WISE, Va. - It was a day of firsts for the University of Virginia’s College at Wise on Saturday.
It was the Highland Cavaliers first game as a member of the South Atlantic Conference. It was their first game under new offensive coordinator Zach Lewis and new defensive coordinator Chris Cunningham. It was their first game of 2019 and it was their first win as they defeated Chowan University, 40-22, at Carl Smith Stadium.
“It’s always good to win that first one. It was kind of an unknown, we didn’t know much about them,” Cavaliers head coach Dane Damron said. “We just had to put some stuff together just trying to figure out ... but any time you score on offense, defense and special teams you’re going to have a chance to win.”
After redshirt junior Marquis Hamilton returned the opening kickoff 66 yards, the Cavaliers capped off their first drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Tanner Bernard to sophomore tight end Seth Phillips. Late in the first quarter, UVa-Wise extended its lead to 13-0 after junior linebacker Drew O’Bryan forced a fumble that sophomore Keishoen Jarrett scooped up and returned 84 yards for the touchdown. Jarrett said that when the play happened he had no doubt he was going to score.
“Oh yes sir, of course. I’m an athlete, so I’m always going. Whenever my hands get on the ball I’m going, I’m going,” Jarrett said. “But of course my teammates they came in and blocked for me against that one [offensive lineman] that was coming for me, so that was great.”
Junior Demetrius Mann came up with a special teams touchdown to start off the second quarter, as he weaved his way through a sea of Chowan players for a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Hawks put their first points on the board late in the second quarter on a safety followed by a 4-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior Tyrell Freeman to make it a 21-8 game at halftime.
After missing last season with a knee injury, sophomore running back Terrence Lambert opened up the third quarter with a 67-yard touchdown run that he described as a very emotional moment for him.
“Man, it’s unexplainable. I almost cried on the sideline after I scored,” Lambert said. “When I scored I didn’t know what to do. I just looked around, my teammates came up and hugged me and I just kept telling them I love them and I thanked them for every bit of support, all the kind words they always gave to me.”
The Hawks would score twice more in the second half, but a 19-yard touchdown reception by sophomore Darrien Newton and a 3-yard scoring run by sophomore J’Quan Anderson would seal the season-opening victory for the Cavaliers.
Bernard was 13-for-23 on passing attempts with 142 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Lambert led the team with 99 yards rushing and a touchdown on 12 attempts, while sophomore Jamal Fisher had a game-high 47 yards receiving on four catches. Newton and Phillips had two receptions each, and they combined for 54 yards and two touchdowns against Chowan. Mann’s punt return touchdown was the first for the Cavaliers since Oct. 3, 2015 when Tray Billups scored against West Virginia State.
For Chowan, junior Imeek Watkins led the Hawks with 64 yards rushing on three attempts, while also recording a team-high 42 yards on four receptions. Junior Bryce Witt completed 15-of-23 attempts for a game-high 170 yards with one interception.
The Cavaliers (1-0) will head on the road next weekend for a matchup against Division I FCS member Tennessee Tech. Looking toward Saturday, Damron said that while he expects they will likely lose to the Golden Eagles, he expects his team to give it their all on the field.
“We’ll show up. They ought to beat us, and they ought to beat us bad, you know 63 scholarships to less than 36, so they ought to get us,” Damron said. “Coach Alexander there is a dear friend of mine and he’s going to do a great job, and it’ll be a competitive game. Our kids are going to be excited and we’re going to go in there and not leave any tricks in our back pocket.”