CARROLLTON, Ga. - The West Georgia Wolves officially kicked off the David Dean era with a bang on Thursday night at University Stadium as the Wolves treated the home crowd to a 34-9 victory over the visiting Fort Valley State Wildcats.
Stout defense and a solid rushing attack was the name of the game for West Georgia as the Wolves racked up 305 yards on the ground and allowed just nine points on 227 total yards. The passing game wasn't too shabby for the Wolves though, as sophomore signal caller Willie Candler finished the night 17-of-24 for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"I'm very proud of our football team. I thought we came out early on and executed well," said the first-year UWG head coach. "Offensively and defensively, I thought we played exceptionally good football, especially early on in the ballgame," added Dean.
The UWG rushing attack was led by Travis Custis who rushed for 95 yards on 11 carries for a pair of scores, and right behind him was Devontae Jackson who had 90 yards on 11 carries on the night.
UWG's first drive of 2017 ended in a punt, but the strong UWG defense flexed their muscles and got the ball right back and the offense went to work. Senior running back Travis Custis had the big play of the drive as his 29-yard scamper put the Wolves in FVSU territory. West Georgia wouldn't get it in the endzone, but a 31-yard field goal from Trey Wiggins put the Wolves on the board for the first time in 2017, making it a 3-0 lead at the 7:04 mark in the opening quarter.
The Wolves' next possession ended similarly as Wiggins connected on a 23-yard field goal to give the Wolves a 6-0 lead. The big play of this 65-yard, seven-play drive was a 56-yard rush from junior Devontae Jackson.
West Georgia's defense then forced another Fort Valley State punt. UWG's offense left no doubt on the next drive as a 55-yard strike from Willie Candler to Thomas Lester put the Wolves in scoring position. Custis then put the exclamation point on the drive with the first touchdown of the season, a 14-yard rushing score, to put the Wolves up 13-0 after the PAT.
Fort Valley State got into UWG territory for the first time of the game on their next drive, but Juan Serna's 39-yard field goal attempt would sail wide left, turning the ball back over to the Wolves with 10:13 left in the opening half.
Montrell Pardue provided the Wolves their first takeaway of the season with an interception late in the second quarter that set up the West Georgia offense at the FVSU 19-yard line. Willie Candler then threw a fade to the corner that resulted in a UWG touchdown as Shannon Smith hauled in Candler's pass, making it a 20-0 UWG lead with 3:54 left in the second quarter.
The West Georgia defense came out and forced a turnover on downs for Fort Valley, and the offense then went 51 yards in seven plays, capped off by a four-yard touchdown score from Custis, his second of the game.
On UWG's next drive it was Candler to senior DeNiko Carter from five yards out to cap off yet another scoring drive for the Wolves. This one went 77 yards in 12 plays and ate up 6:17 off the clock. Junior running back Mikell Lands-Davis was the work horse on the drive, carrying the ball five time for 30 yards.
After a UWG turnover the Wildcats would capitalize and go 45 yards on five plays for the final score of the game as Jamari Clark took it in from 21 yards out. A failed PAT would make it 34-9 at the 12:47 mark of the final quarter.
Defensively, Deandre Gardenhire led the way for West Georgia with six stops including a tackle for loss. Malcom Penny chipped in with five tackles while a whole host of Wolves finished with four, including Montrell Pardue who had the interception to go with his four stops.
Through the air, Brooks Shannon led a talented group of receivers with 64 yards on two catches while Thomas Lester had 62 yards on two catches. It was Shannon Smith and DeNiko Carter who each had one catch that they made count as they both found the endzone through the air.
The Wolves remain home next week as they host Miles on Saturday, September 9 in a 7 p.m. game at University Stadium.