The West Liberty University football team steps out of the Mountain East Conference for the final time this season on Saturday when the Hilltoppers visit NCAA Division I (FCS) Duquesne. Kickoff is set for 12:10 p.m. at Rooney Field on the Dukes' campus.
West Liberty (2-2) is coming off a disappointing 20-3 loss to Concord last week. The Dukes (1-2) haven't played since a 59-17 loss to nationally-ranked Youngstown State on Sept. 21.
The Hilltoppers have struggled to find some offensive consistency this season and it proved costly last week when Concord broke open a tight defensive struggle with a long TD run and an interception return for a score in a 12-second span of the second quarter.
After being held to just 74 yards of total offense and a field goal in the first half, head coach Roger Waialae replaced sophomore QB Dylan Lagarde with senior Tyler Tucci for the final two quarters but the Mountain Lions' nationally-ranked defense still held WLU to less than 200 yards of total offense on the afternoon.
"That was Tyler's first extended action at quarterback," Waialae said, "so it was a good learning experience for him. Overall, I thought he did all right but he still missed some things. It will come down to who's better at getting us into the right play – and out of the wrong play – before the snap. We need that consistency and with one offensive touchdown in four games, we obviously haven't found it yet.
"We're seeing more of it in practice. In fact, Tuesday was a very good practice. Now we have to find a way to bring that execution to the field on game day."
Lagarde has completed 56-of-113 passes for 530 yards with 1 TD and 4 interceptions this year while Tucci went 12-for-22 for 100 yards with an interception during the second half of last week's game. Junior WR Dylan Potts is the leading receiver with 22 catches for 220 yards and a TD while senior TB Kenjay Trueblood leads the rushing attack with 210 yards on 55 carries.
The WLU defense is ranked among the nation's Top 20 in numerous categories – No. 5 in scoring defense (10.8 ppg.), No. 10 in total defense (280.5 ypg.), No. 11 in pass defense (147.5 ypg.) and No. 13 in first downs allowed (58). Senior CB Rod White and senior FS Jovontae Johnson have combined for 5 interceptions while senior WS Marquis Bradley is the leading tackler with 32 stops.
Junior punter Griff Yocum is averaging 43.0 yards per punt with 9 punts of 50 yards or more while sophomore kicker Bryan Arbes is tied for No. 2 nationally with 8 field goals. He has accounted for every Hilltopper point in three of the first four games.
"Arbes has done a great job for us," Waialae said, "but we need to start finishing drives. Field goals are better than nothing but at some point you need to start putting the ball in the end zone."
Coach Jerry Schmitt's Dukes feature a high-powered passing attack keyed by redshirt freshman QB Dillon Buechel. The Western Pennsylvania native has completed 64-of-103 passes for 966 yards and 5 TDs with just one interception and is coming off a 362-yard passing game at Youngstown State.
Senior WR Gianni Carter is his favorite target with 17 catches for 372 yards – an average of nearly 22 yards a catch – and 4 touchdowns. Junior TB Ryan Ho is the team's leading rusher with 128 yards on 47 carries. All-America senior LB Dorian Bell, an Ohio State transfer, is the big name on defense but sophomore LB Chris Kuntz tops the charts with 24 tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss and a pair of QB sacks.
"Our defense has played great and we've done well on special teams but this is a team game," Waialae said. "We have to get our offense up to speed. We're working very hard in practice to get those things corrected so that we can come out and play well on Saturday."
X Once a national football power, Duquesne defeated Mississippi State, 13-12, in the 1937 Orange Bowl
X Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney was the starting QB for Duquesne AND Indiana (Pa.) State during the 1920 college football season
X West Liberty upset the Dukes, 21-19, in the only previous meeting on Sept. 30, 2006
X The WLU defense has shut out three of its first four opponents after halftime
X Through the first four games, the Hilltoppers have more passing yards (630) that their opponents (590)
X Buechel is trying to become Duquesne's first freshman QB to pass for 300 yards in back-to-back games
X Carter has tied the Dukes' all-time record with three consecutive 100-yard receiving games