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Rine: Toppers Continue to Be Own Worst Enemies

September 25, 2011
By SHAWN RINE - Sports Editor (rine@theintelligencer.net) , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WEST LIBERTY -It was a typical Saturday on the hilltop.

No. 11 was buying time by scrambling and finding the open man, and his team put 41 points on the scoreboard. It was the name of that quarterback and the color of his jersey that were unfamiliar to West Liberty football fans.

The mentally battered Hilltoppers continued to give out gifts as if it's late December, and as a result prime field position, in dropping their fourth straight to open the season, 41-12 to visiting Fairmont State at Russek Field.

The statistics weren't gaudy for the Falcons - 15 first downs, 284 yards of total offense.

''But, you look where they got the ball,'' West Liberty coach Roger Waialae said.

Ah yes, the hidden statistics.

West Liberty turned the ball over two more times, had a blocked field goal returned 68 yards for a touchdown, and was victimized by seven penalties, many of which occurred at the most inopportune times.

Fairmont scoring drives in the first half went like this: two plays, 3 yards (touchdown) as the result of an interception; two plays, 21 yards (touchdown) as the result of a long kickoff return; zero plays, 0 yards (touchdown) on a 68-yard return of a blocked field goal. The Falcons did put together a five-play, 80-yard march for a touchdown just before the half to make it 28-6.

''Our kids understand they're not playing at the level they're capable of,'' Waialae said. ''As a coaching staff we've been trying to stay unbelievably positive with them, because here's the thing, if you tell somebody they're dumb, they're stupid, or they can't play they're going to believe that.

''We've got to get their self confidence up, and that's what we talked about. It's just like everyone is looking at you like 'what's going to go wrong?' Instead of 'what's going to go right?'

''I have to change that mentality.''

That's going to be easier said that done. The season to this point has been massively frustrating, and heads were visibly hanging throughout Saturday's contest. An offense that for the last three years was a threat to score from anywhere on the field on any play, suddenly is stuck in reverse.

''I think we do have a good talent base, it's just that for whatever reason the pieces of the puzzle have not fallen into place yet,'' Waialae said. ''You can tell blown assignments from somebody just getting flat-out beat.

''For the most part I don't see guys getting flat-out beat, I see guys coming free because of blown assignments.''

Probably the player with the most pressure coming into the season was junior quarterback L.D. Crow, who transferred from UCF. He's struggled to the tune of 59-for-111 for 572 yards, two touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He shared snaps Saturday with true freshman Ben Rogers who completed 6 of 13 for 67 yards.

The frustration on Crow's face was evident.

''Well, I think you could say that for the whole offense to be honest,'' Waialae said. ''Whatever I've got to do, I'm going to do to get it done.

''We just need to get some good things happening on the offensive side of the ball, because I think we're playing good defense for the most part.''

Again, he's telling the truth.

Led by Wheeling Park graduate Alec Wood's 10 solo tackles, the defense only allowed the one sustained drive. Brandon Thigpen had nine total tackles, forced two fumbles, broke up a pass and recorded a sack.

''But the turnovers we're giving them and the bad field position ... I don't see anyone getting the ball and going 90 yards on us,'' Waialae said. ''We were winning a whole lot of games and giving up a lot of points and people were complaining about how bad the defense was. Now nobody is complaining about how bad the defense is.''

No, now they're wondering whether an offense that has produced one touchdown in two games, can find the end zone consistently.

Oh, how times have changed.

OVAC Hall of Famer Passes

One of the finest multi-sport standouts in Ohio Valley history, Richard 'Dick' Miller passed away at the age of 77 on Tuesday in Clermont, Fla. A 1952 graduate of Wheeling Central High School, Miller was twice named prep basketball Player of the Year, was a three-time all-stater, and led the Maroon Knights to OVAC and West Virginia Catholic School championships for three consecutive years.

Miller, who also excelled as a quarterback and a combination shortstop/pitcher on the baseball team, scored 1,593 career points at Wheeling Central, a record that stood for 51 years.

Also a national handball champion, Miller was the starting point guard at the University of Wisconsin for two years, averaging 19 ppg. in Big Ten play. He was drafted by the N.Y. Knicks in 1956, but opted to play AAU ball and was voted to the AAU All-America team after participating in the National Tournament held in Denver, Colo.

Miller, who was inducted into the OVAC Hall of Fame in 2005, moved to Florida 26 years ago and had a successful career in real estate.

Our condolences to the Miller family.

Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net