After going 11 months without a victory, West Virginia State didn't mind waiting a bit longer to wrap up a "W" on Saturday.Aubura Taylor ran for two second-half touchdowns and Ricky Phillips threw for a pair of scores as the Yellow Jackets wasted a big lead, then rallied for a 34-31 opening victory against Johnson C. Smith at stormy Lakin Field.The game was halted 46 minutes for lightning with 7:01 left to play. Neither side scored after play resumed, and J.C. Smith only made it as far as the Yellow Jackets 45 in the final minute."They were talking about calling the game there when we had the lightning strike,'' said State coach Earl Monroe, "but naturally the guy behind was not going to agree to that, so I didn't push it. I said, 'Hey, let's finish it.' And we got a chance to finish it - barely - and we're fortunate to come out with a win.''
It had been exactly 11 months since the Jackets boarded a win - their last one coming Oct. 1 last year against Seton Hill. State ended with six straight losses to complete a 1-9 season.Included in that forgettable year was a 64-27 thrashing from J.C. Smith, which put up 34 points in the first quarter alone and racked up 630 net yards. Saturday's game, however, sure didn't resemble that one.State vaulted into a 21-7 lead after one quarter, getting Phillips TD tosses of 72 yards to Ervin Kent and 12 yards to Deraughn Brown and a 7-yard LeFloyd Phillips run.
Ricky Phillips, who threw for 229 yards and had two key scrambles of 11 and 16 yards to pick up first downs, said the Jackets weren't prepared to go down the same road as last year."This means a lot for the program,'' said the former Spring Valley standout. "We knew we needed to get this first win. This was crucial. Last year, we went down there and they embarrassed us, but it's a different ballteam this year. We've got a new group of guys, we've got a different attitude and we're ready to change the way things are around here.''Still, the win didn't come easily for State, which saw that early 14-point lead dissolve into a 23-21 deficit early in the third quarter.Darius Wallace blocked a State punt and Spencer Shine returned it 17 yards for a Golden Bulls TD in the second quarter. In the third period, J.C. Smith's Kerry Hartley downed a punt on the Jackets 2. Two plays later, an errant shotgun snap to Ricky Phillips bounced through the end zone for a safety, giving the Golden Bulls a 23-21 lead.
"We never stopped believing,'' Ricky Phillips said. "We were never worried. We took our foot off the pedal, and we've got to keep pushing. If we kept pushing like we did in the first quarter, this game might not have been this close.''Taylor, a transfer from Fairmont State, put State ahead 28-23 on a 9-yard scoring run late in the third quarter, capping a 73-yard drive. Two possessions later, the Jackets drove 59 yards to score on a Taylor 3-yard run. Phillips was 3 of 3 on that march for 47 yards.After going nearly two full quarters without a point, State was back in control."The second quarter, we kind of got bogged down there,'' Monroe said, "and we've been there before. They started packing it in [on defense] and we couldn't run the football. They adjusted to what we were doing and slowed us down, and they got some momentum. Aubry Taylor gives us that slasher that we haven't had since Brian Mitchell, and you can see he really made a difference today.''
Taylor finished with 99 yards on 22 carries. He also had a 95-yard kickoff return for a TD negated by offsetting penalties.Quarterback Keahn Wallace provided some flashes for the Golden Bulls, hitting on 22 of 37 passes for 267 yards and one TD, a 16-yard hookup with Terrell Hutchison with 7:09 left to play. Wallace then found Jimmy Drye for a 2-point conversion to bring the Bulls within 34-31.However, Wallace also lost a fumble at his own 10 on a bad exchange during a handoff - setting up a State touchdown - threw an interception in the end zone and was sacked thrice."They were a little sharper than they were last year,'' said Golden Bulls coach Steven Aycock, "Coach Monroe has put up a pretty good team. But we shot ourselves in the foot and made some mistakes that cost us. We gave up two big plays from a defensive standpoint that cost us, and they held tight on defense.''Tyler Long and Dominique Matthews led State's defensive doings with 11 and 10 total tackles, respectively. The Jackets forced four straight three-and-outs by the Golden Bulls at one stage in the second half."We could have folded,'' Monroe said, "but we came back and put some drives together. We've got a lot of things to clean up and it'll be a good teaching tool, but it's a lot easier to clean up after a win than a loss.
"It's been a long time, and the kids are happy. They deserve the win because they've been working hard.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org