WISE, Va. – Saturday afternoon’s 24-6 Mountain East Conference loss to Fairmont State was just like the other defeats the football team at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise has suffered this season: Demoralizing.
The lowlights included:
> Two costly turnovers which brings the Highland Cavaliers season total to 19.
> Three missed field goals.
> UVa-Wise was just 4-for-18 on third-down conversions.
> A win wasn’t included in homecoming festivities, which brought a crowd of 2,212 out to Carl Smith Stadium.
It’s been a recurrent wreck for a struggling squad.
“Not capitalizing when we get the opportunity,” said UVa-Wise coach Dane Damron. “That’s the story of our football season.”
One thing that wasn’t similar for the Highland Cavaliers (1-4) in this setback was the way Fairmont State (4-1) imposed its will on UVa-Wise’s defense.
The unit entered the game allowing a MEC-best 280.5 yards per game, but the Fighting Falcons from West Virginia had exceeded that total by halftime.
“I think we did a good job on first and second down, but as team we have to get the ball back to the offense,” said UVa-Wise junior linebacker Buster Henderson. “We didn’t do a good job on third downs and we gave up too many yards on third downs. At the end of the day they just gashed us too much.”
Quarterback Takwan Crews-Naylor passed for 271 yards and two scores, while Khalik Hamlin gained 109 rushing yards for the winners. The Fighting Falcons finished with 271 yards through the air and 245 on the ground.
Can you say balance?
“We knew they had a very talented defense and our goal this week was just to execute,” Crews-Naylor said. “Just play our game, because I’m confident with everybody on this offense.”
Fairmont State had seen a seven-game winning streak which dated back to 2017 snapped in its previous game against the University of Charleston. The Falcons certainly atoned for that loss on Saturday.
“We came in here just ready to play with a chip on our shoulder,” Crews-Naylor said. “We just wanted to get back on our feet.”
Regaining its footing will be tough for UVa-Wise as the Highland Cavaliers still have several quality opponents remaining on the schedule.
“We’re just not very good right now,” Damron said. “We get people in third and long and we miss tackles or lose contain and we give up a large passing play. On offense we get some momentum going and then the quarterback will take an inopportune sack or we’ll turn the ball over. That’s been us for five games. … We’re not performing like a good football team right now. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact.”
While Saturday’s two turnovers were actually below the average for UVa-Wise, both gaffes occurred in the third quarter when the Cavs were still very much in the game.
Wide receiver Kaian Duverger fumbled in Fairmont State territory after hauling in a pass and gaining 22 yards.
On UVa-Wise’s next offensive possession, freshman quarterback Tanner Bernard threw an interception at the goal line.
Time and time again, turnovers have been trouble.
“It’s almost like free throws for a basketball team. The more you talk about it the more you miss,” Damron said. “All we do is talk about it and drill it and we still lay the football on the ground. It was a little bit better today, but it was still not good enough.”
Bernard finished 23-of-39 through the air for 232 yards and his 13-yard touchdown pass to Alonzo Brown with 9:06 remaining accounted for UVa-Wise’s only score.
Freshman Seth Phillips (Grayson County) saw playing time at tight end for UVa-Wise and caught his first collegiate pass in the second quarter, gaining five yards.
Sophomore quarterback Jarome Johnson, who hurt his shoulder in the season-opener, was back for the Cavs and saw some playing time in the first half. He rushed for 20 yards on five carries.
None of that made much of a difference in another subpar performance for a team which entered the 2018 season with high expectations.
“The bad thing is that we feel like most of these games we’ve beaten ourselves and feel the teams we’ve lost to aren’t truly better than us,” Henderson said. “But at the end of the day, me saying that doesn’t really help anything. We’ve got to fix it.”