Hilltoppers To Battle Concord
WEST LIBERTY – Necessity is the mother of invention so West Liberty University football coach Roger Waialae was forced to take a different tack in preparing for Saturday’s West Virginia Conference finale at Concord.
The Hilltoppers (5-4, 4-3) and Mountain Lions (5-4, 4-2) are set for a 1 p.m. kickoff in Athens.
“I’m doing something I’ve never done,” Waialae said. “We decided we’re not going to have any contact at all in practice. We’re going to take a week to heal the body and strengthen the mind.
”We have some guys who are pretty sore on both sides of the ball so we can’t afford to get them any more banged up than they already are.
“At this time of year, it’s not always the best team that wins, but the healthiest.”
West Liberty is coming off a 41-29 victory at Seton Hill that was highlighted by a pair of interception returns for touchdowns by linebacker Marquise Bradley and safety Tanner Stocker. A third interception return TD by Jovontae Johnson was wiped out by a penalty.
The Hilltoppers lead the nation with five interception returns for scores and are tied for third nationally with 19 interceptions and a total of 31 turnovers forced. That opportunistic defense has been a major factor in West Liberty’s impressive rebound from last season’s injury-riddled 1-10 campaign.
Freshman QB Dylan Lagarde has been experiencing some growing pains the past couple of weeks so Waialae turned to senior signalcaller L.D. Crow in the second half of last week’s win at Seton Hill.
Crow, who had been sidelined for several weeks with an ankle injury, led three straight scoring drives to help the Hilltoppers put the pesky Griffins away and seemed to provide a steadying influence.
“I thought L.D. gave us a little spark,” Waialae said. “He’s a little rusty and he missed a couple of opportunities, but he made some plays with his feet and did a lot of good things. I thought he did a good job managing the game and got us out of there with a win.
Concord and West Liberty each enter the game with 5-4 records but the Mountain Lions’ mark is somewhat deceiving as all four of the defending WVIAC champions’ losses have come against regionally ranked NCAA Division II squads or an FCS foe.
Senior Evin Dusold has solidified the quarterback position, completing 64 percent of his passes for 567 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception in the last three games. Concord’s senior receiver tandem of Ansel Ponder and Randall Hawkins have combined for 96 catches and 1,077 yards with eight touchdowns, while freshman TB Calvinaugh Jones has rushed for 564 yards on 134 carries.
The Concord defense has given up only 66 points in the last five games and ranks among the top 25 nationally in total defense, pass defense, scoring defense and tackles-for-loss. Senior LB Jake Lilly leads the WVC and ranks No. 4 nationally with 105 tackles while junior DB Riyadh Richardson leads the league with 12 passes defended.
“Concord’s a very good football team,” Waialae said. “They’re very solid on defense and their offense takes great care of the football. That’s probably going to be the key for us. We’ll need to get some turnovers and our defensive line has to control the running game. Offensively, we need to establish the run to help open things up for our passing game.”
West Liberty could clinch its seventh winning seasons in eight years under Roger Waialae with a victory at Concord … Isiah Moody’s 119 rushing yards at Seton Hill are the most by a Hilltopper since Kevon Calhoun ran for 258 yards in West Liberty’s last visit to Callaghan Stadium (Nov. 13, 2010) … West Liberty is 19-6 under Roger Waialae when kicking off to start the game but just 32-29 when they receive the opening kickoff … Junior safety Marco Ricchetti has posted double-figure tackles in each of his last three games.