Cullowhee, N.C. – Tyrie Adams rushed for a career-high three touchdowns including a pair of fourth quarter scores as Western Carolina rallied past upset-minded Newberry, 33-26, in the season-opener for both squads in front of 12,111 fans Saturday night at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
A preseason Walter Payton Award candidate, Adams amassed 358 yards of total offense including 277 yards on 19-of-30 passing and was sacked just once. He rushed 17 times for a combined 81 yards with the trio of touchdowns. The St. Petersburg, Fla., native recorded scoring runs of two, one, and three yards, respectively, matching his career total of the first two seasons in one evening.
Redshirt senior WR Jordan Mathis tossed WCU’s lone touchdown pass – the second of his WCU career on a nine-yard strike to tight end Austin Phillips for his second career receiving TD. Sophomore kicker Will Horton added a pair of field goals including boots of 29 and a career-long of 42 yards for the Catamounts.
Junior tailback Connell Young finished with 81 rushing yards on 18 touches, while redshirt sophomore wide receiver Daquan Patten led four Catamount receivers with four receptions, posting a career-best 92 receiving yards. Junior transfer Nate Mullen also caught four passes for 80 yards with Mathis finishing with four receptions for 62 yards.
Driving the opening kickoff 77 yards in seven plays, Newberry (0-1) grabbed the early lead, 7-0, which stood until the first play of the second quarter. After Horton split the uprights from 29 yards out to put the Catamounts on the board midway through the opening frame, Adams capped a 12-play, 90-yard march with a two-yard plunge to push the Catamounts in front, 10-7.
Horton’s career-long 3-pointer and Mathis’ end-around halfback pass to Phillips put WCU comfortably ahead, 19-7, and concluded a run of 19-straight points scored by the Catamounts. However, not to be outdone, Newberry responded with 10-consecutive points including a Kevin Weber 32-yard field goal and a 44-yard strike from QB Greg Ruff to Keinan Lewis that provided the halftime score, a two-point margin at 19-17.
Controlling the football for nine and a half minutes of the third quarter, Newberry reclaimed the lead on an 18-yard Weber field goal to represent the only points scored in the third stanza. But the Wolves had seized momentum and cashed it in early-on in the fourth quarter. Even losing its starting QB, Ruff, for a couple possessions would not slow the Wolves as redshirt freshman Dre Harris found leading-receiver Markell Castle for a 30-yard pitch-and-catch and seven-point lead. The PAT was blocked by freshman LB Kalen Allen, a key point as the lead remained at one possession – a touchdown and PAT.
Castle led all receivers with a career-high 10 catches for 118 yards and a score – his 18th career TD.
On the ensuing possession, Adams moved the team into scoring position using a big pass play to Mathis and Connell Young breaking-off a double-digit run. He then called his own number, plunging his way to the end zone to tie the game at 26.
Western Carolina (1-0) capped its comeback with a second, methodical 11-play, that covered 86 yards with Adams finding a crease behind his veteran offensive line for the go-ahead score. Newberry had one last-gasp effort, spurred by the return of starting QB Ruff, who kick started the two-minute drill with a 33-yard run. But the Catamount defense stiffened and three-plays later took over on downs to effectively end the game.
Four Catamount defenders recorded double-digit tackles with Mitchell Chancey showing the way with a dozen stops in the opener. He was flanked by junior Devarius Cortner (11), senior Jacquez Williams (10) and redshirt sophomore Michael Murphy (10). Williams tallied three tackles for loss including two sacks to pace WCU’s defense. DB Shamon Elliott was credited with three pass breakups to accompany four tackles.
Newberry LB Joe Blue paced all defenders with a career-high 20 tackles including seven solo stops and two tackles for loss including a sack.
After playing 12-straight weeks of football in 2017 because of the addition of the Hawai’i game, Western Carolina will enter into a bye week in Week Two, not returning to action until it visits regional-rival Gardner-Webb on Sept. 15. Kickoff in Boiling Springs, N.C., is slated for 6:00 pm in a game that can be seen on ESPN+.