WEST LIBERTY - Trey Massey's tumbling 21-yard touchdown catch with just 9.6 seconds remaining lifted West Virginia Wesleyan to a controversial 43-41 upset of No. 18 West Liberty Saturday afternoon at Russek Field.
Circling out of the backfield at the snap, Massey ran out of bounds near the 5-yard-line as quarterback Adam Neugebauer lobbed the ball into the end zone. Massey took two more strides out of bounds before diving back into the end zone to make the catch.
Officials originally ruled it an incomplete pass but changed the call to a touchdown following an extended discussion, touching off a chorus of outrage from the Hilltopper stands.
West Liberty (1-2, 0-1) quarterback Zach Amedro completed one quick pass following the kickoff to get the ball out to the WLU 42 but time expired as a desperation heave fell incomplete inside the Wesleyan 20.
"The way it was explained to me is that a receiver can't be the first one to touch the ball inbounds if he goes out of bounds on his own but he can come back in and make a catch if he's forced out by a defender," Hilltopper head coach Roger Waialae told the media immediately following the game. "They told me our guy knocked him out of bounds and it didn't matter that he hadn't established himself back in bounds yet before he made the catch."
The controversial ending spoiled another spectacular passing performance by Amedro, who completed a career-high 38-of-55 passes for 464 yards and 3 touchdowns while running for another six-pointer.
It also ruined the Hilltoppers' own comeback story, as the hosts had rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to take a 27-20 lead into the locker room at halftime and had marched nearly the length of the field in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter to score a go-ahead touchdown with just 1:32 left in the game.
"We've lost two close games now," Waialae said, "and it's the same thing. We're inconsistent. We give up too many big plays. It's not effort. We play hard but we're making too many mental mistakes. That's something we've been working to correct since the start of camp. We still have a very good football team. Once we get that corrected, we'll be fine."
Wesleyan used a 60-yard fumble return by Jonas Celian to jump out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter but Amedro and the Hilltopper offense dominated the second 15-minute period.
Amedro fired touchdown passes to Ryan Travis and Willie Walker and ran one in himself. Kevon Calhoun also scored on an 8-yard run as the hosts put 27 points on the board during the stanza to take a 27-20 halftime lead.
A 43-yard field goal by Phillip Warner in the final minute of the third quarter gave Wesleyan a 30-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter but West Liberty struck back with a 20-yard scoring toss from Amedro to Jermaine Carter for a 34-30 edge with 13:17 to go.
The pace slowed a bit as the teams exchanged punts and the Hilltopper defense forced Wesleyan into another 3-and-out with less than 7 minutes to play. The Bobcats punted and got a huge break when West Liberty muffed the punt and Wesleyan's Jeff Parrish recovered at the WLU 14.
Three plays later, Neugebauer found Ryan Reed along the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown and the visitors were up, 37-34, with 5:09 to play.
With the game on the line, Amedro led the Hilltoppers on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring march. The veteran QB kept the march alive with clutch third-down completions of 10, 16 and 26 yards and a circus grab by Pauly Ferguson set up Calhoun's go-ahead dive on a 1st-and-goal from the Bobcat 1 with 1:32 on the clock.
That turned out to be 10 seconds too much for the hosts.
The Bobcats returned the kickoff out near midfield and picked up a quick first down in West Liberty territory.
Neugebauer converted a 4th-and-1 from the WLU 33 when he hit Jon Meadows on a crossing route for 12 yards to the 21.
Wesleyan hurried up to the line to spike the ball, killing the clock with 17 seconds to play and setting the stage for Massey's controversial catch.
After his sixth career game with 400 or more passing yards, Amedro moved within 300 yards of becoming only the fifth 12,000-yard passer in NCAA Division II history and is only 174 yards away from setting the all-time West Virginia Conference record.
Travis - the nation's leading receiver - had a career-high 15 catches for 190 yards while Carter added 124 receiving yards on 8 grabs. Calhoun rushed for a game-high 93 yards and 2 TDs on 18 carries.
Neugebauer completed 21-of-30 passes for 251 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Bobcats while Meadows had 9 catches for 118 yards.
The Hilltoppers have little time to lick their wounds as West Liberty heads to Fairmont State on Thursday for an 8 p.m. game which is scheduled for a live national broadcast on CBS College Sports.