McKenzie, Tennessee - With returning tailbacks Andre Dickerson and Thomas Wright sidelined by injury, second year Head Coach Dewey Lusk had no choice but to turn freshman Connery Swift and the former Wilson Memorial star did not disappoint. In total, Swift carried the ball 26 times for 175 yards as UVa-Wise upset number 11 Bethel University 24-21 in overtime in front of a capacity crowd at Wildcat Stadium on Saturday.
The host Wildcats had won seven consecutive home games entering the contest and appeared on the cusp of number eight early in the game. Bethel jumped out to an early 3-0 lead when Robby Phillips booted a 35 yard field goal with 10:32 to play in the opening quarter. The game would remain 3-0 until Phillips again took the field with 12:57 to play in the first half; again, Phillips would connect on a field goal, this time from 23 yards out to give the preseason Mid-South West favorites a 6-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the UVa-Wise offense failed to mount much of a threat until Tye Marshall hooked up with Ryan Bouldin on a 57 yard pass completion to move the Cavs deep into Wildcats territory. From there, UVa-Wise went to the ground and freshman Marcus Jones completed the drive with a one yard touchdown run; junior Paul Melshen was good on the point after and UVa-Wise had its first lead of the game at 7-6 with 9:28 to play in the first half.
Bethel responded immediately as Wil Massoud found Justin Brandy on a 27 yard touchdown pass with just two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Phillips' point after attempt was good making the score 13-7 Bethel heading into halftime.
Each team's defense was up to the test early in the second half as each team had drives stall out shortly after crossing mid-field. However, it was the Cavs that struck first in the second half as Tye Marshall capped off a 12 play, 90 yard touchdown drive with a quarterback sneak; Melshen's point after was good and once again UVa-Wise had the lead, this time at 14-13.
On Bethel's first fourth quarter drive, the Wildcats moved the ball deep into Cavalier territory and appeared to be on the verge of regaining the advantage when Phillips came on to attempt a 41 yard field goal attempt. Despite successfully converting two previous field goals, the freshman's 41 yard attempt went wide right and UVa-Wise maintained its one point margain.
The score would remain unchanged until late in the game when freshman Zach Cochran completed a 76 yard, 11 play drive with a five yard touchdown scamper; Melshen again connected on the extra point and UVa-Wise had a 21-13 lead with 3:30 showing on the fourth quarter clock. On the following possession, Bethel marched down the field and scored its second touchdown of the game when Massoud scrambled for a 15 yard touchdown run with less than a minute remaining to cut the Cavalier lead to two at 21-19. On the two point possession try, the Wildcats turned to reigning All-American tailback Cordarious Mann who raced off left end to convert the two point conversion, tying the game. Following the Bethel kickoff, UVa-Wise ran out the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter sending the game to overtime.
UVa-Wise won the overtime coin toss and elected to play defense; on the first play of the extra session Mann raced around right end and appeared to have his sights set on the end zone when sophomore Nehemiah Jones stripped the ball from Mann's hands ending the drive while giving the Cavs the ball needing only a field goal to win the game.
Two plays into the UVa-Wise possession, Head Coach Dewey Lusk elected to send Melshen out to attempt a 41 yard game winning field goal. The junior kicker was up to the task as he split the uprights, for his second career game winning kick, giving UVa-Wise one of its biggest wins in school history.
With the victory, the Cavs improve to 1-0 on the season while the Wildcats fall to 0-1. UVa-Wise will begin the home portion of its schedule next week when the school plays host to Faulkner University for a 6:00 PM kickoff inside Carl Smith Stadium.