WEST LIBERTY - In a game in which West Liberty had trouble getting its offense going, finishing with just 176 total yards, Coach Roger Waialae's club had to take advantage of every opportunity it received to have a chance to beat a good University of Charleston football team.
Unfortunately, with a chance to take the lead late, it was one of those opportunities that slipped through the Hilltoppers' hands that eventually cost them the chance to win.
Junior tailback Jordan Roberts rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns and a West Liberty fumble in Golden Eagles' territory with 5:49 to go was too much to overcome as Charleston held off the Hilltoppers by a 27-14 count at chilly and dreary Russek Field on Saturday afternoon.
The loss came a week after West Liberty, which fell to 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the West Virginia Conference, made all the right moves in a stunning 17-16 victory against conference-leading Shepherd.
Meanwhile, the victory moves Coach Pat Kirkland's squad into a first place tie in the WVIAC with the Rams. The Eagles are now 7-1 overall and 4-1 in conference play.
Charleston drew first blood, moving 40 yards on eight plays before junior Puma Nuredini's 46-yard field goal attempt just cleared the crossbar with 5:21 showing in the opening period to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
A pair of big plays led to the next Golden Eagles' score, another field goal, in which the Hilltoppers' defense prevented major damage. After West Liberty muffed the kickoff following the first field goal, and then went four-and-out, the visitors set up shop at the enemy 49.
Charleston bogged down after three plays and were facing a fourth-and-five from the 44. Lined up to punt, freshman Reggie Dillingham took the snap and headed down the sideline, not only picking up the first down, but rolling all the way to the 10-yard line.
The Topper defense held the Eagles out of the end zone, however, Nuredini's second field goal of the quarter, this one from 20 yards away, made it 6-0 with just 13 ticks showing.
It looked like West Liberty might be able to run the clock out late in the half, however, a 30-yard punt return for Charleston led to a 47-yard Nuredini field goal attempt with nine seconds remaining, which was long enough, but sailed wide left to leave the count at 6-0 at the intermission.
With the way the Golden Eagles' defense was playing, the apparent back-breaker came at 5:43 of the third period when Roberts took a hand-off and blasted straight through the middle of the line on his way to an 82-yard scoring burst. Cornerback Justin Black had the final shot at him near the West Liberty 30, but his diving attempt came up empty as the score grew to 13-0.
However, there was nothing the defense could do when the Hilltoppers finally scored on a most unusual play. West Lib freshman quarterback Dylan LaGarde was intercepted on the hosts very next series, but intended receiver Darrell Stanley punched the ball out of the defender's hands with junior Isiah Moody picking the ball up and racing 50 yards for the score at 4:13 of the third, taking it back to a six point deficit at 13-7.
Nuredini tried to give Charleston a little breathing room with just under a minute to play in the frame, but his 43-yard field goal attempt, into the wind, blew well off to the left with the Toppers taking over at their own 27.
But LaGarde, who looked like a freshman for much of the afternoon, was intercepted again, this time by sophomore Ike Gibson at the West Liberty 46 just a few plays later.
It was only a matter of time before the Hilltoppers' defense started to wear down and that seemed to come in the fourth quarter. After the Eagles had a touchdown called back on a holding call, a 26-yard pass play with a facemask tacked on pushed the ball all the way down to the 12. Just three plays later Roberts took a hand-off to the right and covered the final seven stripes with 11:23 showing for a 20-7 upperhand.
"The hardest thing for a football coach to do is to get his team not to commit turnovers," Waialae said. "The easiest thing to do is to coach them to get them. We were in a position to have a chance late and Moody gave us a couple of good runs and needed a blow."
"So we put the back-up in, and he had a crease, but he dropped the ball. But overall, the biggest problem we had on the day was that our offense didn't show up until the second half.
"The bottom line is that Charleston made more plays then we did. Our defense was unbelievable for the first 30 minutes, but we gave up some big plays in the running game in the second half that we normally don't give up. I have said all along that Roberts in the best running back in the conference and he is running behind a good line.
"I thought we did a real good job on him at times, but he got loose a couple of time also. They just keep banging him at you, which is their game-plan, and eventually he makes things happen."
Freshman quarterback John Knox, who relieved injured starter Maurice Leak, scored on a pretty play-action run from 24 yards out with just 1:21 showing to ice the contest at 27-14.
Moody, who handled the brunt of the rushing duties with Kenjay Trueblood sitting out with a shoulder injury, had a nice day with 95 yards and a touchdown, while also returning a fumble for a score. Lagarde was just 10-of-25 for 97 yards and two interceptions.
Roberts had 180 of Charleston's 286 on the ground. He racked up 111 stripes and both of his touchdowns in the second half.
West Liberty hits the road for games at Seton Hill and Concord before returning home for the season finale on Nov. 10 against UNC-Pembroke.