WEST LIBERTY - A record-setting group of 21 seniors will be playing their final game at Russek Field at 1 on Saturday when West Liberty plays host to Charleston in the 15th annual Alumni Scholarship Bowl, and coach Roger Waialae has but one objective.
''This group has done some great things for the university and our program over the past four years,'' Waialae said. ''Our focus all week has been on getting up off the mat and sending our seniors out with a win in their last home game.''
This season's senior class shattered nearly every single-season offensive record in the WLU books a year ago during a run to the NCAA Division-II quarterfinals, and now boasts the all-time leading passer (Zach Amedro) and receiver (Ryan Travis) in West Liberty history. Running back Kevon Calhoun, who set school single-season records for rushing yards and touchdowns last fall, is on track to score more touchdowns than any player in Hilltoppers history.
Those numbers on the stat sheet have translated into plenty of victories on the scoreboard. West Liberty's legendary senior class of 1950 holds the school record for victories in a four-year span, having posted an incredible 34-1-3 mark from 1947-50.
This season senior class can finish as the second-winningest class in 85 years of Hilltopper football by closing out the season with victories against Charleston, Seton Hill and Concord. That would give the Class of 2010 a 33-12-0 record, putting it in a tie for victories with last season's seniors, who went 33-13-0 from 2006-09.
''This group of kids has really helped put West Liberty on the NCAA Division-II football map,'' Waialae said. ''They've been great for our program. I know we're coming off a tough loss but they deserve the opportunity to walk off this field one more time with a win.''
The Hilltoppers (4-3 overall, 3-2 WVIAC) are trying to shake off the aftereffects of last week's 53-38 loss to No. 11 Shepherd. West Liberty was leading 35-13 in the second half but a bizarre sequence of events led to the Rams scoring 25 points in a 3-minute span to grab the momentum and hand WLU a heartbreaking loss.
Charleston (5-3, 3-2) presents a unique challenge as the Golden Eagles' run-oriented ''triple-gun'' offense has found its stride in recent weeks and bring a three-game winning streak into Russek Field.
True freshman QB Maurice Leak is the WVIAC's reigning Offensive Player of the Week after passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 195 yards and three more scores in the final three quarters of Charleston's 44-34 victory at Urbana (Ohio).
Leak was just 5 of 9 through the air but all five of his completions went for big yardage - 57, 55, 44, 36 and 31. His game-clinching, 52-yard TD scamper with less than 3 minutes to play was UC's longest of the day, but the speedy signalcaller was only one of five Golden Eagles runners with carries of 11 yards or more. Charleston leads the WVIAC in rushing at 221.0 yards per game while West Liberty is the WVIAC's No. 1-ranked rushing defense at just 85.1 yards per game.
Turnovers and special teams blunders are what paved the way for Shepherd's comeback victory last week as the Hilltopper offense racked up nearly 600 total yards with Amedro turning in his third consecutive 400-yard passing game. The nation's No. 2-ranked passer at 394.0 yards per game, Amedro has completed 105 of 156 passes for 1,349 yards and 15 TDs with three INTs in the last three weeks. He is less than 1,000 yards away from becoming the leading passer in NCAA Division II history.
Travis continues to lead the nation in receptions (12.6) and receiving yards (138.0) per game after catching 12 balls for 122 yards and three TDs last week. He has 88 catches for 966 yards and 10 TDs this season. Calhoun had 83 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards against Shepherd last week after missing the previous two games due to injury. He's averaging 129.8 rushing yards per game and remains on track for his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.
West Liberty holds an 11-10-1 lead on Charleston in the all-time series and has won the last three meetings.