The McKendree University football team flexed its muscles on both sides of the football on its way to a 50-27 road victory Saturday afternoon at West Liberty University in West Liberty, W.Va.
Senior quarterback Isaac Fisher and junior linebacker A.J. Wentland posted record-setting performances in leading the Bearcats to their first win in a road opener since 2009. McKendree moves to 1-0 on the season and will host Northwood University next Saturday in non-conference play with kickoff set for 1 p.m.
Fisher set a career high – and McKendree team record that he established last season – by throwing six touchdown passes against West Liberty.
H3 completed 27-of-37 pass attempts for 353 yards in the outing and added 125 rushing yards. Wentland eclipsed the Bearcats’ 12-year old mark for tackles in a game as he registered 22 stops versus the Hilltoppers. Wentland broke the previous of 21, which was set by the late Cory Wilson in a 2003 contest at St. Xavier University.
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Offensively, McKendree rolled up 592 yards of total offense at West Liberty on 88 plays. The Bearcats also played turnover-free football. On the defensive side, McKendree forced four turnovers, three of which came on interceptions.
“This was a great team effort in all three phases of the game,” said McKendree coach Mike Babcock. “The offense was able move the ball consistently and put points on the board. Defensively we forced four turnovers and flew to the ball. Any time you can be a plus-four in the turnover department you are going to be successful.
“On special teams, I thought (sophomore punter) Brendan Fred punted well, we had some good kick returns and our return coverage was impressive against a very good squad. Our guys were able to handle the distractions of playing a road game following a long trip and were focused and ready to play.”
Fisher completed passes to nine different receivers. Sophomore receiver Dustin Walls led the way with nine receptions for 93 yards with a pair of touchdown catches.
Senior wide receiver Cameron James added five catches in the outing and tied the Bearcats’ career record for receptions. James boosted his career total to 104, tying him with Dewayne Gatti for the Bearcats’ all-time mark.
James also became the fourth player in McKendree program history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a career. James had 27 receiving yards against the Hilltoppers, giving him 1,007 for his career.
Junior wide receiver Sean Dowling caught three passes and was on the receiving end of Fisher’s first two TD passes of the day. Those also marked the first two receiving touchdowns of Dowling's career at McKendree. Senior running back Treye Williams helped the McKendree rushing attack with 66 yards on 17 carries, with 45 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter. Sophomore running back Shayeen Edwards also played a big role in the running game for the Bearcats with 61 yards against West Liberty.
McKendree took the opening kickoff and quickly took a 7-0 lead at the 11:25 mark. Fisher capped the 11-play, 70-yard drive when he connected with Dowling on a 16-yard scoring pass. Junior kicker Steven O’Block extended the margin to 10-0 on the Bearcats’ next drive when he booted a 31-yard field goal. West Liberty (1-1) answered late in the first quarter on a 58-yard TD burst by Braxton Gamble to trim the McKendree lead to 10-7.
One play after sophomore defensive back Nate Powell intercepted a pass and returned it deep into Hilltoppers’ territory, McKendree used a bit of trickery to regain a 10-point advantage.
Fisher handed off up the middle to Williams, who pitched it back to Fisher. The Bearcats’ quarterback then found Dowling open at the goal line, and the 26-yard flea flicker pushed McKendree back out in front by a 17-7 margin. After West Liberty pulled within four points midway through the second quarter, the Bearcats scored twice in the closing moments to build a 30-13 lead at the intermission.
First, with 3:30 left until halftime, Fisher hooked up with junior wide receiver Tyler Brewer on a 67-yard scoring strike. The pass marked a career-long for Fisher. On the ensuing drive by West Liberty, junior defensive back Jabaree Winston intercepted a pass at the Bearcats’ 18-yard line with 2:22 on the clock. McKendree then put together a 12-play, 82-yard drive that culminated when Fisher found James in the back of the end zone on a 3-yard TD pass with 16.7 seconds remaining in the half to give the Bearcats the 17-point lead.
Fisher tied his previous career-high for touchdown passes on the first drive of the second half for McKendree. Following a West Liberty punt, the Bearcats needed just three plays to add to their lead when Fisher found Walls behind the Hilltoppers’ defense for a 45-yard scoring strike to give McKendree its largest lead of the day at 37-13. West Liberty battled back and scored twice in the third quarter to pull within 37-27.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Fisher hit Walls for a 34-yard touchdown pass for the record-breaking sixth TD strike to push the Bearcats out to a 43-27 advantage. McKendree then sealed the win after senior defensive back Cruz Navarro the third and final interception of the day against West Liberty. The Bearcats took more than four minutes off the clock on a nine-play, 59-yard drive. Williams punctuated the drive with a 1-yard scoring run with 1:08 remaining.
Navarro and senior linebacker George Hill each finished the day with six tackles. Junior defensive lineman Tyler House notched the lone sack of the afternoon for McKendree.