W.Va. State's Jon Anderson’s home debut spoiled by sloppy weather
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia State University football team was hoping to make a big splash in its home opener against West Liberty on Saturday, and the first home contest for new Coach Jon Anderson.
However, poor weather and the Hilltoppers rained on the Yellow Jackets parade, as West Liberty earned a sluggish 9-0 shutout win over State at Lakin Field in a driving rainstorm in front of a crowd of 661.
Despite the muddy playing conditions and the loss, Anderson was happy to be in front of the home crowd for the first time.
"We would have rather had the sun at Lakin Field instead of the rain drenched, but it doesn't matter the conditions, when you can play at home, it is something special," Anderson said. "We look forward to our team progressing."
Anderson indicated he didn't have any extra range of emotions for his first home game than usual.
"It wasn't any different than any of the other games for me," Anderson said. "I just wanted to prepare the team as best as we could as a coaching staff and give us the best opportunity to win. We are looking forward to our team progressing to where we can be a winner on our home field."
Despite an inept offense that could muster just 142 total yards and six first downs, the State defense gave the Yellow Jackets every opportunity to stay in the game and earn Anderson's first victory.
State's defense was given poor field position all game but the stingy unit held the Hilltoppers to just three field goals, all by Brian Arbes from 29, 19, and 30 yards out. West Liberty ran a staggering 88 plays opposed to just 52 for the Yellow Jackets.
"The progression of the defense has improved week to week," Anderson said. "They are gaining in confidence. They play well with each other, and that is great. That is what defense is all about.
"Great defenses have confidence in each other, want to play side by side, and not let each other down. We are starting to get that level. We are gaining."
State defensive back William Merritt, a sophomore from Cincinnati, OH, was all over the field, recording a game-high 15 tackles, including five solo, and added an interception.
"William is a guy we will scheme off of defensively," Anderson said. "He just plays with so much passion. He is all over the field. William is what we are looking for in our defensive players. He sets the tone and it's fun to watch him continue to progress."
Neither team could do much of anything offensively on the muddy field, combining for seven turnovers. West Liberty threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles while averaging 3.61 yards per play. State threw two interceptions and lost one fumble while gaining 2.73 yards per play. The Yellow Jackets didn't get a first down until midway through the second quarter.
Senior running back Le'Floyd Phillips led the way with 66 yards on a tough 15 carries, but starting quarterback Tyler Seals was just 5-for-13 passing for 32 yards and two interceptions.
"We knew going into the game that the footing would become bad and the ability to throw was negated because of the field," Anderson said. "We had that in mind when we saw the forecast knowing it would be wet and raining.
"You saw that on both sides. Both team's offenses struggled with low yards and high turnovers. That is what grass does to you, especially on such a muddy field. Anymore, spread and high-powered offenses can be equalized on grass very easily."