West Liberty Football Takes to Road to Face Glenville
GLENVILLE — The injury report was nearly as important as the scouting report this week as the West Liberty University football team prepared for Saturday’s trip to Glenville State. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Morris Stadium.
The Hilltoppers (2-4 overall, 2-4 Mountain East Conference) fought a high-powered Shepherd squad to the wire a week ago before falling by a 26-14 count, but that physical battle took its toll as several members of the squad may not be able to answer the bell against the Pioneers (2-4, 2-3) this weekend.
While that might seem like a problem to the casual fan, it’s being presented as an opportunity to the WLU football team.
“We don’t talk about injuries a lot but when we do, we don’t dwell on the negative part of it,” the veteran Waialae said. “We focus our attention on taking the guys who are healthy enough to play and preparing them to step up for their teammates.”
Waialae will be looking for another big effort from his defensive unit, which held Shepherd’s No. 1-ranked passing attack more than 100 yards under its season average and limited the Rams to season lows in points, total yards and passing yards.
Senior linebacker Cliff Clark had a season-high 18 tackles including 15 solo stops, and ranks No. 3 nationally in both categories. Junior defensive back Logan Deri also had a big day with 11 tackles, an interception and a blocked PAT.
“We have been playing pretty well on that side of the ball all year,” Waialae said. “We’re being a little more aggressive than we’ve been in the past. We’re blitzing more, trying to force the quarterback to make quick decisions under pressure and looking to take advantage of any mistakes.”
The defense figures to be tested Saturday by a Glenville State offense that reeled off 41 unanswered points in last week’s 41-35 win at Concord and has the ability to put up some impressive numbers.
“They’re very talented offensively,” Waialae said. “They’re big and athletic up front. The running back (reigning MEC Player of the Week Mario Pender) is a transfer who played a couple of years at Florida State. They have a returning quarterback and some talented wide receivers, as well, so we’ll have our work cut out for us on defense.”
Waialae said his starting quarterback assignment will once again be a game-time decision as junior Zach Phillips continues to work back into playing shape after missing the second half of the UVa-Wise game and all of last week’s game with Shepherd. Waialae is pleased with the way senior vet Brenton Colabella has performed in Phillips’ absence.
“Brenton has done a really good job the last couple of weeks, especially with the injuries we’ve had on that side of the ball,” Waialae said. “Zach gives us the added dimension of the run threat from the quarterback spot but I’m not going to put him on the field until I’m convinced he’s 100 percent.”
Injuries have hit especially hard along the offensive line and at the wide receiver spots but Waialae says the Hilltoppers still have plenty of weapons at their disposal.
“We still have senior wide receivers like Shane Phillips and Mike McLean making plays for us,” Waialae said. “(Redshirt freshman) Darien Mitchell has contributed the last couple of weeks and Nate Phillips made plays for us on offense and special teams when we took his redshirt off on Saturday. All three of our tight ends are healthy — Ridge Durbin can play anywhere — and we have a couple of quality tailbacks. We still have more than enough playmakers to get in a set and be effective.”
The Hilltoppers haven’t won a game away from home since their last visit to Morris Stadium two years ago. They’d like nothing better than to bring that eight-game streak to an end Saturday and Waialae has a simple formula to get that done.
“We’ve had the lead at halftime in our last two road games and let them slip away,” Waialae said. “We’ve shown the ability to play with anybody in our league for extended periods. We just need to put two solid halves of football together on the road.”