WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The West Liberty University football looks to move back above .500 here Saturday when a surging UNC Pembroke team rides a 3-game winning streak into West Family Stadium.
Kickoff is set for noon. Members of West Liberty's 1990 NAIA World Series baseball team will be honored during halftime as part of their 30-Year Anniversary celebration.
Coach Roger Waialae's Hilltoppers (4-4, 4-3) are looking to rebound after a disappointing 26-20 overtime loss at Wheeling last week. West Liberty never trailed during regulation and saw a potential game-winning field goal twist wide left on the final play of the fourth quarter, setting the stage for the Cardinals to pull out the win in overtime.
"Fortunately, the kids are more resilient than the coaches," Waialae said. "We've had a good week of practice so we just need to bounce back and play up to our capabilities. We know we have a very good football team coming in this week so our total focus has been on (UNC) Pembroke."
The visiting Braves (5-3, 5-2), who are playing an MEC schedule as an associate member for football this fall, appear to have hit their stride after a shaky start as demonstrated by their recent success.
Last week's 21-14 win against a University of Charleston team that is still receiving Top 25 votes was especially impressive as the high-powered Golden Eagles came into the contest averaging nearly 38 points a game but only found the end zone once against the aggressive UNC Pembroke defense.
"They're a little bigger up front but they can all run," Waialae said. "Special teams is a concern, as well. (Devin) Jones is a big-time return man and cover corner who can change the game on one play. We can't let him have touches."
The Hilltoppers showed good offensive balance at Wheeling last week. Quarterback Jamie Diven completed 17-of-34 passes for 204 yards and a TD while TB Tyler Moler ran for 150 yards on a staggering 41 carries. It was his fourth 100-yard game of the season, which leads the MEC. The 41 attempts are the most by a West Liberty player since the turn of the century and the second-highest in NCAA D2 this fall.
"It's always worked better for us to rely on one back but after the game I was surprised that we ran 90 plays and Tyler had 41 carries," Waialae said. "That's a credit to his competitiveness. Tyler's a warrior."
Injuries are beginning to take a toll on the WLU depth chart and the Black and Gold suffered a major loss in the fourth quarter of the Wheeling game when senior DE Trevor Hoosier went down with a season-ending injury. Hoosier had been on pace for a record-setting season, leading the nation in tackles-for-loss and ranking among the top 10 in blocked kicks and fumble recoveries.
"That was a big letdown," Waialae said. "Trevor was playing at the highest level of any defensive player since I've been here. Elite pass rusher. Dominant against the run. Snaps and covers kicks on special teams. Non-stop motor. Easily one of the top defensive players in the region, if not the nation."
With the Braves averaging just under 270 passing yards per game, a revamped Hilltopper defensive front will be tested.
"Pembroke throws the ball as much as anyone we play so we'll need a big game from our defensive line," Waialae said. "(Senior DE) Jack Davis will have a bigger role and we'll probably bounce (senior DT) Kenyon Felder outside on a few snaps since it's his natural position. We just moved Kenyon inside this year to get him, Hoosier and (junior DE) David Gilcreast on the field at the same time."
West Liberty will close out the home portion of its 2021 schedule on Nov. 6 when the Black and Gold host West Virginia State. Kickoff for that Senior Day contest is set for 2 p.m.