FAIRMONT — With momentum in the balance in Friday night’s season opener for the Fairmont football team against Westover, two plays in the third quarter turned the tides in the Wolverines favor, leading them to a 52-32 win over the Golden Tornadoes.
As both teams had traded out touchdowns and the lead in the two previous drives, Fairmont (0-1) went to work down four points deep in its own territory. On the third play of the drive, reigning Robeson County Heisman quarterback Julius Caulder stepped up in the pocket and looked over the middle to pass, but the ball was tipped up at the line and Westover’s Tim Houston grabbed it and returned for a 21-yard score and put the Wolverines up 38-26.
On the ensuing kickoff, Fairmont’s Halijah McLean returned the kickoff 82 yards to the endzone, but the play was brought back on an unnecessary roughness penalty — one of over 30 penalties called in the game. The Golden Tornadoes’ drive started with good field position at its own 39-yard line, but ended in Westover territory without getting into the red zone.
“That really broke our back,” Fairmont coach Mark Heil said. “Well, the interception and then the kickoff. … Those two plays hurt us.”
Westover opened last season with a 52-26 in Fayetteville over Fairmont. Though the final scores resembled each other, Heil saw differences in the game from last year to this year.
“I thought we played better and I know they’re better than a year ago,” he said.
Westover racked up 377 yards on the ground in the game behind running back Jareel Allen, who rushed for 1,526 yards last year, and quarterback Warren Bell, who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last year as well. With new starters all over the defense, and many playing both sides of the ball, fatigue and youth had its affects on Fairmont.
“I don’t know how many of their guys played both ways, but we had so many. I thought we were getting exhausted midway through the second quarter,” Heil said. “We have a lot of things to work on on defense.”
Allen finished with 241 yards and two touchdowns including a 62-yard score through the Fairmont defense to cap off his night in the backfield. Bell had 93 yards with three touchdowns and led several touchdown drives down the field with his legs.
Caulder and fellow senior Jarique Moore picked up where they left off from last season in the passing game. Caulder went 13-for-24, with 328 yards, three touchdowns passing and one score also on the ground. Moore was on the receiving end of all three touchdown passes and hauled in 265 yards through the air.
On Fairmont’s first drives of each half, Caulder connected with Moore on long passes for scores. On its opening series, Caulder stood tall while taking being tackled and got the ball to Moore on a screen that went 94-yards for a touchdown and gave Fairmont an early 6-0 lead. Caulder hit Moore on a corner route for an 81-yard score on the third play of the third quarter to put Fairmont up 26-22.
Fairmont hosts Carolina Forest next Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve just got to try to keep working on defense and get our running game going better,” Heil said. “It’s not so much who we play. We’ve got to get ourselves better.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.