By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
They certainly got one on Friday, with a lot of drama packed in for a bonus. Unfortunately the game ended on a sour note for the home team.
After a scoreless third quarter – a rarity in traditionally high-scoring arena football – the West Virginia Roughriders scored a controversial touchdown with 3:13 left in the game. That gave the visitors a razor-thin five-point lead.
The Ironmen fought back, driving to the West Virginia 5-yard line with 51 seconds left in the contest.
But Ironmen quarterback Alex Carder threw an interception to a Roughrider defender just a few feet into the end zone, giving the ball back to West Virginia. A few plays later the undefeated visitors walked away with a 33-28 victory at L.C. Walker Arena.
The Ironmen were certainly not happy to lose, and disagreed with a few of the officials’ calls, particularly the final West Virginia touchdown. But all-in-all, West Michigan Coach Nate Smith was happy that his team was finally challenged, and thinks that will be a benefit in the long run.
“It was everything we expected,” said Smith, whose team is now 2-1 on the season. “I think we surprised them a little bit, and if we don’t make a few key mistakes it’s a totally different game.
“This game tested us with some adversity, and it showed us what we are made of. Hopefully we get to see these guys again in the playoffs.”
The game started on an ugly note for the Ironmen when Carder threw a pick on the second play from scrimmage, leading to a West Virginia touchdown and PAT.
Carder made up for it with two touchdown passes – five yards to Daryl Gooden and four yards to Carrington Thompson – and the Ironmen led 14-7 after one quarter.
The Ironmen defense struggled for most of the second quarter, allowing the Roughriders to score touchdowns on three of four possessions and take a 27-21 halftime lead.
But the West Michigan defense tightened up with a series of big plays that gave the team a real chance to win.
The first came on the final play of the second quarter, when West Virginia had the ball on the Ironmen 9 and just enough time for one play. Ryan Armstrong sacked Roughrider quarterback Jarrett Brown in the backfield, ending the half and keeping the game close.
On the first drive of the third quarter, West Virginia drove to the Ironmen 1-yard line. But the West Michigan defensive line got tough, stopping three attempts short of the goal line. Then strong coverage from the secondary resulted in an incomplete pass on fourth down, and the Ironmen got the ball back.
On the first drive of the fourth quarter, West Virginia again drove to the Ironmen 1, but Brown rolled out and fumbled, and West Michigan’s Donte Carey recovered to stop the threat.
“What our coaching staff is doing with our defense is something special,” Smith said. “They put in a lot of time and our guys have bought in. The D-line kept coming throughout the game.”
The Ironmen got the ball back and pulled ahead 28-21 on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Carder to Thompson.
West Virginia got the winning touchdown on a five-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Connor Arlias with 3:13 remaining, A replay clearly showed that the low pass hit the turf before Arlias scooped it in, but the referees didn’t agree and the TD stood.
That led to the final Ironmen drive, which started at their own 20 with 3:10 left, but ended five plays later with the decisive interception in the end zone.
The loss was the first for the Ironmen since May 20, 2017. Last season they went undefeated and won a league championship.
Carder completed 19 of 31 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions. Gooden caught eight passes for 55 yards and a touchdown while Thompson had five catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns
Erik Thompson and BJ Foy led the West Michigan defense with five tackles apiece while Armstrong had two sacks.
WEST VIRGINIA 33, WEST MICHIGAN 28
WV 11:10–Jarrett Brown 1-yard run (kick good) WV-7 WM-0
WM 7:00–Daryl Gooden 5-yard catch from Alex Carder (kick good) WV-7 WM-7
WM 1:18–Carrington Thompson 4-yard catch from Alex Carder (kick good) WV-7 WM-14
WV 13:21–Larry Beavers 20-yard catch from Jarrett Brown (kick good) WV-14 WM-14
WV 10:29–Noel Devine 15-yard catch from Jarrett Brown (kick good) WV-21 WM-14
WV 3:21–Noel Devine 9-yard catch from Jarrett Brown (kick failed) WV-27 WM-14
WM :39-Dakota Smith 2-yard run (kick good) WV-27 WM-21
WM 9:56–Carrington Thompson 28-yard catch from Alex Carder (kick good) WV-27 WM-28
WV 3:13–Connor Arlias 5-yard catch from Jarrett Brown (2-pt failed) WV-33 WM-28