Sept. 21, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Junior wide receiver Karnorris Benson hauled in three, fourth quarter touchdown receptions as Western Carolina rallied from an 11-point deficit in the final frame to upend the Mars Hill Lions, 30-23, on a soggy Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
Benson recorded scoring strikes of 80, 75 and 33 yards from sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell over the final 10:39 with the lone blemish for WCU coming on an intercepted two-point conversion try that MHU's Montego Baldwin returned nearly 100 yards for a pair of points.
All told, WCU outscored Mars Hill, 20-to-2, in the fourth quarter while also outgaining the Lions, 275-to-69 in offensive yardage over the final 15 minute segment to rally for the 15th-straight win in the all-time series, halting a 13-game winless drought that dated back to last season.
"We're excited about getting our first win of the year against a very good Mars Hill football team," WCU head coach Mark Speir opened during his post-game comments. "I'm just proud of the composure that we had, and how we stuck together to win a ballgame. You don't take any (win) for granted; they are all good. This is just as sweet because our guys had to fight and this wasn't an easy win. Our guys had to fight our butts off. It let our players know that they can go make plays and we have to fight to the very end."
Benson became the fifth different Catamount wide receiver to eclipse the 200-yard receiving mark all-time with a career-high 212 yards on a career-best nine catches. Making the performance even more impressive is that he had four catches for just three yards at halftime.
Mitchell completed 20-of-35 passes for a career-high 350 yards and three touchdowns while adding 64 yards on 13 carries to amass 414 yards of total offense. Sophomore tailback Darius Ramsey led the team with 71 yards on the ground with junior Shaun Warren rushing for 36 yards and a first quarter TD, finishing with 101 all-purpose yards with two kickoff returns for a total of 65 yards.
After seeing Mars Hill pull ahead by 11 points, 21-10, with 10:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Catamounts went up top for their biggest pass play of the game. Mitchell found a streaking Benson over the middle for an 80-yard pitch-and-catch, the longest pass and reception in both players' careers, pulling WCU back to within five, 21-16. However, Baldwin's two-point conversion pick stretched the margin back to seven, 23-16.
WCU's defense got the football back after six plays with redshirt senior Brian Johnson throwing receiver Dimitri Holmes for a six-yard loss on an end-around play, eventually forcing the Lions to punt.
Despite being pinned back at their own eight-yard line, Mitchell guided the Catamounts on a 92-yard scoring drive in just three plays. Mitchell rushed off the right tackle for 12 yards on the first down play with Ramsey finding five yards of running room up the middle. Mitchell then again found his favorite target of the game on a 75-yard pass up the left sideline. The ball was slightly underthrown, but Benson made an athletic move, going over the underneath cornerback to grab the pass and romp into the end zone to set-up Richard Sigmon's game-tying PAT, 23-23. Sigmon had a 21-yard field goal to open the game's scoring.
Inspired by the offensive explosion, the Catamount defense again rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out on Mars Hill's next possession. Mitchell orchestrated the game-winning drive, moving 72 yards in six plays with Benson on the receiving end of a 33-yard go-ahead touchdown. The drive was spurred by a 20-yard reception by tight end Michael Helms, Jr., with Benson making two catches for 43 yards on the drive.
Needing a stop to help seal the victory, the WCU defense recorded a second-straight, three-and-out with Mars Hill punting with just 2:04 remaining in the game. Ramsey helped put the game away with a 17-yard rush around the right side for a first down as the Catamounts ran out the clock.
For Mars Hill (1-2), tailback Shaikel Davis rushed for a game-high 158 yards on 34 carries with a third quarter touchdown to put the Lions on the board. Fullback Marquez Williams scored on his lone touch of the game, plowing in from two yards out for the go-ahead third quarter score for MHU. Wide receiver Dimitri Holmes was on the receiving end of five Trent Miller passes, finishing with 77 yards and a score. Miller was 12-of-25 for 169 yards in the loss.
Defensively for the Lions, Sammy Siasia recorded 12 tackles including four solo stops and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Senior linebacker Courtland Carson led the Catamount defense with his third-straight, double-digit tackle outing, matching his season-high with 14 tackles including five solo stops. WCU's defense was credited with four tackles for loss including two sacks with redshirt senior Andre Shiskin forcing a turnover on his QB sack with Jaleel Lorquet and Helva Matungulu combining on the second. Lorquet also came up with a fumble at the Mars Hill one-yard line to set up Warren's touchdown run in the first quarter.
Western Carolina (1-3) opens a three-game road swing next Saturday as it travels Birmingham, Ala., to face the Samford Bulldogs. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 pm CT / 3:00 pm ET.