BLUEFIELD, Va. – University of Pikeville freshman quarterback Sani Warren wasted no time showing he could play at this level, throwing for 346 yards and five touchdowns, including a school-record 90-yard strike to Shawntez Johnson, as the Bears outlasted Bluefield (Va.) 62-40 on the road Thursday.
Warren was efficient, completing 16-of-20 passes, and added a six-yard rushing touchdown as well in the third quarter. He took a seat for the fourth quarter with the Bears leading 62-27 and well on their way to giving interim head coach Allan Holland Jr. a win in the season opener.
There was plenty of offense and exciting plays, but it’ll be hard to top one particular pass all season. Breaking a program record, Warren connected with Shawntez Johnson for a 90-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter. Johnson, who finished with 126 yards on two catches, snagged the ball with one hand, shook off his defender, then sprinted about 55 yards for the score.
It couldn’t have come at a better time either as the Rams were down just 14-13 and there were no signs of them stepping off the gas. Marion Harris and Armani Ford were dangerous in an option attack, rushing for 79 and 66 yards, respectively. Luckily over 15 minutes into the game, the UPIKE defense started to click.
Between two straight three-and-outs for the Bluefield offense, the Bears struck for the 90-yard touchdown and a four-yard rush by Quan Weaver to take its first two-possession lead of the game at 28-13.
Harris responded for the Rams with a 10-yard touchdown run on the next drive, the result of a 10-play 71-yard effort, that made it a one touchdown game again. But that would be the last time as UPIKE went up 35-20 after another highlight-reel worthy catch, this time by Eddie Miller III.
After starting the game with such promise, including scoring the first points of a game for the first time in two seasons with a 7-0 lead, the Rams fell apart just before halftime. With less than a minute left, the Bears blocked a punt and turned it into a three-yard score on the ground by Seth Millar to lead 42-20 at the break.
Fifteen points was as close as Bluefield would get the rest of the game as Ashten Dixen threw a touchdown to Rodrell Smith on the first drive of the second half to make it 42-27. UPIKE surged back, taking a game-high 35-point lead when John Dudley Hilton recovered a fumble and took it 20 yards into the end zone for the Bears’ final touchdown.
Things looked shaky at the start for UPIKE with numerous bad snaps and an inability to move the ball on the ground. Combine that with Bluefield’s confident option attack and the Rams looked like a team that would stick around.
A big break helped the Bears early on as Weaver fumbled with his team down 13-7, but it was wiped off after a Ram personal foul. With a second life, Warren ended the drive with a touchdown throw to Aaron Jackson who made a leaping grab in the corner to put UPIKE up by one.
Jackson finished with three catches for 63 yards and two scores, Miller III paced the team with six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Jamar Kirksey led the UPIKE backs with 66 yards, Millar added 46 yards and a touchdown and Weaver finished with 44 yards and his score.
The game ended up as an offensive slugfest with the Bears holding a slight advantage in total yards 511-504, including a 346-107 lead through the air. Bluefield won the battle on the ground 397-165, but also turned the ball over four times, including one that led to a touchdown.
On the defensive side, it was Austin Baldwin leading UPIKE with 10 tackles and Marvin Miles chipping in with eight. Quanthony Fletcher also had a big night with an interception and fumble recovery.
UPIKE now looks ahead to next Saturday when it travels to Morehead State (Ky.) for a 6 p.m. ET kickoff.