Catamounts Weather the Colonels in 27-24 Road Win
Cole Gonzales passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns including the go-ahead score to Branson Adams with 25 seconds remaining in regulation and Western Carolina withstood a late Eastern Kentucky drive with a would-be game-tying field goal missing as the Catamounts earned a 27-24 road victory on a rain-soaked Saturday night on CG Bank Field at Roy Kidd Stadium.
Adams caught three passes for 23 yards on WCU’s final offensive drive including the eight-yard game-winner, his first career touchdown.
Catamount tailback Desmond Reid amassed 240 yards of total offense to lead the Catamounts in the winning effort. He rushed for a career-high 177 yards and a leaping one-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Reid added four receptions for 63 yards out of the backfield.
Gonzales shook off a sluggish first half throwing the football to finish with a career-high 340 yards on 18-of-33 passing and three touchdowns, two going to classmate Censere Lee as eight receivers caught passes. David White Jr. paced the squad with 94 receiving yards on two catches with Lee posting 88 yards on three grabs including scores of 45 and 15 yards.
EKU (0-3) jumped out to an 11-0 lead, adding a two-point conversion on the game’s first touchdown and extending the lead on a 41-yard first-quarter field goal. WCU cut into the deficit late in the opening frame as Gonzales hit Lee on a 45-yard pitch-and-catch. The Colonels converted a WCU fumble in the red zone into a second field goal to lead 14-7 at halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Gonzales again found Lee for a 15-yard touchdown to knot the game at 14 headed to the final frame. Then, on the second play of the fourth quarter, Reid leaped over the offensive line into the endzone to cap an 88-yard drive to push the Catamounts in front for the first time.
EKU answered as QB Parker McKinney hit Jaden Smith for a game-tying 14-yard score at the 11:32 mark of the fourth quarter.
The final five minutes featured the most action on the rainy Saturday night. Tied at 21 midway through the final frame, EKU drove to the WCU one-yard line looking for the go-ahead score. The Catamount defense stood tall and tough, pushing the Colonels back to the three-yard line before EKU’s Patrick Nations broke the tie with his third field goal of the game with just 4:18 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Gonzales drove WCU into EKU territory before linebacker Logan Blake stretched out for a leaping interception with three minutes remaining in the game. With EKU trying to run out the clock, the Catamount defense again came up with a stop on a three-and-out, giving the offense the football with just under two minutes remaining.
Gonzales methodically marched the Catamounts back down the field on what proved to be the game-winning drive, completing three passes to AJ Colombo for 46 yards and a 28-yard hook-up with Lee. From the eight-yard line, Gonzales found Adams for the go-ahead touchdown and the 27-24 lead.
Capitalizing on a short kickoff for plus field position, McKinney completed a 23-yard pass and added a 16-yard scramble to move the Colonels into field goal range. EKU just missed on a dropped pass in the front left corner of the endzone before Nations missed wide left from 40 yards away as time expired to complete the Catamount victory.
For EKU, McKinney finished 27-of-46 for 366 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, adding eight rushes for a team-best 59 yards. WR Jaden Smith caught 10 passes for 121 yards and a score in the loss, a third straight to start the season for the Colonels.
Senior Va Lealaimatafao led the Catamount defense with seven tackles including four solo stops, while CJ Williams posted six tackles, three pass breakups, and WCU’s first interception of the season. Samaurie Dukes, Ed Jones IV, and Andreas Keaton were each credited with five tackles apiece with Rod Gattison adding two pass deflections.
Western Carolina (2-1) returns home next weekend to host the Charleston Southern Buccaneers on Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium on Family Weekend. WCU will also celebrate its long-standing relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians with kickoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
Keep track of everything related to Catamount football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/CatamountSports) and Twitter (@Catamounts, @CatamountsFB).