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They’re All Big Games Now for No. 18 Hilltoppers

October 23, 2009
West Liberty quarterback Zach Amedro has thrown for nearly 500 yards and 4 touchdowns in beating Charleston each of the past two seasons.

West Liberty quarterback Zach Amedro has thrown for nearly 500 yards and 4 touchdowns in beating Charleston each of the past two seasons.

 Saturday’s game between unbeaten Charleston and streaking West Liberty shapes up as one of the biggest games in West Virginia Conference history but big games are nothing new for this year’s Hilltopper team.

      Thanks to a 7-game winning streak – the school’s longest in three decades – every game has now become a “big” game for West Liberty as the Hilltoppers head to Laidley Field for Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff. Admission is free to all fans thanks to a corporate sponsor.

      “Sure, it’s a big game,” Coach Roger Waialae said. “Our kids aren’t dumb. They read the papers and watch TV. They know what’s at stake.”

      Nothing will be set in stone this weekend as both teams have two conference games remaining after this one. Even so, this week’s winner will definitely be on the fast track to a conference title and NCAA Division II playoff bid.

      Neither team had ever appeared in the NCAA Division II Top 25 before this season but both now boast the highest rankings in school history. No. 10 Charleston (8-0, 5-0) is No. 2 in regional rankings while No. 18 West Liberty (7-1, 5-0) checked in at No. 5 this week. Only six teams from each region qualify for post-season play

      “I’m not sure we can afford another loss and still reach the goals we’ve set for ourselves,” Waialae said. “As long as we keep winning, the games just keep getting bigger every week.”

      It’s a classic matchup between a pair of prolific offenses led by two of the premier junior quarterbacks in the nation who go about their tasks in very different ways. West Liberty leads the nation in total offense and is No. 2 in passing offense. Charleston leads the nation in passing efficiency and is No. 3 in rushing offense.

      The Hilltoppers’ Zach Amedro is the only NCAA Division II quarterback to have thrown for 300 or more yards in every one of his team’s games this season. The three-year starter already owns most of West Liberty’s career passing records and holds down several spots among the national leaders this season. Amedro – who has completed 46 passes of 20 yards or more over the first eight games – leads the nation with 29 TD passes, ranks No. 2 in passing yards (370.5 ypg.) and No. 3 in total offense (368.1 ypg.)

      The veteran signalcaller has plenty of help. Wide receiver Kashif Walls has caught a touchdown pass of at least 25 yards in every game he’s played. Fellow WRs Ryan Travis (59-736-10TDs) and Eddie Hills (56-610-3TDs) are in the Top 10 nationally in catches per game. On the ground, tailback Kevon Calhoun is averaging more than 7 yards a carry and ranks among the top 10 rushers in the nation. He needs just 11 yards Saturday to hit 1,000 for the season.

      “We have to have both (rushing and passing), “Waialae said. “Charleston’s made great strides in their passing defense and they’re still great against the run. We have to keep them guessing.”

      The Golden Eagles DaRante Hunter is equally dangerous through the air or on the ground in Coach Tony DeMeo’s “triple-gun” option attack. Hunter has thrown for 1,317 yards and 14 TDs but he’s also run for 692 yards and a WVIAC-best 16 rushing TDs. His quarterback efficiency rating of 213.6 is No. 1 nationally. The big play is a big part of his arsenal, as well. The diminutive QB (5-9, 175) is averaging almost 20 yards per completion and has hooked up with 9 different receivers on plays of 20 yards or longer.

      “Coach DeMeo has done a tremendous job with that program,” Waialae said. “He and his players have certainly earned our respect. Hunter is a really special player who’s a great fit for that offense. He makes great decisions and is an outstanding runner but I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit for how well he throws the ball.”

      The West Liberty defense has been making strides every week since being torched for 42 points in a season-opening loss at No. 23 Edinboro but will be facing their toughest test of the season this week against a Charleston team that averages more than 40 points and nearly 300 rushing yards a game.

      “This is the fifth time Coach DeMeo and I have played each other,” Waialae said, “and we both know what we’re going to see. Like any other game, it all comes down to execution and taking care of the football.”

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