West Liberty University head football coach Roger Waialae says there's plenty of excitement surrounding Thursday's first-ever night game at Russek Field. The Hilltoppers (3-5, 3-3) will host the University of Charleston (4-4, 4-2) on Halloween Night in a much-anticipated 7 p.m. kickoff under the new lighting system installed over the summer thanks to a gift from West Liberty alumnus Gary E. West and his wife, Flip.
"We're very grateful to Gary and the WLU administration for their support," Waialae said. "You could see in practice all week that the kids are really excited. Hey, the coaches are excited, too. We're definitely looking forward to our first home game under the lights."
Both teams are coming off disappointing losses last week. West Liberty let a third-quarter lead slip away in a 38-21 loss at West Virginia Wesleyan while UC came up empty on back-to-back snaps from the 1-yard-line at the end of double-overtime to drop a 9-3 decision at Concord.
Hilltopper QB Dylan Lagarde ran for two TDs and passed for another while completing 17-of-34 passes for a season-high 177 yards and a touchdown at Wesleyan. Freshman TB Marty Bishop posted West Liberty's first 100-yard rushing game of the season with 108 yards on 18 carries as the Black and Gold racked up a season-high 331 yards of total offense.
Unfortunately, the Bobcats took advantage of a short-handed WLU secondary with 393 passing yards and scored 21 unanswered points down the stretch to pull out the come-from-behind win.
"We've lived off our defense and special teams this season," Waialae said, "but I thought this was our poorest performance in both facets all season. Offensively, we played better but we still left too many points on the field with missed field goals and turnovers at the end of long drives. We have to be able to put points on the board when we get down into the scoring area."
Charleston is probably singing a similar tune after holding Concord under 200 yards of total offense – including a mere 9 passing yards – only to come out on the short end of a double-overtime decision. The Golden Eagles also failed to score from the Mountain Lion 1 during a first-half possession, missed a potential game-winning field goal in the first overtime period, had an interception return for a touchdown wiped out by penalty and lost two fumbles in Mountain Lion territory before coughing up another deep in their own territory to set up Concord's tying field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
"(Coach Pat) Kirkland is a defensive-oriented coach and they play great defense every week," Waialae said. "Both of their quarterbacks are very good runners and they really try to establish the run. We have to make them one-dimensional because if they're able to get something out of their passing game as well as their running game, we could be in for a long night."
Despite the short week, Waialae is hoping for the return of some key players who were held out or severely limited during last week's game at Wesleyan.
"One guy we hope to have back is (senior weak safety) Marquis Bradley," Waialae said. "He wasn't able to go after the first series last week and we really missed his experience and leadership back there. We had a couple of blown coverages that really hurt us.
"The personality of our team this year has been an aggressive defense coupled with strong special teams play and an opportunistic offense. We need to get back to that mindset and that's what we've been preaching all week. We've had some really good practices with a lot of energy. Now we have to take that out onto the field with us Thursday night."
X West Liberty has a 3-1 record in night games under Roger Waialae
X The all-time series between the Hilltoppers and Golden Eagles is tied at 12-12-1
X UC has rushed for more than 200 yards in its last 5 games against West Liberty – but the Hilltoppers won 3 of those games
X Charleston held Concord to an MEC season-low 9 passing yards in last week's 9-3 double-overtime loss to the Mountain Lions
X The Golden Eagle passing attack is last in the nation with an average of just 8.69 yards per completion
X Tusculum (Tenn.) QB Bo Cordell broke former West Liberty All-American Zach Amedro's NCAA Division II career passing record last week. Cordell's 349 passing yards in a 41-33 loss to Wingate gave him 15,049 for his career. Amedro passed for 14,733 yards at WLU from 2007-10