West Virginia concludes regular season Friday
WHEELING — When a team get used to blowing out its opponents on a weekly basis, it can become complacent. After recording seven victories by huge margins in its eight previous contests, the West Virginia Roughriders did just that Monday afternoon in an American Arena League indoor football contest.
Before a sparse but vocal crowd on Memorial Day, the Roughriders (9-0) used their talented defensive corps to preserve a 28-24 victory over a re-vamped New England Cavalry squad, inside WesBanco Arena.
“(Monday) was definitely a gut-check. We have got to start taking teams serious,” West Virginia coach Mook Zimmerman said. “I know our schedule says we’re 9-0, but we’ve got to get 9-0 in house.
“We had a lot of breakdowns on offense and defense.
A lack of discipline and I don’t know what that’s all about. But we’re definitely going to rectify it and correct it and be ready for Friday.”
The Roughriders will conclude the regular season by hosting the Carolina Cowboyz on Friday at 7 p.m. A first-round home playoff game has been announced for Saturday, June 8 against an undetermined opponent. It will kickoff at 7 p.m.
But first, the Roughriders had to withstand a serious challenge from the Calvary (1-1).
Leading 28-24 after New England scored with 2-minutes, 41-seconds remaining, West Virginia couldn’t move the ball and gave it over on downs at midfield with 38 seconds left to play.
After gaining 8 yards on first down, the Cavalry misfired on second down and were flagged for holding a down later. On third-and-12 from the New England 24, Bridgeport’s Cole Smelley applied pressure to quarterback Marquis Eberhart and J.B. McBryde, in his second game with the team, wrapped up Eberhart for no gain.
On fourth down, Smelley was once again in the backfield forcing a game-saving incompletion by Eberhart.
“Our defense has been resilient all year. Even when our backs have been to the wall like in the Western Michigan game and again (Monday), we pull through at the end and make big plays when it counts,” Smelley said. “We had a close one. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but we still came out of here with a win.
“My coach believes in me and trusts me to get pressure on the quarterback. I just did what I do every day in practice and what I’ve been trying to do every game … just make plays. My defensive linemen open up the holes and I fill the gap.”
“Cole has played well all season as an under-sized linebacker, but he steps up and fills that hole,” Zimmerman said of Smelley, who finished with half-a-dozen tackles, several hurries and a quarterback sack.
The Roughriders led 9-6 after one quarter as former WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown found Larry Beavers Jr. from 20 yards out on the game’s first offensive snap. The PAT failed. The defense was also awarded a safety when the Cavalry snapped the ball out of play.
In between, Eberhart sneaked in from the 1. That PAT also failed.
West Virginia made it 15-6 as guard/tight end Isreal Evans hauled on a 6-yard scoring pass from Brown. It was his second in two weeks.
“I was excited when I heard the play called,” the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Evans said of tight-end pop pass. “Whenever we get a chance to run that play it is an eye-opener.”
Eberhart found Brandon Bennett from 22 yards out to make it 15-12 at the half, as the 2-point try once again failed.
The only scoring in the third quarter came on a 2-yard run from backup West Virginia quarterback Drew Bolton that made it 21-12.
Eberhart then drilled a 1-yard scoring strike to Tommy Novello to cut the deficit to 21-18 early in the fourth quarter, but Brown found Chad Walcott on a 9-yard pass that proved to be the game-winning points. Novello hauled in the ball prior to crashing into the padded wall and flipping over. However, he was ruled to have retained possession and Anthony Prevost’s PAT made it 28-18.
“That was a rush,” Walcott said. “I’m just happy that my quarterback had the trust in me to just throw it up and let me go get it. it was a 50-50 ball and I went and got it.”
McBryde had a key sack early in the game. He played collegiately at UConn and had NFL stints with the Philadelphia Eagles (2015), San Francisco 49ers (2016) and Seattle Seahawks (2017).
“I love this game. It’s fun out there,” McBryde said.
West Virginia held New England to minus 45 yards rushing on 26 carries. The Cavalry were charted with 13 plays that resulted in lost yardage. Meanwhile, the Roughriders accounted for 106 yards of total offense as Brown completed 8 of 14 passes for 107 yards and three scores.
∫ The Capital City Reapers were Monday’s scheduled opponent, but the ceased operations earlier this season. New England was an all-star team of teams from a league in the Northeast.
∫ Following Walcott’s TD catch, the head coach of New England, Kevin James, was assessed his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game and was ejected.
West Virginia concludes regular season Friday