By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
After back-to-back losses there’s little doubt Fairmont State’s football coaching staff issued some challenges to their players heading into Saturday’s home game with visiting West Virginia State at Duvall-Rosier Field.
One of those players who got challenged was Dominik Mensah, and the sophomore cornerback from Columbus, Ohio, responded in a big way.
Mensah forced two fumbles in the game’s first 8:15, both of which eventually resulted in touchdowns, and a little over seven minutes later he added a 22-yard interception return of his own for a score to help lead the Falcons to a 56-3 romp over the Yellow Jackets.
“I just took what the offense gave me today and tried to make the most of it,” said Mensah, who also recorded five solo tackles in the victory for good measure.
“On the first fumble Dawrence (Roberts) turned it into a touchdown; on the second one Garrett (Davis) took it to the house, and then I got a pick six. I’m just blessed. The coaching staff did a great job in their game preparation with us.
“This week I was challenged due to last week’s performance. I had a lot of adversity against me, and they wanted to see how I’d react to it. For the most part, I feel like I did pretty good.”
Pretty good might be the understatement of the year so far for the Falcons, who broke out of their two-game scoring slump and put the most points they’ve put on the scoreboard in three years thanks to efforts by both the offense and defense.
The win improved FSU to 2-2 overall and to 1-2 in the Mountain East Conference. West Virginia State, on the other hand, fell to 0-4 overall and to 0-3 in the league.
On State’s first offensive play of the game, quarterback Tyler Seals connected with Shanin Bennefield on a 16-yard pass, but Mensah forced a fumble and the Falcons’ Bryan Wilson recovered it at the FSU 46.
On the next play, Fairmont State running back Dawrence Roberts broke free on a 51-yard run to the Yellow Jackets’ three-yard line and then scored on his next carry to give FSU an early 7-0 advantage.
One State drive later, Mensah forced Yellow Jackets’ running back Le’Floyd Phillips to fumble at his own 43 and FSU senior linebacker Garrett Davis scooped up the loose ball and outraced everyone to the end zone to give the Falcons an early 14-0 lead. It was the second fumble return for a touchdown in as many weeks for Davis.
“This whole week in practice we preached turnovers, turnovers,” said Davis. “We wanted to get to the ball and punch it out. We took it to another level this week to try to get the offense the football. We wanted to force turnovers and to try to score on them, and if we couldn’t score on them then at least it would give our offense some extra chances. It worked pretty well.”
After a State field goal cut the margin to 14-3, Mensah struck again, this time picking off a Seals’ pass and returning it 22 yards to the end zone to make it 21-3 in the waning seconds of the first quarter.
“Dominik was one of the guys we directly and intentionally challenged this week because he didn’t play well last week and he knew that,” said FSU coach Jason Woodman. “To see him respond today the way he did I’m just so proud of him as an individual and so proud of our defense as a unit. They were lights-out today.”
The FSU defense forced four turnovers in the victory and turned three of those into direct scores. Linebacker T.C. Chesnut added a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the third quarter to go along with Davis’ fumble return for a TD and Mensah’s pick six to make it 49-3.
The Falcon defense also held State to just 190 total yards in the game, including a mere 54 total yards in the final 30 minutes. The Yellow Jackets had just 54 rushing yards in the contest and their quarterbacks were sacked four times.
Fairmont State’s offense, on the other hand, which had scored just seven points the past two weeks, got back on track in the victory. The Falcons, led by Roberts, who finished with a season-high 175 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 14 carries, ended up with 414 total yards. Freshman quarterback Cooper Hibbs completed 12-of-18 passes for 125 yards and a pair to touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
“The one thing we didn’t want to do today was start off slow offensively,” said Roberts, a transfer from Grambling, who led the Tigers in rushing in 2011 with over 1,100 yards. “Coach had been preaching all week to us that we had to get something established with the ground game and get it going and that’s what we did. We got it going early and everything clicked today.
“The offensive line did a great job. That 175 yards and two touchdowns I had is all due to them.”
Hibbs threw scoring passes of five yards to Daryl Copeland late in the second quarter to make it 28-3 at the half and 19 yards to Daniel Marc-Spears with 5:36 left in the third to put FSU ahead 42-3.
“I’m pleased with our effort this week,” said Woodman. “I think that was the biggest difference for us from last week to this week. We knew we didn’t play well against Glenville and we challenged them. From Monday to Friday this was probably the best week of practice that we had, and it showed out there on the field.
“Offensively, once we got going we were able to move the ball. We had some nice runs, and Cooper played well at quarterback and just managed the game which is all we’re asking him to do right now. We also took care of the football, which had been a problem for us the past two weeks.
“And like I said, defensively, I think we got a great effort from the guys. That’s what it’s all about – effort. If we can get good effort from the guys on both sides of the ball week in and week out, we’ll be successful.”
FSU returns to action Saturday, Oct. 5, in Athens, when it visits Concord University for a 1 p.m. contest. The Mountain Lions are 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the MEC.