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W.Va. State is Homecoming Foe for West Liberty

October 9, 2009
West Liberty senior wide receiver Eddie Hills (9) has caught 5 or more passes in 14 consecutive games dating back to the 2008 season. That’s the longest active streak in the nation for NCAA Division II receivers.

West Liberty senior wide receiver Eddie Hills (9) has caught 5 or more passes in 14 consecutive games dating back to the 2008 season. That’s the longest active streak in the nation for NCAA Division II receivers.

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – There’s little danger of the West Liberty University football team taking West Virginia State too lightly in Saturday’s annual Homecoming Game at Russek Field.

      Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

      The Yellow Jackets (2-3, 1-2) were the last West Virginia Conference team to beat the Hilltoppers (5-1, 3-0), mounting a fourth-quarter comeback to pull out a 34-24 victory last year at Institute.

      West Liberty bounced back to close out the 2008 season with impressive wins against Shepherd, Charleston and Seton Hill but had to settle for a second-place tie in the WVIAC standings, one game behind Glenville State.

      Hilltopper head coach Roger Waialae says Saturday’s game is more a matter of taking care of business than a quest for revenge.

      “After we lost to Edinboro in the opener,” Waialae said, “our guys took the approach that the playoffs were starting in Week 2. This is just another playoff game for us.”

      With the season now past the midway point, Saturday’s game does carry playoff implications.

      Riding a 5-game win streak, the Hilltoppers are knocking on the door of the national Top 25 poll and opened at No. 8 when the first set of NCAA Division II Super Region One rankings came out earlier this week. West Liberty has never been ranked in the Top 25 since joining the NCAA in the mid-1990s.

      “The Top 25 would be great because of the positive recognition for our program and the university but it doesn’t mean much in the big picture,”  Waialae said. “What really matters is where we stand in the conference and the region and the only way for us to keep moving up is to keep winning.”

      The Hilltoppers are coming off a “taking care of business” type of win after pulling away to a 29-17 victory at Glenville State a week ago.

      Despite battling injuries on both sides of the football, West Liberty got another 300-yard passing performance from record-setting QB Zach Amedro – his sixth of the season – and a career-high 8-catch, 150-yard receiving day from junior WR Willie Walker while the defense forced four Pioneer turnovers.

      The Hilltoppers still have some injury concerns. Walker may miss Saturday’s game but Waialae is hoping WR Kashif Walls – who leads the WVIAC with 10 TD catches but sat out last week with a sore hamstring – will return. There are similar stories at nearly every position on the field.

      “It’s that time of year,” Waialae said. “Six or seven weeks into the season, nobody is at 100 percent. We’ve been a little inconsistent in practice this week because we’re holding so many starters out but every team’s in the same boat. Our depth has come through for us the last couple of weeks and this just gives those kids more opportunities.”

      The injury bug has taken a bite out of West Virginia State, as well. Quarterback Kevin O’Brien – a four-year starter – hasn’t played for a month since suffering a broken thumb during an early-season loss to Charleston. His backup, Patrick Ryan, doesn’t have huge numbers but is no stranger to Waialae and the Hilltoppers.

      Ryan relieved an injured O’Brien with State trailing West Liberty, 24-21, in the fourth quarter of last year’s game. He completed 5-of-7 passes to lead two Yellow Jacket TD drives in the final 7 ½ minutes to pull out the win.

      Fabian Payne is State’s leading rusher. He rushed for a career-high 91 yards and 2 TDs against WLU a year ago.

      “Ryan’s a little different quarterback (than O’Brien),” Waialae said. “He can get out of the pocket and run the ball so you have to be disciplined on the pass rush. Payne’s a quality back and they have some really good wide receivers.

      “The thing you notice about their defense is the speed of their back 7. They have two excellent linebackers (Valentine Bon and Andrew Eggleton) but their whole defense runs to the ball. We’ll have to play well to come away with a win.”

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