By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Fairmont State’s Ryland Newman made the bonehead play of the year Saturday in the Falcons’ game with visiting West Virginia Wesleyan at Duvall-Rosier Field.
And he got away with it.
The Falcons’ multi-talented cornerback and his teammates more than made up for his bad decision midway through the third quarter with big play after big play as they rallied for 40 second-half points and an impressive 49-32 come-from-behind victory over the Bobcats.
The win improved Fairmont State to 2-4 overall and to 2-2 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Wesleyan, meanwhile, fell to 2-5 overall and to 1-3 in the league.
After a lackluster first 30 minutes in which the Falcons found themselves only able to muster a trio of field goals and trailing 21-9 at the break, Fairmont’s offense exploded in the second half. The sight of that was a welcome one for Falcon fans.
In the first five games, FSU’s offense had scored a total of just six touchdowns. Yesterday the Falcons’ offense put six TDs on the board in the second half. Quarterback Bobby Vega, who completed 15-of-30 passes for 275 yards, tossed five touchdown passes in the half – four of which came on successive completions from the 9:52 mark of the third quarter until the 14:54 mark of the final period and gave his team a 35-24 lead it never relinquished.
Three of his touchdown strikes went to senior receiver Matt Wilmer, who finished with career highs of seven receptions for 163 yards and the three scores. His other two TD tosses were caught by C.J. Goodwin, who finished with three catches for 55 yards.
“This performance felt great for us,” said Vega. “We felt like we left a lot of points on the field in the first half. We were ashamed of ourselves because we know we have the potential to be an explosive offense and we haven’t shown it.
“In the second half we handled our business. We had some people really step up for us. Our top two receivers coming into this game were out with injuries, but other guys stepped up, matured and really made some great plays for us.”
After Fairmont closed its 12-point halftime deficit to six at 21-15 on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Vega to Wilmer early in the third, Wesleyan quickly answered with a 44-yard field goal from Kasper Bernild to make it 24-15. That set the stage for Newman’s play.
The senior standout, who has returned three interceptions, three punts and a blocked field goal for touchdowns during his stellar career, took the ensuing kickoff at his own three and raced 97-yards for an apparent touchdown. However, on his way to the end zone at the 10-yard line he taunted Bobcat defenders trailing him with a hand gesture and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct taking the TD off of the board.
The 15-yard penalty was enforced from the spot of the foul giving Fairmont at first down at the Wesleyan 25. Three plays netted just three yards and Johnny Dearstine, who had connected on field goals of 21, 35 and 38 yards in the win, was off the mark on his 39-yard attempt leaving the Falcons still trailing by nine with 5:37 left in the third.
“I was furious with myself for doing that,” said Newman. “I kind of got caught up in the emotions of the moment and the game. Coming off to the sidelines I knew I did wrong and I knew I had to try to make up for it. When we ended up not getting anything out of that drive it really hit me hard. I was sick about it. That was such a crucial point in the game and I cost my team by doing something really stupid.”
But Newman is a person and player Fairmont knows it can count on to atone for his mistakes and in the game’s final 20 minutes that’s exactly what he did.
“Ryland made a mistake which could’ve happened to anyone and we knew given the chance he’d make up for it and boy did he,” said Wilmer. “I was joking with him and told him ‘Boy we ain’t in the NFL yet. You can’t be doing that.’ He was beating himself up pretty good, but he made up for it though and we took advantage of positions he helped put us in and got a nice win today.”
First, Newman returned a Wesleyan punt 29 yards to the Bobcats’ 24. On the very next play Vega connected with Goodwin on a 24-yard scoring strike to pull Fairmont to within two at 24-22 with 4:35 left in the third.
Later he intercepted a Bobcat pass early in the fourth quarter to halt a drive at the Fairmont 32 and then he picked off another pass and returned it 57 yards for another touchdown which was taken off of the board when FSU defensive coordinator Shahram Shafii was flagged for sideline interference (being on the field) during the return which took place completely on the opposite sideline.
“In a way I kind of feel good for making some plays and setting up my team to have success, but you know the mistake I made today was a bad one and it’s still really bothering me,” said Newman. “I know it’s over and I can’t dwell on it. I know I have to move forward, but I still feel like I want to punish myself. I’m just glad we got the win.”
After the sideline interference penalty Fairmont took possession of the football at the Wesleyan 33 and this time cashed in on the mistake with points. Running back Daniel Monroe rumbled into the end zone from 17 yards out for FSU’s first rushing touchdown of the season to seal the victory at 49-32 with 3:34 left to play. Monroe finished with a season-high 147 yards on the ground on 25 carries.
Ironically, West Virginia Wesleyan made a bonehead play of its own which proved costly in the loss. Trailing 35-32 with just over seven minutes left to play the Bobcats opted to fake a punt from their own 27 which failed. Three plays later Vega burned them with his fifth TD toss of the half — an eight-yard slant to Goodwin which made it 42-32 with 5:50 remaining.
Fairmont State will be back in action Saturday at 2 p.m. when it hosts Seton Hill (Pa.) University for homecoming at Duvall-Rosier Field.