The 2nd ranked West Georgia Wolves got their first win of the season Saturday with a 23-3 victory over the 22nd ranked Catawba Indians. This win marked the 17th straight victory at University Stadium, a place where Coach Will Hall has never lost as coach of the Wolves.
This win also gave Coach Hall his 50th win of his coaching career. He is now 50-15 and is in his fifth year as a head coach. His Wolves looked bigger and faster than ever on Saturday. They have numerous transfers that have added some valuable depth to both sides of the ball.
How it happened:
The game started with Catawba receiving the opening kickoff. Three plays later, senior CB Marcus Sayles intercepted a Catawba pass for his first INT of the year.
This INT made way for the West Georgia offense to take the field for the first time in 2016 under their new quarterback, Louisville transfer Will Gardner.
Gardner then led his Wolves down the field on a 60-yard drive that started with a big pass play across the middle to junior receiver Qa Walker. A couple plays later, Hunter Heck came in for a 22-yard field goal.
Heck was one of the most consistent kickers in the country last year and having him back for one more year will be huge for West Georgia. His first field goal of this season gave his Wolves the 3-0 lead with 10:39 left in the 1st quarter.
The UWG defense then came out and forced Catawba to punt the ball back to Gardner and the offense. Soon after getting the ball, the Wolves faced a 3rd and 13 situation that they were unable to convert on. So, they punted it back to Catawba.
On the next drive, Catawba again could not get anything going and was forced to punt it back to West Georgia. This UWG drive started with a 1st down completion to DeNiko Carter, a transfer from Gavilan Community College. This completion was also the last action of the 1st quarter.
A couple plays into the 2nd quarter, West Georgia was facing a 3rd and 5. Qa Walker came up big again on this play as he hauled in a catch for the 1st down. Then, sophomore running back Devontae Jackson gained a 1st down on his first carry of the game.
After failing to advance any further, Hunter Heck came back out onto the field to try for his second field goal. This time, he was successful from 41 yards out giving his team the 6-0 lead with 13 minutes left in the 1st half. I must say, this kick looked like it could have been good from 60 yards. He absolutely booted it. The kick capped off a nine play, 50-yard drive.
After trading punts, then forcing Catawba to punt again, West Georgia had the ball on their own 49 yard line after a brilliant punt return by #14, sophomore KJ Parmer. Will Gardner then hit #11, junior receiver DJ Ezell, for a first down. This moved the ball to the 21 yard line. Unfortunately, West Georgia was only able to advance 3 more yards before facing fourth down.
Heck then trotted back out onto the field for his 3rd attempt of the game, while still in the first half. However, the 7,617 in attendance watched this kick go wide right instead of through the uprights like the first two did. This gave the ball back to Catawba with a couple of minutes to go in the 1st half.
The West Georgia defense was stifling yet again on this drive, as they forced another punt. This was the 5th punt by Catawba in the half. This drive started on the Wolves 17 yard line.
Gardner found KJ Parmer across the middle for a 1st down to start things off, and then he found Qa Walker for a 36-yard gain to move the ball to Catawba’s 35 yard line with 1:39 to go. Soon after, UWG was facing a 3rd and 1 situation, but Devontae Jackson got the first down after spinning away from a defender in the backfield.
Will Gardner then found Parmer again for a gain that moved the ball to the Catawba 3 yard line. Shortly after, Devontae Jackson took it in for his and the team’s first score of the year. Last year, Jackson became just the 14th player in school history to hit 1,000 rushing yards. More notably, he was the first freshman to ever accomplish such a feat.
This score gave the Wolves a 13-0 lead after the successful PAT. The drive ended in 10 plays and covered 83 yards. There was hardly any time following the score and the two teams went into halftime with UWG up 13-0.
West Georgia had the clear advantage on the stat sheet by out-gaining the Indians 241 to 102 in the 1st half. Will Gardner was 9-of-19 and had 150 yards passing, and Lamarcus Franks and Devontae Jackson each had roughly 45 yards on the ground.
The 2nd half opened up with West Georgia receiving. Previous Utah commit and now UWG WR DeNiko Carter was hit hard and fumbled the kickoff. The Indians then took over on the UWG 33 yard line, closer to the West Georgia endzone than they had been all game
Catawba used this slight boost in momentum to get themselves all the way down to the West Georgia 1 yard line. UWG was able to hold them on a 3rd and short, forcing the Indians to take the 18 yard field goal.
This made the score 13-3 with 11:19 left in the 3rd quarter. The fumble was the first real mistake made by UWG in the game.
The Wolves received the next kickoff and the drive started with Gardner hitting KJ Parmer for a 1st down. Then, disaster struck again for West Georgia as Devontae Jackson fumbled the ball and Catawba took over. This time, they started on the UWG 49 yard line.
West Georgia’s defense then came out firing on all cylinders as they stopped a reverse on 1st down. This made it 2nd and 21. Then, they had a sack which made it 3rd and 23. Fourth down eventually came and the punting unit came out.
Special teams guru Marcus Sayles blocked the Catawba punt, something he is very familiar with. Last year, he blocked 7 kicks between field goals and punts which was the most in DI, DII, & DIII. This block was his 11th in his career at West Georgia.
The block allowed West Georgia to start with some good field position, but they could not capitalize. Gardner threw three straight incompletions forcing Coach Hall to send out the punting unit. However, as they had done all game, the UWG defense forced Catawba to punt it back to the Wolves.
The third quarter went on with nothing else really happening and the fourth quarter started with the score still 13-3. UWG managed only 32 yards in the 3rd quarter and Catawba only put up 35.
The fourth quarter started with Will Gardner throwing an interception. This was the third UWG turnover of the second half, after committing zero in the 1st. However, West Georgia’s defense did what they had done all game by giving the ball back to the offense. #20, senior LB Christopher Harthorne, broke up a fourth down play by making a big hit. Chris was making big hits all game and was a force in the middle of the defense.
West Georgia could not do much in this drive either. Lamarcus Franks started it off with a first down run, but a holding penalty a couple plays later forced them backwards. This put the offense in a tough spot and they were forced to punt.
What happened next should come as no surprise to all of you reading. For the 9th and final time, Catawba was sending out the punting unit at the end of the drive. On the other hand, UWG was forced to punt when they took over.
Catawba was now down by 10 with 6:43 to go in the game, but they did have the ball and their defense had begun to step it up in the 2nd half. After throwing for one first down, Catawba QB Mike Sheehan made a big mistake by throwing his second INT of the game.
UWG’s senior safety Jeff Fulwood jumped a route across the middle and intercepted the ball on the Catawba 42 yard line. Coach Hall was tired of seeing his team not score as he dialed up a post route to Qa Walker on the first play of the drive.
Will Gardner delivered a perfect ball to Qa and he outran a couple defenders to the endzone for a 42-yard touchdown. After the PAT, the score was 20-3 West Georgia with 5:55 to go in the game.
Now in crunch time, Catawba had to start throwing the ball every down to have any chance at coming back on the 2nd ranked West Georgia Wolves. This proved costly as senior safety AJ Leggett, a Marshall transfer, picked off a Sheehan pass and returned the ball all the way to the 10 yard line.
Redshirt freshman QB Willie Candler then came in for Will Gardner and was able to get some valuable snaps. The drive ended with another Hunter Heck field goal, bringing the score to 23-3. This was the last action of the game as West Georgia improved to 1-0 by defeating Catawba on opening weekend for the 2nd straight year.
Will Gardner finished 14-of-36 with 220 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Will stands 6 feet 5 inches and weighs 225 pounds. So, he has the build to be a QB at the next level. Overall, I think he played really well in his first game as quarterback of the Wolves. He may not have completed as many passes as he would have liked, but he threw the ball 36 times in his first game in a completely new offensive scheme.
In the post-game press conference, Coach Hall was quick to comment on how Gardner would have probably had 300 yards if his receivers had caught a couple of the balls that hit them right in the hands. I feel that once he becomes adjusted and all the clinks are worked out, this offense is going to be very dangerous, especially with all the weapons he has around him.
Qa Walker led all receivers with 116 yards on 5 catches. He looks to be the big play guy for Coach Hall, picking up just where he left off last year. He had one of the highest yards per catch averages in the country in 2015, and this game was his third straight with at least 100 yards receiving. He is now up to 925 yards in his career, and trails all-time UWG receiving leader Chad Walker by 1,531 yards. I believe that if he continues at this rate, then he will have that title when his UWG career is over.
Seven different receivers caught passes for West Georgia. KJ Parmer had 3 catches for 48 yards and tight end Brandon Walton caught 2 passes for 12 yards. Devontae Jackson, Lamarcus Franks, DJ Ezell, and DeNiko Carter all caught one pass.
DeNiko Carter may have fumbled the kickoff to open the second half, but he looks as if he will be a valuable contributor to the UWG offense and special teams units this year. Carter, Ezell, Walker, and Parmer form a very well-rounded unit for Will Gardner to throw to.
Devontae Jackson finished the game with 13 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown while Lamarcus Franks finished with 12 carries for 62 yards. Division I transfer Josh Thomas did not have a carry, but had a great spring according to what I have heard. These three guys will form a very tough rushing trio for opposing teams to face this year.
The West Georgia defense looks bigger, faster, and stronger than ever and it showed in game one. They allowed only 235 yards of offense on 70 snaps. More notably, they allowed only 95 rushing yards on 35 attempts. That is an average of 2.7 yards per carry. They also had three interceptions for the first time since the Delta State playoff game in 2014. The defensive line is absolutely massive and is pretty much made up of a bunch of former division I guys.
The defensive tackles are made up by former Tennessee player Jason Carr and former Iowa state player Devlyn Cousin. Carr is 6 foot 6, 300+ while Cousin is about 285. LaDarious Gallion, a community college transfer, stands 6 foot 5 and weighs 315. Sophomores Demarcus Davis and Cordarro Stoute also had some playing time on the interior defensive line.
The defensive ends are no slouch either, All-Americans Dylan Donahue and Alex Armah are the two guys who return from last year. Jason Hatcher is a transfer from Kentucky who will add some valuable depth to the defensive ends as well.
The linebackers played great in the game, led by senior captain Gabe Freeman. Chris Harthorne and Cameron Magee also rotated on the inside. The secondary was excellent, picking off three passes. They had numerous guys rotating in at the safety and corner positions.
As you can see, Coach Hall and his staff have a slew of offensive and defensive weapons at their disposal this year. The foundation that they already had as well as the depth that they have built around it looks to be a great formula for another conference championship and post-season run.
The Wolves next game will be at Miles on Saturday, September 10th at 5PM. West Georgia is 8-1 all-time vs Miles. Last year, UWG defeated the Golden Bears 33-7. Miles then went on to win the SIAC championship game. So, two defending conference champions will be facing off this Saturday in Fairfield, Alabama.
I believe West Georgia will have little problems with Miles and will beat them by at least 17 points. Once the offensive clinks are worked out, this West Georgia team is going to be very dangerous. You can listen to live audio of the Miles game by clicking this link, or by tuning in to Kiss 102.7 on your radios.
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Thanks for reading my recap of the game, Go Wolves!