By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
In a game which had more twists and turns than Route 250 North to Wheeling, it was Fairmont State which made the final drive and play to emerge victorious, 47-44 over visiting Virginia-Wise on “Senior Day” Saturday at Duvall-Rosier Field.
“There was some crazy stuff that happened in this one,” said first-year FSU coach Jason Woodman, who watched his team halt a five-game losing streak and finish the regular season 3-7 overall and 2-7 in the Mountain East Conference. “It just seemed like every time we would start to get momentum they’d do something to get back in it – return a kickoff for a near touchdown, block an extra point and return it for two points and recover a fumbled punt in the end zone for a touchdown. It was wild. Give Wise credit. They kept making plays and making it close.
“I can’t say enough about our kids, though, for fighting back when we were down. I thought it was awesome for our seniors to go out this way with a win. They’re a great group and they deserved it.”
Trailing 37-23 late in the third quarter, the Cavaliers, who had staged some late-game heroics in recent weeks to win two of their last three games coming into Saturday’s contest, appeared poised to pull out another wild win. In the first 11:06 of the fourth quarter Wise outscored FSU 21-3 to wipe out the 14-point deficit and take a 44-40 lead with just 3:54 left to play.
That’s when Fairmont mounted arguably its biggest and most important offensive drive of the season. Led by freshman quarterback Cooper Hibbs, who completed 19-of-33 passes for a career-high 309 yards and two touchdowns in the victory, FSU marched to the UVA-Wise five-yard line with just over a minute left to play and had a first-and-goal situation. To get there Hibbs converted the first of two crucial fourth downs when on fourth-and-four from the Wise 27 he eluded pressure and found a wide open Dawrence Roberts on the far sideline. The FSU senior running back hauled in the pass and rambled 22 yards to the Cavaliers’ five.
“Everyone had confidence going out there for that last drive and knew we could do it,” said Hibbs. “We did it a few weeks ago in the Wesleyan game. Everybody just did their jobs, and we moved the ball down the field.
“On that first fourth down luckily I saw Dawrence at the last moment. I didn’t see him at first and my first instinct was to take off and try to run for it, but I spotted him out there alone on the sideline. At first I thought I overthrew him, but he made the catch and a nice run after that to get the first down.”
A running play to Roberts and an incomplete pass which was batted down in the end zone put FSU in a third-and-goal situation at the five. On third down Cooper didn’t find anyone open and attempted to run for the goal line. He was stopped by a vicious hit at the three and was forced to come out of the game, setting the stage for sophomore backup quarterback Tyler Pate to emerge as one of the game’s heros.
On fourth-and-goal from the three, Pate connected with redshirt freshman receiver Nick Alvaro in the front of the end zone on a three-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds left to play.
“You’ve got to be ready any time your number is called, especially in a situation like that,” said Pate. “You’ve just got to try to keep calm and make a play. I wanted to send our seniors out the right way. I just went out there and did what I had to do.
“I was a little nervous because I knew the game was on the line, but I just read it out and took what the defense gave me.”
On the play Alvaro came in motion and ran an out route. He found himself wide open in the front of the end zone.
“Give Tyler credit,” said Alvaro, who had three catches for 20 yards and a pair of TDs in the win – the first two of his young college career. “He threw a great ball. I motioned across and ran an out route. On that play Fabian (Guerra) runs like a pig tail route behind me. I just wanted to make sure I got my depth and got into the end zone.
“When I turned I saw the ball in the air and it seemed like it hung there for like 20 seconds. I made the catch, and we were able to send the seniors out with a big win. We really needed this today. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this season and don’t have the best record. We could’ve quit there late, but no one on this team was going to do that.”
FSU senior linebacker Garrett Davis, who ended his stellar career third all-time in school history in total tackles with 356, led the Falcons with 13 total tackles Saturday, including 11 solo stops. He says when he saw Alvaro make the late TD catch he knew the Falcons had the game won.
“It was a gut-check for us for sure,” said Davis. “Throughout the entire game we’d score and they’d score. It just kept going back-and-forth. We just never seemed to find a rhythm on defense. Give our offense credit. They kept us in it. Finally at the end we got a stop when we had to have one.
“When our offense went out there for the last drive I felt like we could do it. We practice for moments like that all season. As soon as he (Alvaro) caught the ball I knew we won. We weren’t about to let them score again.”
Wise did mount an impressive final drive which reached the FSU 40 yard line with 2.2 seconds remaining. On the last play Cavalier quarterback Cullen LaVoi, who completed 24-of-45 passes for 345 yards and three TDs in the loss, was picked off at the Fairmont 10-yard line by Falcon receiver Daniel Marc-Sears, who was inserted to play defense and returned it 32 yards as time ran out.
Fairmont State out-gained Wise 527-360 in total yards. Roberts led FSU on the ground with a game-high 103 yards on 21 carries. He also returned four kickoffs for 105 yards. Daniel Monroe, who was injured late, chipped in 45 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 17 attempts. Sharmarte Banks led the FSU receivers with six catches for 55 yards. Marc-Sears had three receptions for 66 yards and Kendrick Washington had two for 99.
UVA-Wise, which ended its season 2-9 overall and 2-7 in the MEC, was held to just 15 total rushing yards in the loss. The Cavaliers were led by standout senior receiver James Long, who finished with 355 all-purpose yards. He caught a game-high nine passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns and returned four kickoffs for 168 yards.