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Special teams, an early strength for the young Mountaineers

A week ago prior to the Mountaineers matchup against James Madison, head coach Neal Brown stated that special teams would play a major role in the game, and could even decide the outcome of the game. A week later, that forecast couldn’t have been any more accurate, and Brown feels this was one of the major reasons the Mountaineers came out with the win.

Although the expectedly slow start to the game offensively indicated there were a lot of mistakes that would need to be cleaned up for week two against Missouri, one clear strength was on the special teams unit, that made multiple game-changing plays to change momentum in West Virginias favor.

Down 7-3 late in the second quarter in desperate need of a stop, junior Darius Stills found a crack in the offensive line and blocked the field goal attempt by JMU kicker Ethan Ratke, which seemingly swung the momentum the Mountaineers way the rest of the game.

Photo Courtesy: William Wotring- The Dominion Post

“Special teams was a huge factor. The reasons we won that game (were because of) turnover margins, special teams plays and we were able to stop the run in the second half,” said Neal Brown. “Two game-changing plays (came on) special teams, the fumble recovery, and a blocked field goal, (which played big,)” said Brown.

The blocked field goal courtesy of Darius Stills was the first of his life and gave a much needed boost of energy to the sideline and the crowd for the rest of the game.

One of the most explosive players on the Dukes squad was punt returner D’Angelo Amos, who Neal Brown noted before the game would be a player they will need to keep a close eye on. His production was kept in check, and the special teams unit once again did their job.

“We held the FCS special teams player of the year last year, to four return yards on our punt team, so I think we did a good job on both coverage units,” said Brown.

On the Mountaineers side of special teams, standouts included senior long-snapper Rex Sunahara, who tallied two tackles for the game, and redshirt freshman Kwantel Raines who forced a fumble early in the first quarter. Sunahara has already been named a Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list player and has proven to be a force on the coverage units during the last couple seasons

WVU longsnapper Rex Sunahara Photo Credit: Kevin Kinder- Blue Gold News

“I love to play football and I have to know that my teammates know that I can go down there and cover too, and help this team win,” said Sunahara. “I’m supposed to be down there to make sure no one gets outside of me, but if that ball comes towards me I gotta stick my nose in there and make a tackle if I can.

With an even bigger test this upcoming weekend in the Missouri Tigers, field position and big plays will almost certainly play a major role in who comes out on top. It was Darius Stills stepping up and making the play last weekend, so who will be the guy to make the play this weekend that gets everybody talking? We’ll have to wait and find out.

Kickoff from Columbia, Missouri is set for 12:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN2. You can also follow along for updatea on the Blue Gold Sports Twitter account.

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