WEST LIBERTY - The West Liberty football team faces a tough test Saturday as it welcomes Glenville State to Russek Field for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
Coach Roger Waialae's hosts are looking to bounce back from a disappointing offensive performance in last week's 25-20 loss at Fairmont State but he says that will be no easy task against a talented Pioneers squad.
''Glenville may be coming in here at 1-3 but they had a brutal non-conference schedule,'' Waialae said. ''The one league game they played was against the same Fairmont State team that we lost to last week and Glenville just blew them out. It wasn't even a ballgame from the opening snap.
''On paper, Glenville is one of the best teams in the WVIAC. Fortunately, we don't play the games on paper. After the way we played last week, we can't wait to put that behind us and get back out on the field but there's no question that we will have to play much better on Saturday.''
After scoring 33 points and racking up a season-high 343 yards of total offense in routing West Virginia Wesleyan the previous week, the Hilltoppers offense took a step backward at Fairmont.
West Liberty managed 10 first downs and 161 yards of total offense in the loss, despite a defensive unit that scored one touchdown on a fumble return and set up two other short scoring drives.
Despite the offensive woes, the Hilltoppers took a 20-19 lead in the second half on safety Jovantae Johnson's 22-yard fumble return but the Falcons hit an 83-yard TD pass late in the third quarter to pull out a victory.
''When your offense only gains 140 yards in the first three quarters and you still have a chance to win, it's hard to fault your defense,'' Waialae said. ''We were miserably inconsistent from the start, made too many mental mistakes and it just snowballed. We wanted to run the ball more but they were stacked against the run on first down and we just didn't execute when we checked down to the pass. We didn't make as many mistakes against Wesleyan and you see the difference when you're playing behind the sticks.''
A quick look back at the Fairmont and Wesleyan games bears that out. The Hilltoppers had 35 first-down snaps against the Bobcats two weeks ago and gained a total of 102 yards on those plays. West Liberty had 25 first-down snaps against the Falcons last week and was held to a net of minus-2 yards, with an interception and safety thrown in for good measure.
''There's a big difference in what you can do on second-and-6 as opposed to second-and-18,'' Waialae said. ''Those down-and-distances pretty much dictated more passes. Our focus this week is on execution and consistency.''
The bright spots for WLU a week ago came on defense. Senior defensive tackle Matt Betz had eight tackles, three for loss and two sacks - all career-highs. Johnson's fumble return was the first defensive score of the season and fellow safety Marco Ricchetti set up another score with an interception return inside the FSU 5. Freshman safety Andrew Faraimo came up with his second forced fumble strip in as many weeks.
That defense will receive by far its stiffest test this week as Glenville's stats were skewed by a 35-0 blowout in a ''money'' game at FCS Tennessee-Chattanooga. In three games against NCAA Division-II foes, the Pioneers offense is averaging 37 points, 215 rushing yards and 264 passing yards.
Freshman TB Rahmann Lee leads the WVIAC in rushing at 115.8 yards per game while senior QB Darold Knowles, the league's top-rated passer, has thrown for 839 yards and nine TDs with two interceptions. They operate behind a deep and experienced offensive line led by mammoth senior OT Mark Jackson (6-6, 320), an Illinois transfer who on the radar of several NFL scouts.