Hilltoppers Look to Rebound at W.Va. State - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Hilltoppers Look to Rebound at W.Va. State

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Despite coming off back-to-back narrow losses to Fairmont State and Glenville State that could have been turned into wins by a single bounce of the football, West Liberty University head football coach Roger Waialae doesn't believe his Hilltoppers are a snake-bitten bunch.

"There's no such thing as being snake-bitten," Waialae said. "You make your own ‘luck' by making plays. If you make one more play than the other team, they're the ones walking off the field saying they're snake-bitten.
"We made more plays against a very good Glenville team last week but we helped them with some of our mistakes. It's not enough just to make plays. You have to make one more play than the team you're playing. It's just as important to keep the other team from making plays as it is to make plays on your own."
West Liberty (2-3, 1-2) hits the road on Saturday to take on a resurgent West Virginia State (2-3, 1-1) squad that is coming off a 21-13 win at Seton Hill last week. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Lakin Field in Institute and Waialae knows his Hilltoppers will be getting the Yellowjackets' best shot.
"For one thing, this is a much improved West Virginia State team," Waialae said. "They have a veteran quarterback (Ricky Phillips) and a good group of receivers who have been making plays every week. Defensively, they're bigger up front than some of the teams we've played so far but they have the ability to move and pursue. On top of that, it's Homecoming so there will be a big crowd and their team will be playing with a lot of emotion. We'll be getting on the bus early Saturday morning for a 3-hour drive so a big challenge will be getting ourselves ready to step off that bus and match their passion right from the start."
There were several bright spots in last week's 17-14 loss to Glenville State, including a solid performance by true freshman QB Dylan Lagarde. Seeing his first extended action of the season in relief of hobbled starter L.D. Crow, Lagarde completed 14-of-36 passes for 232 yards. He led a couple of lengthy scoring drives to keep the Hilltoppers in the game after the Pioneers had jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead.
"Dylan adds a different dimension with his mobility," Waialae said. "L.D. is still struggling with that ankle so when we decided we had to move the pocket to be effective against Glenville, it made sense to put Dylan in. We had planned to bring L.D. back after a couple of series but Dylan had the hot hand so we stuck with him.
"We'll see in practice this week which quarterback is the best fit for what State wants to do defensively and go with whoever we think gives us the best chance to win. Either way, they'll probably both play on Saturday."
The offense is also seeing more big plays from the running game. Three players – Lagarde along with tailbacks Kenjay Trueblood and Isiah Moody – had at least one run of 15 yards or more against Glenville but Waialae says there's room for improvement.
"We're seeing some good things out of our running game but we just need to be more consistent up front," Waialae said. "We need positive plays on first down so we're not playing from behind the sticks."
The West Liberty defense turned in another impressive performance, holding the high-powered Pioneers to just 285 yards of total offense while picking off a season-high 5 passes. The Hilltopper defense ranks among the nation's leaders in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense while ranking No. 4 nationally with 17 forced turnovers.
"Our defensive front has been dominant all year," Waialae said, "and we're making plays on the ball in the back. State's quarterback will be a big test because Phillips is playing at a very high level. He's hurt teams with his ability to elude the pass rush and make plays with his feet so we really have to focus on containing him in the pocket."
GAME NOTES
X The Hilltoppers have lost only 4 times in Waialae's 8 seasons (28-4 record) when committing fewer turnovers than their opponents. Half of those losses came in the last two weeks against Fairmont and Glenville
X West Liberty FS Jovontae Johnson picked off 2 Pioneer passes a week ago to become the first WLU player with multiple interceptions in a game since Derrick Evans had 2 picks vs. Mars Hill (N.C.) on Sept. 20, 2008
X Last week's win at Seton Hill snapped a 20-game road losing streak for W.Va. State which dated back to 2008
X The Yellowjackets haven't won consecutive games since getting off to a 5-0 start during the 2007 season
X Phillips has passed for 434 yards and 4 TDs with just 2 interceptions in his last two outings against the Hilltoppers