Roughriders open playoffs with home win over Jersey
WHEELING — Mook Zimmerman was smiling ear to ear as he jogged off the artificial surface inside WesBanco Arena Saturday night. After what he has just witnessed, he had good reason to.
West Virginia scored on all of four of its first-half possessions and the defense held New Jersey to 89 yards of total offense in a 57-13 whipping in American Arena League playoff action before another sparse, but vocal, crowd.
“We’ve been talking about playing together all year long and the guys came together tonight,” he said. “The offense did their job and the defense did their job. We’re excited with the win. We’re excited to be moving on. We’re one step closer to the championship.”
As mentioned, the still-undefeated Roughriders (11-0) are moving on as they will play host to the West Michigan Ironmen (9-2) next Saturday for the Northern Conference championship. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“The offense played incredible tonight. The defense played incredible tonight,” Zimmerman said. “It was a great team win.”
Quarterback Jarrett Brown was a very efficient 13 of 17 for 213 yards and half-a-dozen touchdowns with zero interceptions. Four of his TD tosses went to Larry Beavers Jr., who finished with seven receptions for 138 yards and five scores.
“It felt great out there tonight. It was fun,” Beavers Jr. said while revealing that he lost his brother last night (Friday) at 9:30 to an unknown cause. “My mom wasn’t here tonight, but the guys helped me out. They pulled me through this.”
After Brown lofted a 2-yard jump-ball to Chad Walcott to complete a nearly 7-minute drive to start the game, newcomer Shawn Oakman, a 6-5, 235-pounder from Baylor, gave the offense the ball back when he fell on a Flight (4-3) fumble at the Roughriders’ 6 on 2nd-and-goal.
“It was great to be back on the field. I was happy to contribute,” Oakman said. “The guys welcomed me. I’m just blessed to be here.”
The recovery jump-started a 5:59 TD march that culminated with Brown and Beavers hooking up for the first time. Beavers made an in-move and that cut back to the outside as Brown lasered the ball to him from 16 yards out in the right corner of the end zone.
Brown and Beavers Jr. connected again twice before the half ended. The teamed up for a 27-yard scoring strike two plays after it appeared New Jersey had returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown, only to be negated due to an illegal defense. That made it 19-0.
A broken coverage snapped West Virginia’s scoreless streak at nearly six quarters when the Flight’s Tariq Smith, listed as a Penn State product on the New Jersey roster, found Emery Sammons all alone down the right side with a mere 14 seconds left.
Not to be outdone, Brown rolled to his left as time was running out and rifled a strike back across the field that Beavers Jr. caught at the New Jersey 15. The elusive wideout dodged one defender before splitting two more with a burst of speed that led him to the promised land and a 30-yard hookup and a 25-6 Roughriders lead at the break.
The West Virginia defense, led by Bridgeport grad Cole Smelley at inside linebacker, held New Jersey to 26 yards offense in the second half. Smelley was credited with a quarterback sack, a fumble recovery and forcing a safety that got the scoring started in the third quarter.
On the very next offensive snap, Brown fired a 29-yard touchdown to former Mountaineer teammate Noel Devine. Anthony Prevost’s PAT made it 34-6.
The Flight drove to the Roughriders’ 1 and had first-and-goal, but Smith fumbled the snap and Smelley pounced on it at the 2. Although the hosts fumbled the ball right back, they still reached the end zone one more time before the quarter closed.
Brown lofted a perfect spiral down the middle of the field that Beavers Jr. hauled in to complete a 37-yard touchdown as the buzzer sounded. Prevost made it 41-6.
Backup quarterback Steve Panasuk ran for a touchdown and passed to Beavers Jr. for his fifth TD grab, this one from 6-yards out that completed the scoring.
West Virginia tallied 269 yards of offense and moved the first-down sticks 10 times. Madonna product Connor Arlia grabbed five passes for 62 yards.
Next week’s contest is a re-match of a Week 4 game in Michigan that West Virginia won, 33-28. It is the Roughriders closest game of the season. The Ironmen won their playoff game, 62-12, over the Indianapolis Enforcers.
“Guess what? We’ve got a trick for them,” Zimmerman promised, with a smile.
¯ For the second consecutive game, the opposing head coach was ejected after receiving a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. A New Jersey player, listed as a Michigan alum, was also tossed on the same play.
¯ Defensive back Jamie Bender (UAB) and offensive lineman James Carter Sr. (NC Wesleyan) also made their Roughriders debuts.