ETTRICK, Va. - The West Liberty University football team held off Virginia State, 14-13, Saturday afternoon in a nailbiter at sweltering Rogers Stadium.
L.D. Crow completed 23-of-32 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, Kenjay Trueblood carried 23 times for a game-high 79 yards and the Hilltoppers (1-1) took advantage of nearly a 10-minute edge in time of possession to squeeze past the Trojans (0-2) in the non-conference matchup.
Crow's five-yard scoring strike to All-WVIAC wide receiver Brandon Schroeder put the visitors ahead to stay, 14-7, but it was defense and special teams that shined brightest for WLU coming down the stretch.
Midway through the fourth quarter, West Liberty was driving for what could have been the clinching score when a tough spot on a third down dive by Trueblood left the Hilltoppers facing fourth-and-one from the Trojan 41 with eight minutes left in regulation.
Hoping to pin the hosts deep in their own territory, head coach Roger Waialae sent on the punt team but the "safe" decision backfired when an errant snap eluded the punter and gave the ball to VSU at the Hilltopper 35.
Three plays later, Trojan QB LaMonta Green fired a quick out to Jo'van Smallwood and the freshman wideout broke several tackles while tip-toeing down the right sideline for a 19-yard touchdown with 7:16 on the clock. West Liberty came hard after the PAT attempt, however, and deflected it wide to the left to preserve the 14-13 margin.
The WLU defense took over after that, snuffing out one Virginia State drive with a diving interception by Pierre Blake and holding the hosts without a first down on their final desperation possession of the game.
The Trojans jumped out to a quick lead when defensive back Sean Smith picked off a Hilltopper pass at the WLU 34 on the game's opening series. Starting QB Jarred Battle hit the speedy Smallwood on a post route from 23 yards out to give the hosts a 7-0 lead with 12 minutes left in the first quarter.
West Liberty drove inside the VSU 10 on its next two possessions but came away with nothing to show for it, losing a fumble at the Trojan 2 and misfiring on a 28-yard field goal try.
After an end zone interception by junior strong safety Marco Ricchetti halted the hosts' best scoring threat of the second quarter, the Hilltoppers finally got on the board.
Highlighted by a 38-yard pass from Crow to Schroeder, West Liberty marched 89 yards on 11 plays with Trueblood muscling in from the 3 to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:04 left in the half.
Schroeder's go-ahead catch with 4:49 showing on the third quarter clock capped another lengthy drive, this one covering 73 yards on a dozen plays and setting the stage for the thrilling conclusion.
Schroeder led all receivers with 77 yards on five catches while Bo Whitney added 70 yards on 11 grabs and Dominic Cooper had seven catches for 49 yards as West Liberty finished with 15 first downs and 249 yards of total offense.
Battle and junior QB LaMonta Green, who played the entire second half for VSU, combined to complete just 16-of-35 passes for 181 yards against the staunch Hilltopper defense, which held the Trojan running backs to just 79 rushing yards on 35 attempts.
Ricchetti and junior LB Marquis Bradley led the WLU defense. Bradley had 9 tackles, a sack, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and a pair of pass breakups. Ricchetti also finished with nine tackles (four for loss) to go along with his interception and a pass breakup.
The Hilltoppers return to Russek Field at 1 p.m. Saturday for their WVIAC opener against West Virginia Wesleyan.