Linebacker Ronnell Williams’ interception with 1:18 remaining helped visiting West Chester hold onto a 37-34 victory over sixth-ranked California (Pa.) Saturday afternoon.
Running back Rondell White recorded his second 200 yard rushing performance of the year as he piled up 280 all-purpose yards, leading West Chester (4-1) to the upset victory. By defeating Cal (4-1), it marks the first time since 2009 that the Golden Rams defeated a top 10 opponent, and ended a personal four-game skid against Cal.
Safety John O’Donnell kicked things off for the Rams just over two minutes into the game, as he scooped up a fumble by Cal’s Nadir Brown and took it 48 yards to the house, giving West Chester an early 7-0 lead. This was the second touchdown of the year for O’Donnell who also had a 48-yard interception return against Gannon earlier in the year. This was the fourth straight game in which the defense or special teams have scored a touchdown.
Wide Receiver Jim Kelly stretched the lead to 14 with a seven-yard reception from quarterback Mike Mattei with just over six minutes to go in the opening quarter.
In the second quarter, both teams exchanged a pair of touchdowns, with each missing an extra point in the process. Cal struck first with a touchdown halfway through the quarter to cut the lead to 14-7, but West Chester responded on their next possession. White capped off a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a 22-yard catch from Mattei. Cal refused to be dominated at home as they went 77 yards in only 1:21 to make the score 21-13. Kelly caught his second touchdown pass of the game, this time on a 51-yard hook-up, providing West Chester with a 27-13 lead going into the locker rooms.
The third quarter saw Cal capitalize on two West Chester turnovers, cashing in on both for touchdowns and tying the game up at 27 heading in the final quarter.
Kicker Shawn Leo put the Rams in front for good with a 43-yard field goal with 7:28 remaining. Following a three and out by the Vulcans, West Chester drove 60 yards topped off with a one-yard White plunge to push the lead to 10 with only three and half minutes remaining.
Cal responded quickly though as they drove 78 yards for a touchdown in less than a minute making the tally 37-34. After West Chester recovered the onside kick attempt, they were stopped on three plays as Cal burned their three timeouts in hope of getting one more chance on offense.
Following a West Chester punt to Cal’s 17 yard-line, the Vulcans took over with 1:59 to play, only needing a field goal to tie. Their potential game-winning drive wouldn’t last long though as on a second-and-five play, Williams intercepted a pass that deflected off a Cal receiver, and the Golden Rams took three knees for the victory.
White led the way for the Golden Rams as he piled up 200 yards on 36 carries, while also catching six balls for another 80 yards receiving and a score. The Rams outgained the Vulcans 211 to 73 on the ground, averaging almost five yards per carry.
Mattei led the aerial attack completing 23 of his 43 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He threw two interceptions in the game, compared to zero in his previous three games. While his play was far from perfect, he made the passes when he needed to and in the end, got the road victory.
For the second straight week, Kelly recorded over 100 yards receiving. Saturday he caught eight balls for 123 yards and two more touchdowns bringing his total to a team leading five. While the Vulcans outgained the Rams through the air 342-289, West Chester did average almost a whole yard more per completion, and outgained Cal offensively 500 to 415.
Williams and fellow linebacker Mike Labor led the way as the defense shut down another prolific offense and provided key turnovers.
“Their offensive line is probably the best that we’ll see all year,” admitted Labor in an interview earlier in the week. “They play really fast, so in practice we focused on the speed, rather than the physicalness.”
The self-proclaimed Batman and Robin of the defense had another solid performance capped off by Williams interception that sealed the deal. Williams and senior defensive back Carl Barnes led the team in tackles with seven apiece, and red-shirt freshman Courtland Bragg had the defense’s other interception.
Marking their fourth-straight victory and undefeated record against Division II opponents, the Golden Rams seem to be firing on all cylinders offensively and defensively.
“With our defensive play, and the way that our offense is rolling, the sky’s the limit for our football team,” Williams said when talking about the recent winning streak.
The next stop for the Golden Rams is a trip to East Stroudsburg (2-2) on Saturday. The Warriors are coming off a tough loss 31-27 to Clarion and are looking to rebound for their homecoming game against West Chester. The Rams look to keep pace with No. 10 Bloomsburg and No. 21 Shippensburg atop the PSAC East, who are both 2-0. This will be the third straight road game for WCU who will try to improve to 3-1 away from Farrell Stadium before coming home for three straight games. Kickoff will be at 1:05 p.m.
Riley Wallace is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at RW718681@wcupa.edu.