WLSC Primed For Fairmont
The last time West Liberty and Fairmont State played a football game, the Falcons’ quarterback passed for a career-high 249 yards, with 203 of them going to the same receiver.
As a result, the Hilltoppers were forced to come from behind in the fourth quarter to earn a 27-20 victory.
To put that in perspective, Fairmont State, which is off to an 0-3 start in league games this season, won only four games overall last season. West Liberty won seven and was in a fight for the West Virginia Conference title until the bitter end.
On paper, things probably shouldn’t have played out that way that day.
With the two teams similarly on the opposite ends of the league standings again in 2007, West Liberty coach Roger Waialae figures to see more of the same at 1 p.m. on Saturday when Fairmont pays a visit to Russek Field.
”They threw the ball on us pretty well, got some balls deep and hit some quick scores,” Waialae recalled. ”I would expect they will try to throw it up deep and see if they can make a play.”
He said that despite the fact that Fairmont has a new coach — Defensive Coordinator Mike Lopez took over for Rusty Elliott in mid-August — and the Falcons have already had three different players take a snap this season.
”Doesn’t matter,” Waialae said. ”They’re running the same thing, and they do a pretty good job of it.”
This pass-first approach, should it play out, isn’t shared by a lot of West Liberty’s foes, as the Hilltoppers have forced an NCAA Division II-high 21 turnovers, including 12 interceptions. Leading that charge is ballhawking defensive back Darren Banks. Banks, who led the nation in interceptions with 10 last season, had two more in a victory against West Virginia Wesleyan last Saturday, giving him seven this season in five games. He has 17 interceptions in his last 16 contests.
”He has a knack of getting to the ball,” Waialae said. ”He’s very good at reading routes. It’s almost like he lets them run by him and then he makes a play on the ball. I don’t know if he bates them, but he scares me a little bit. I think combination of a couple things.”
Not lost on the coach is the impact of practices, where Banks must defend the likes of Almonzo Banks, Johnny Bonar, and Jarrett Ponder, West Liberty’s triplets who have found life comfortable at the top of the WVC’s receiving statistics.
”That’s got to make him a little better,” Waialae said.
That’s a bigger compliment than it looks. Waialae’s been coaching football for a while, but he doesn’t remember overseeing a football player with the abilities possessed by Almonzo Banks, who has 31 catches for 550 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Those seven receiving scores are more than the total of seven of the nine conference teams.
”Almonzo Banks is probably the best football player I’ve ever coached,” Waialae said. ”He can do anything he wants to do on the field. He’s big, he’s fast. You talk about a five-tool player, he has all of them.”
Being that the Hilltoppers also have a first-year starter at quarterback in Zach Amedro who’s been named the league’s Offensive Player of the Week in two of his first five starts, the game plans might be similar this weekend.
Fairmont plays a 3-3 Stack defense that has always been stingy — the Falcons are ranked in the top 25 nationally, giving up 94.6 yards per game. That unit is led by linebacker Vince Black, who ranks nationally in solo tackles (7.0 per game) and fifth in tackles for loss (2.2 per game).
”They’ve got a good front eight,” Waialae said. ”So we’ll have to take advantage of our receivers. There aren’t many teams that can match up with us out there.”
That has allowed Amedro to prosper. He leads the WVC in pass efficiency, passing yards per game (262.4), and completion percentage (65.4). He’s completed 85 of 130 passes for 1,312 yards and nine touchdowns.
Fairmont State, trying to avoid its second consecutive 0-4 start in league play, hasn’t been the pushover its record suggests it has. A top-heavy schedule has seen two of the Falcons’ three league losses come against heavyweights Shepherd and Glenville State.
”What makes them scary is they do have some athletes offensively,” Waialae said.
While the quarterback situation remains in flux, running back Doug Brazill is coming of a career-best performance that saw him rush for 139 yards on 25 carries. Receiver Demetrius Davis has 19 catches for 309 yards and a touchdown. He, too, is coming off his best game, having caught seven passes for 151 yards last week.
Offensive linemen Ralph Petrella, a former Steubenville Big Red standout, and Drew Ferguson were injured in last week’s game. Petrella won’t play this week after suffering an ankle injury, while Ferguson will be a game-time decision. In their sted, Tim Ickes and former Union Local standout Steve Janiszewski received positive grades from the coaching staff. … West Liberty is among the top 25 in 13 of the NCAA’s 23 team statistical categories.