FOOTBALL: Toppers hold new record

Michael Casagrande

Western had a simple game plan when it took the field against West Virginia Tech – come out fast and take the Golden Bears’ spirit away early.

Senior free safety Antonio Veals, back from a one-game suspension, did just that on the opening kickoff. Veals, one of four team captains, returned the opening kickoff 67 yards to set up a 23-yard touchdown pass to Casey Rooney on the next play.

Total time eclipsed: 19 seconds.

The fifth-ranked Toppers built on the early surge to defeat the Division II Golden Bears 67-3 in front of 10,325 fans at Smith Stadium. The win was Western’s 12th in the row, a Gateway Conference record.

Coach David Elson was pleased with the way his team entered the game, showing more intensity than it did in Week 1 against Union.

“Our biggest focus was we wanted to come out with a bunch of energy, and we did a few things different to get that done,” Elson said. “I like the way we came out, we got on them early and with a team like this, you’ve got to get on them early and take the life out of them.”

The Toppers (2-0) built a 20-0 lead with 6:15 left in the first quarter following a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by junior Robert Morand. Then once senior Chris Miller scored from a yard out, the rout was on.

A balanced rushing attack was the difference in the contest as Western rolled up 395 yards on the ground. The Toppers used the 1-2 punch of Miller and sophomore Lerron Moore, who racked up 96 and 86 yards respectively. Senior fullback Maurice Bradley added 41 yards and two scores, one rushing and another receiving.

Shutting down Tech running back Kalem McRae was imperative for the Topper defense coming into the contest. McRae gained 188 yards in the Golden Bears (1-1) opener, but Western put the clamps on the speedy tailback.

McRae had a negative rushing total until a five-yard scamper with 10:28 to go in the second quarter got him out of the red numbers. McRae finished with 16 yards on 14 carries.

“We just played our game,” senior linebacker Erik Dandy said. “We knew last week he had 180-something yards, but we want to stop the run on defense. We just wanted to get out there and execute.”

Elson was proud of Western’s defensive unit’s execution shutting down Tech’s running game.

“The defense did a great job,” Elson said. “They were flying to the ball, you just see the red wave swarming and that has been our strength.”

Freshman quarterback Justin Haddix finished 5-for-12 with 71 yards through the air. And he rushed for 44 yards on five carries.

“It’s getting a lot easier, you get used to playing in front of the crowd,” Haddix said. “Those first-game jitters get you a little bit, but they were out of me and I played pretty good. We all played pretty good.”

In two games against lower-level opponents, the Toppers have outscored their opponents 112-6 and have yet to allow a touchdown. But it will only get tougher from here.

After a bye-week, Western will host archrival Eastern Kentucky Sept. 20. The unranked Colonels crushed 11th ranked Appalachian St. 35-7 Saturday.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]