WEST LIBERTY - The West Liberty football team puts its two-game winning streak on the line Saturday when it hits the road to take on its oldest rival.
Fairmont State (0-3 overall, 0-1 West Virginia Conference) will play host to West Liberty (2-1, 1-0) at 1 p.m. on the artificial turf of Duvall-Rosier Field in the 79th meeting between the two programs. The Falcons hold a 38-35-5 edge in the all-time series but the Hilltoppers have won six of the past seven meetings, including the last four in Fairmont.
Although Fairmont State is still looking for its first victory, WLU coach Roger Waialae has been impressed by what he's seen of the Falcons on tape.
''Even though Fairmont's 0-3, they might be the best team we've played so far,'' Waialae said. ''They were up 17-0 in the fourth quarter on the road last week against an unbeaten Bowie State (Md.) team before running out of gas. They always play well on defense and their new quarterback throws a nice ball. We're going to have to play well to win over there.''
The Hilltoppers are coming off a 33-16 romp past West Virginia Wesleyan last week. Quarterback L.D. Crow tied a career-high with three touchdown passes while a rejuvenated running game helped WLU build up a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
The West Liberty defense held the Bobcats to four first downs in the first three quarters and the Black and Gold sprinted out to a 27-3 lead before giving up a couple of consolation touchdowns in the latter stages of the fourth quarter.
''The one negative I had from Saturday was the way we finished,'' Waialae said. ''The defense controlled the game throughout but after we put the game out of reach in the third quarter, I thought we lost focus with some mental lapses and gave up a couple of late scores. That was a good teaching point in practice this week.''
Only a couple of years removed from the Zach Amedro quick-strike aerial show that led the nation in total offense for two straight seasons, the Hilltoppers' 2012 offense appears to be evolving into a more balanced attack with more emphasis on running the ball and controlling the clock.
That formula played out perfectly last Saturday as WLU's three tailbacks - Kenjay Trueblood, Isiah Moody and Dirone McBride - combined for 40 carries and 153 yards. That rushing threat created quick-strike opportunities in the passing game as 10 of Crow's 13 completions went for 10 yards or more. That included TD tosses of 58 yards to Dominic Cooper and 43 yards to Brandon Schroeder.
Three games into the season, West Liberty leads the WVIAC in time of possession and ranks No. 2 in rushing attempts.
''That's a good stat to lead in,'' Waialae said. ''It's hard for the other team to score when you have the ball. We have put more of an emphasis on running the ball this year but that's nothing new. People forget we led the WVIAC in rushing my first year here when we had (All-WVIAC TB) Derrick Stickles. You have a different mix of players every year so as a coaching staff, you have to identify and play to your strengths.''