Sophomore tailback Fred Boateng rushed for 152 yards and Cat defenders allowed only 119 total yards as WCU (5-3, 4-2) rolled over the Virginia Military Institute 44-17 Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field.
The victory keeps Western tied with Appalachian State in the conference after the Mountaineers beat Chattanooga in weekend play.
At the onset, Western set the tone of the contest by building a 14-point lead within six minutes of the game’s opening kickoff. On their opening drive, the Catamounts drove 65 yards on seven plays as sophomore quarterback Brian Gaither rushed the ball in from a yard away to score the game’s first touchdown.
Western then managed to take advantage of a VMI mistake for their second score. On fourth down of their opening drive, VMI punter Brent Barth could not handle a snap, and WCU took over on the VMI 16-yard line.
Five plays later, Fred Boateng scored one of his three rushing touchdowns, this effort from three yards away.
As the opening quarter wound down, the Cats began a series of miscues that would allow the Keydets to get back in the game.
First, Fred Boateng fumbled the ball deep in Western territory and VMI recovered on the WCU 17-yard line. Though the Catamount defense allowed only two yards on three plays, kicker Matt Sharpe fired home a 32-yard field goal to put the Keydets on the board.
After forcing VMI to punt on their next possession, junior flanker Michael Banks fumbled the punt return, giving the ball to the Keydets on the Western 35-yard line. Two plays later, VMI scored their only offensive touchdown of the game as Joey Gibson hit Pedro Garcia for a 23-yard scoring strike.
The Keydets would then take their only lead of the game at 17-14 when junior split end Brendan Roy fumbled and the VMI outside linebacker Derik Screen took the loose ball in from two yards out.
Rallying before the half, Western took their next drive 74 yards in 13 plays down to the Keydet six-yard line. Facing fourth and goal, freshman Show Rowser kicked a 23-yard field goal with under two minutes remaining in the second quarter to draw the teams even at 17 going into halftime.
The second half began similarly to the first half, however, as the Catamounts would put the game away for good by scoring touchdowns on their first three drives in the second half and eventually outscoring VMI 27-0.
The first Western drive saw Gaither lead the team down the field on a seven-play, 70-yard drive that he capped with a 17-yard scoring toss to sophomore tight end Brian Rucker. Gaither was 2-2 for 25 yards on the drive and also had a six-yard run.
VMI was then forced to punt after three plays and Western began their next scoring campaign from the Keydet 20-yard line. Boateng would rush for 50 yards in six carries on the scoring drive, including a 21-yard touchdown run as the Cats increased their lead to 30-17.
The WCU defense added to the offense’s building momentum by giving them a short field to work with on their next drive, after sophomore cornerback B.J. Jessup intercepted a Gibson pass to give Western the ball on the VMI 27-yard line.
After Gaither completed a pass to Banks to get to the VMI one-yard line, the drive stalled until fourth and goal from the four-yard line. Boateng then put the game away with his third touchdown run of the game from four yards out.
The Catamounts would score one final time with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter when sophomore tailback Manny DeShauteurs capped a 92-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown rush.
In all, Western piled up 338 rushing yards against only 40 for VMI, which helped them control the ball for nearly 40 minutes. Six Catamounts rushed for 20 yards or more, led by Boateng’s sixth career 100-yard rushing effort. DeShauteurs added 87 yards on 13 carries.
Boateng was quick to credit his offensive line with the squad’s ability to run the ball with success.
“They were opening up big holes,” he said. “They did a great job. It seemed like everywhere we tried to run there was always room.”
He also felt the team’s ability to rush would dictate the game going into the second half.
“We knew we had to come back and run the ball and show them that we weren’t going to give up,” he said.
Gaither finished the game going 8-15 for 107 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His leading target was Banks who gained 70 yards on three catches.
In addition to allowing only 119 total yards, the WCU defense gave up only 10 first downs and held the Keydet offense to under three yards per offensive play.
Head coach Bill Bleil felt his team’s reaction in the second half of the game showed the character of this year’s squad.
“We made some mistakes in the first half which I think makes me feel even better about how we came out in the second half,” he said. “I thought it showed signs of being a great team by coming out and putting them away and not being satisfied.”
He added that his team’s defensive efforts this year are allowing a developing offense to blossom.
“Defensively, we played great,” he said. “We got some guys on defense that are really making plays. Offensively, I think we are showing good spurts. We keep getting better every game.”
Jessup felt the squad’s second half turnaround Saturday could have repercussions for the rest of the season.
“It’s good we showed class in the second half and it’s going to carry over to the next game,” he said.