Toppers Remain Hopeful
By DON CLEGG
For The Intelligencer
ATHENS – West Liberty and Concord will lock horns Saturday in a mutual regular-season finale but each squad is hoping it won’t be the last game of the year.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on the artificial turf at Callaghan Stadium.
The Mountain Lions (8-2 overall, 5-2 West Virginia Conference) enter the game ranked No. 8 in the latest NCAA Division II Super Region One rankings while Coach Roger Waialae’s Hilltoppers (6-3, 5-2) – the top seed in last season’s Super Region One playoff field – sit just outside the top 10.
Only the top six teams earn postseason invitations but with several regionally ranked teams facing difficult assignments on the final weekend, scenarios do exist which could vault the winner of Saturday’s showdown between the West Virginia Conference’s two most potent offenses into the playoff mix.
”We need some things to break right for us,” Waialae said, ”but all we can control is what happens on the field. Concord’s a very good football team and we’ll have to play very well to come out of there with a win.”
West Liberty is coming off a record-setting 82-36 romp at Seton Hill last week in a game that saw quarterback Zach Amedro break the NCAA Division II career passing mark. The Hilltoppers scored touchdowns on 10 of their 11 offensive possessions – the defense scored on a 99-yard fumble return – and the 82 points are the most scored by any NCAA Division-II team this season.
West Liberty led the nation in total offense a season ago and reclaimed the No. 1 spot this week at 537.4 ypg. The Hilltoppers also rank No. 2 nationally in passing offense (413.1 ypg.) and scoring offense (44.9 ppg.).
Concord, which racked up nearly 600 yards of total offense in a 44-17 rout of Fairmont State last week, also ranks near the top of the national charts. Coach Mike Kellar’s Mountain Lions are No. 4 in total offense (492.3 ypg.) and No. 16 in both passing offense (297.4 ypg.) and scoring offense (36.7 ppg.).
The teams combined for 106 points and nearly 1,200 yards of total offense a season ago when the Hilltoppers outgunned Concord, 64-42, and most observers expect another shootout Saturday.
Both teams feature a set of offensive ”triplets” who rank among the WVIAC leaders in passing, rushing and receiving.
Amedro leads the WVIAC and is No. 2 nationally with an average of 411.3 passing yards per game while Concord QB Zach Grossi, who missed most of last year due to injury, is No. 2 on the league passing charts at 285.7 ypg.
West Liberty TB Kevon Calhoun is the WVIAC’s No. 2 rusher at 118.6 ypg. He topped the 100-yard mark in rushing and receiving at Seton Hill last week. Mountain Lion TB Brian Kennedy, No. 3 in the league at 105.9 ypg., torched the Hilltoppers for 234 rushing yards and 3 TDs in last year’s meeting.
All-America TE Ryan Travis leads the nation in receptions (114) and receiving yards (140.7 ypg.). Concord WR Thomas Mayo has 66 catches and ranks No. 2 nationally in receiving yards (121.7 ypg.).
”Concord has really improved under Coach Kellar,” Waialae said. ”They got their quarterback back this season and it’s their second year running the system with a lot of the same kids so there’s some continuity now. Defensively, they brought in some juco kids who had an immediate impact.
”The key for us will be winning first and second down. We can’t let them be third-and-2 or third-and-3 all day where they can run or pass. We need to force them into passing downs, disguise some coverages and create turnovers.”
West Liberty holds a 35-30-3 lead in the all-time series. The Hilltoppers have won the last three meetings and 13 of the last 17.
- West Liberty has won 11 of its last 12 conference road games, dating back to the 2007 season
- The Hilltoppers have clinched their sixth straight winning season under Waialae. That’s the longest streak at the school since World War II
- Amedro needs 11 completions to break the NCAA Division II career record of 1,055 (Ted Schlafke, Minnesota-Duluth)
- Amedro leads the nation with 36 touchdown passes through nine games. He also led the nation a year ago with 49 TD tosses in 13 games
- Despite missing two games due to injury, Calhoun still ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring (11.1 ppg.) and No. 5 in all-purpose yards (178.1)
- Travis needs four catches to break the WVIAC regular-season receiving record of 117 (Chris George, Glenville State)
- The Mountain Lions are 4-0 at home this season. Concord is averaging 595.3 yards and 49.8 points a game in those four contests
- The Hilltoppers are 37-3 under Waialae in games where they have fewer turnovers or turnovers are equal