Weather delayed

A game that started with a first half downpour ended in a second half barrage as Western Carolina tallied its first win of the season, escaping the Mars Hill Lions 30-23, Saturday afternoon.

The downpour was the sloppy weather conditions, but the barrage came courtesy of sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell and junior wide receiver Karnorris Benson.

With only 10 points in the first half, the Catamounts found themselves in a world of trouble after a two touchdown third quarter led an upset-minded Mars Hill team into the fourth with a 13-10 lead.

Shaikel Davis paced Mars Hill on the ground with a game-high 158 yards on 34 carries.  He had a 29-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to get the Lions rolling.

Early in the fourth, the Lions found the end zone with a 10-yard pass from Trent Miller to Dmitri Holmes to push the lead to 21-10.

Then, Mitchell and Benson decided to bring back the rain that subsided early in the second half.

Karnorris Benson hauls in a pass over a Mars Hill defender on his way to his second touchdown. WCU photo/ Mark Haskett.

On the first play following the Mars Hill score, Mitchell connected with Benson on an 80-yard bomb to cut the lead to four barring the two-point conversion.  Montego Baldwin intercepted Mitchell on the attempt and took it back the other way to give the Lions a 23-16 lead.

After Western’s defense forced a Mars Hill punt, the Catamounts were at their own eight-yard line.  Three plays later, Western tied the game after Benson nabbed a pass over a Mars Hill defender down the left sideline and took it in for a 75-yard score.

“(Troy) put it out there. There was some air under it and I had to go make a play. We needed a quick score,” Benson said about his second touchdown catch.

The Catamounts overcame a sluggish third quarter by doing just that – scoring quickly.  And Benson wasn’t done making plays.

On the next Catamount possession, Mitchell found Benson for his third score of the afternoon on a 33-yard touchdown to put the team ahead for good with less than three minutes remaining.

“I feel like KB (Benson) is a play-maker. Once you get the ball in his hands, he is going to make the plays,” Mitchell said after the game.

Sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell rushed for 64 yards and threw for a career-high 350 yards. WCU photo/ Mark Haskett.

Benson showcased that game-changing ability and played his way into the Western Carolina record books by becoming the fifth Catamount wide receiver ever to have 200 receiving yards in a game.  He finished with career-highs in receptions (9) and yards (212).

Mitchell also chipped in with a career day of his own.  The young quarterback finished 20 of 35 for a career-high 350 yards and ran for 64 yards on 13 carries.  His 414 yards of offense is the fifth-best single-game performance in Catamount history.

Sophomore running back Darius Ramsey led the team on the ground with 71 yards on 21 attempts.

Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir was excited to see his team pull out a win but acknowledged it wasn’t pretty.

“It was a ball game that was ugly and sloppy there for a long time.  You don’t take any (win) for granted.  This is just as sweet because our guys had to fight and this wasn’t an easy win.”

Speir could have been alluding to the weather or his team’s play with “ugly” and “sloppy,” but either way, the end result was there.

The win snapped a 13-game skid for Western dating back to last season and matched its win totals for each of the past two seasons – both victories coming against Mars Hill.

“With all the adversity, I think a lesser team would have folded. I’m just proud and think that is something that can propel into some wins in the future,” Speir said in his post-game comments.  “We have a big test next week and have to continue to get better.”

That test is in Birmingham, Ala., where the team will meet Samford to begin a three-game road trip.  The Catamounts are looking to break their 23-game conference losing streak with a win.

Adversity will continue to hover over this team and the season will only get tougher.

They handled it for one Saturday.

And they have to handle it for eight more.