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Been There, Done That is Mindset for No. 18 West Liberty

October 20, 2009

After more than two decades of playing and coaching at the collegiate level, West Liberty University head coach Roger Waialae knows there’s no substitute for experience on the football field.

mcgee tfl

West Liberty defensive tackle Joey McGee (70) drops Shepherd tailback Tommy Addison (23) for a 2-yard loss during Saturday’s game in Shepherdstown. McGee’s 9 solo tackles against the Rams was the highest total for a Hilltopper defensive lineman in this decade.

Waialae’s Hilltoppers (7-1, 5-0) rose to No. 18 in the nation this week after rallying from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit on Saturday to edge Shepherd, 31-30 in a battle of regionally-ranked foes.

West Liberty trailed by two touchdowns on three separate occasions on a miserably cold and wet Saturday at Ram Stadium but even though the Hilltoppers were on the road, Waialae said his team was on familiar turf.

“A lot of our kids played significant roles for us a year ago when we came on strong down the stretch,” Waialae said. “It all started when we were down 28-7 against Shepherd in the first half at our place. We got the ship righted at halftime and came back to win and then followed that up by beating Charleston and Seton Hill.

“The thing I was most proud about on Saturday was the character and heart we showed. We didn’t play our best offensive game and we made some mistakes on defense. Shepherd had a lot to do with that but nobody panicked and we were able to make the plays we needed to make in the fourth quarter to beat a very good football team.”

It was another big day for quarterback Zach Amedro and the West Liberty offense. The Hilltoppers rolled up 505 yards of total offense with Amedro completing 30-of-52 passes for a season-high 427 yards and 2 TDs. Wide receiver Kashif Walls had 9 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown while tailback Kevon Calhoun kept the Rams honest by breaking off touchdown runs of 23 and 25 yards.

West Liberty continues to lead the nation in total offense (538.8 ypg.) and passing touchdowns (31), ranks No. 2 in passing offense (381.1 ypg.) and No. 3 in scoring (42.0 ppg.). Individually, Amedro leads the nation with 29 TD passes while ranking No. 2 in passing (370.5 ypg.) and No. 3 in total offense (368.1 ypg.). Walls is No. 2 nationally in receiving yards (121.6 ypg.) and touchdown catches (13). Calhoun is 6th in rushing TDs (12) and 8th in rushing yards (123.6 ypg.). Ryan Travis (59 catches) and Eddie Hills (56 catches) are Nos. 9 and 10, respectively, in pass receptions.

But Waialae says the defense has played just as big a role as the offense in the Hilltoppers’ emergence as a factor on the regional and national stage.

“I think our defense has been overlooked for the past 5 years,”  Waialae said. “It’s a total team philosophy. Our offense believes in our defense and vice versa. We put our defense in a hole with some special-teams breakdowns Saturday but they were able to overcome that.

“We had a lot of kids play well but Joey McGee had one of the best games I’ve ever seen a defensive lineman have since I came to West Liberty. He did a great job of working off his blocks and making big play after big play. If you’re going to be successful over the long haul at this level, you need different guys to step up for you week in and week out and we’ve been getting that from a lot of people.”

McGee’s numbers were certainly impressive. The 6-4, 265-pound senior defensive tackle from Columbus, Ohio was charted with 9 solo tackles and an assist to go along with 2 tackles-for-loss and a quarterback sack. His 9 solo tackles are the most by a Hilltopper defensive lineman in this decade.

West Liberty had little time to bask in the glow of the Shepherd victory as the Hilltoppers go back on the road this weekend to square off against No. 10 Charleston (8-0, 5-0) in a battle for first place in the WVIAC. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Laidley Field with free admission to all fans.

“I’d probably be a little more worried about going right from Shepherd to Charleston if I didn’t have an experienced team,” Waialae said. “After losing our opener, we knew the only way to give ourselves the opportunity to play in a big game like this was to take care of business every week and we’ve done that. This is a big game but we won’t approach it any differently. When you set your goals as high as we set them here, every game is a big game.”

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