For the West Virginia Roughriders, that came four days ago in Week 9 in a gut-check, 28-24, triumph over New England.
The hosts showed no ill effects of their closest contest of the season by dominating the visiting Carolina Cowboyz, 54-0, Friday night inside WesBanco Arena.
With the offense piling up 132 yards and scoring on seven of its eight possessions, the defense continued to hold opponents in check with four turnovers — two interceptions by former WVU defensive back Ellis Lankster and a pair of fumble recoveries (one in the end zone for a TD) by SUNY Maritime alum Brian Price. The Cowboyz managed zero total yards on 41 offensive snaps.
“We knew we didn’t play very well last week, and we wanted to redeem ourselves for that,” West Virginia coach Mook Zimmerman said. “I couldn’t be more happy for a bunch of guys that came together as the season progressed and finished 10-0.
“We’ve said all year that we just wanted to be 1-0 13 times,” Zimmerman said of the team motto. “That’s 10 down and three to go.”
Team owner and general manager Gregg Fornario confirmed after the game that Wheeling will host an American Arena League playoff game on Saturday, June 8. Should the Roughriders defeat the Jersey Flight, they would also host on Saturday, June 15. Both kickoffs are set for 7 p.m.
Former WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown was one of those players that didn’t have a game to remember last week. He more than rectified that with an 8-for-10 performance that totalled 98 yards and resulted in three touchdowns.
“Last week was just one of those games. Every team is going to have one at some point of a 10-week season. Every player is going to have one of those weeks,” he said. “We wanted to come out (Friday) and let the fans see what we are all about. I think we did that.”
Brown found his favorite target — Larry Beavers Jr. — with a laser from 10 yards out to get the scoring started.
After Steubenville’s JeR’yl Christian recorded a 9-yard quarterback sack on the Cowboyz (1-5) first snap of the game, the second rolled into the end zone where Price fell on it. Anthony Prevost added the point-after for a 13-0 West Virginia lead at the end of one quarter.
A 2-yard dagger from Brown to Chad Walcott in the middle of the end zone and Prevost’s PAT bumped the margin to 20-0.
An electrifying touchdown run by Noel Devine, albeit it only 5 yards, got the crowd on its feet just before the half as the lead rose to 26-0. Starting to his right, he cut back across the field and picked up a huge block from Beavers Jr., who completely drove his man over the boards, to reach the end zone.
Following Lankster’s second theft of the game, the Brown-to-Beavers Jr. connection proved lethal again, this time from 31-yards out as Beavers Jr. got himself wide open and Brown delivered a strike. Former Madonna standout Connor Arlia got into the scoring act when he hauled in a 14-yard strike and two PATs from Prevost made it 40-0 at the end of three quarters.
On the ensuing kickoff, Prevost split the uprights and received a one-point bonus for his marksmenship, making it 41-0.
Arlia took a flip from backup quarterback Steve Penasuk while in motion on the left side and slipped into the end zone for a 3-yard scoring run. Penasuk then tossed to Drew Bolton for 2 yards.
All the while, a strong rotation across the defensive line of five players and continued solid play from Price and Bridgeport graduate Cole Smelley at the linebackers helped the Roughriders to their third shutout of the season.
∫ The 10-0 season is the second in three seasons for the franchise, which relocated from Richmond, Va., after last season. It is 29-2 in three years, according to Fornario.
∫ Fornario also said the likely second-round playoff opponent would be West Michigan, whom West Virginia handed its first loss in two seasons earlier in the campaign.