WEST LIBERTY - There was one person in the West Liberty football program that looked down the schedule after a Sept. 25 home loss against West Virginia Wesleyan. And what Coach Roger Waialae saw was this week's Shepherd game going a long way in determining if his Hilltoppers will repeat as West Virginia Conference champions.
''I'm the only one that's allowed to look,'' Waialae said. ''They're all big, but we control our destiny.
''We've been pretty fortunate here that we've had a chance to play for conference championships.''
The Hilltoppers (4-2 overall, 3-1 WVC) welcome the No. 15 Rams (7-0, 5-0) at 1 on Saturday at Russek Field.
After starting 1-2, it was hard to imagine - for anyone outside the West Liberty locker room - that this week's matchup would hold this type of significance. But since that Wesleyan loss, the Hilltoppers have run off three consecutive victories, averaging 46 points a game.
''(Shepherd's) one call ahead of us - put it that way,'' Waialae said, referring to a controversial touchdown late in the Wesleyan game. ''They're going to come in and run the football. They run to open up the pass, where we pass to open up the run.
''Same idea, but opposite.
''They throw it effectively.''
Coach Monte Carter's offense is led by junior running back Tommy Addison, who is coming off a 23-carry, 152-yard, three-touchdown effort that helped him share WVC Offensive Player of the Week honors with Hilltoppers quarterback Zach Amedro. Addison has run for 916 yards and 12 touchdowns including a league-high five 100-yard performances, and is averaging 141.8 yards a game during conference play.
''But they don't get credit for how they throw the ball,'' Waialae said.
He's referring to quarterback Kevin Clancy who has completed 104 of 174 passes for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's thrown just six interceptions, allowing Shepherd to play to at least even in the turnover department. In fact, the Rams have not lost that battle this season.
''Defensively for them, they're pretty good - a lot better,'' Waialae said. ''But I don't know how they're going to play us. In previous years they've blitzed us, but I saw them sit back in a zone against Wesleyan last week.
''But the key offensively for us is, we can't allow them to get pressure with their front four.''
The Hilltoppers have faced zone defenses pretty exclusively this season. After a slow start, Amedro and company seem to have found a comfort level.
The John Marshall grad threw for an even 400 yards and six touchdowns last week against West Virginia State, and is again shattering records. His 108 touchdowns are tops all-time in WVC history, and he tied the Division-II record with his 26th career 300-yard game.
Amedro is averaging 378 yards a game this season. He's 1,414 yards - 353.5 a game - from surpassing East Stroudsburg's Jimmy Terwilliger's D-II record of 14,350 career passing yards
''Not to make excuses for him, but he was hampered with injuries,'' Waialae said.
Receiver Ryan Travis, D-II's leading receiver, set all-time school records in receptions (234) and receiving yards (2,760) last week. Travis has three consecutive games with 13 catches, and has 10 or more each week.
West Liberty figures to need every weapon in its arsenal against the Rams, and it's looking like that could be the case. Tailback Kevon Calhoun, after missing the last two games because of injury, will play. Linebacker Clay Beeler has been working hard in practice, and could be on the field as well.
''He's a tough enough kid and he knows the magnitude of this game,'' Waialae said of Beeler. ''He was running around, but we still don't know. I have to make sure he can protect himself.
''On Tuesday he was running and cutting, but he didn't take part in any team drills.
''It's probably a game-time decision.''