WEST LIBERTY - Despite coming off back-to-back narrow losses to Fairmont State and Glenville State that could have been turned into victories by a single bounce of the football, West Liberty coach Roger Waialae doesn't believe his Hilltoppers are a snake-bitten bunch.
''There's no such thing as being snake-bitten,'' Waialae said. ''You make your own 'luck' by making plays. If you make one more play than the other team, they're the ones walking off the field saying they're snake-bitten.
''We made more plays against a very good Glenville team last week but we helped them with some of our mistakes. It's not enough just to make plays. You have to make one more play than the team you're playing. It's just as important to keep the other team from making plays as it is to make plays on your own.''
West Liberty (2-3 overall, 1-2 West Virginia Conference) hits the road Saturday to take on a resurgent West Virginia State (2-3, 1-1) squad that is coming off a 21-13 victory at Seton Hill last week. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Lakin Field in Institute, and Waialae knows his Hilltoppers will be getting the Yellowjackets' best shot.
''For one thing, this is a much improved West Virginia State team,'' Waialae said. ''They have a veteran quarterback (Ricky Phillips) and a good group of receivers who have been making plays every week. Defensively, they're bigger up front than some of the teams we've played so far but they have the ability to move and pursue. On top of that, it's Homecoming so there will be a big crowd and their team will be playing with a lot of emotion. We'll be getting on the bus early Saturday morning for a three-hour drive so a big challenge will be getting ourselves ready to step off that bus and match their passion right from the start.''
There were several bright spots in last week's 17-14 loss to Glenville State, including a solid performance by true freshman QB Dylan Lagarde. Seeing his first extended action of the season in relief of hobbled starter L.D. Crow, Lagarde completed 14 of 36 passes for 232 yards. He led a couple of lengthy scoring drives to keep the Hilltoppers in the game after the Pioneers had jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
''Dylan adds a different dimension with his mobility,'' Waialae said. ''L.D. is still struggling with that ankle so when we decided we had to move the pocket to be effective against Glenville, it made sense to put Dylan in. We had planned to bring L.D. back after a couple of series but Dylan had the hot hand so we stuck with him.
''We'll see in practice which quarterback is the best fit for what State wants to do defensively and go with whoever we think gives us the best chance to win. Either way, they'll probably both play on Saturday.''
The offense is also seeing more big plays from the running game. Three players - Lagarde along with tailbacks Kenjay Trueblood and Isiah Moody - had at least one run of 15 yards or more against Glenville but Waialae says there's room for improvement.
''We're seeing some good things out of our running game but we just need to be more consistent up front,'' Waialae said. ''We need positive plays on first down so we're not playing from behind the sticks.''
The West Liberty defense turned in another impressive performance, holding the high-powered Pioneers to just 285 yards of total offense while picking off a season-high 5 passes. The Hilltopper defense ranks among the nation's leaders in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense while ranking No. 4 nationally with 17 forced turnovers.