Hibbs and St. Hilaire wasted no time making the Griffins pay. They connected on a 28-yard scoring strike on Fairmont’s first offensive play of the third quarter to make it 37-10.
FSU’s offense then went on cruise control for the remainder of the game and the pass-happy Griffins reeled off 19 unanswered points to make the contest a bit closer than it really was.
Seton Hill threw the football 70 times in the game completing 37 for 353 yards and four touchdowns. The Griffins, however, were picked off four times by the Falcons.
“We hurt ourselves offensively in the second half because we didn’t move the ball like we needed to move it,” said Woodman. “As a result, our defense was on the field too much. They ran like 97 plays, and that’s too much. Considering that, I thought our defense played pretty well for the most part.”
FSU’s defense, which was led by senior linebacker Garrett Davis’ game-high 15 tackles and two sacks, held Seton Hill to just 46 yards on the ground.
The Falcons, on the other hand, as a team threw for 260 yards and ran for 99. Senior Dawrence Roberts, a transfer from Grambling University, led FSU on the ground with 104 yards on 25 carries. St. Hilaire finished with 119 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions.
Fairmont State will be back in action Saturday, Sept. 14 when it opens Mountain State Athletic Conference play with a 1 p.m. home contest against league favorite Shepherd University at Duvall-Rosier Field.