By Cody Shook, Sports Editor
Last week, the Hilltoppers took on Fairmont State University in a Mountain East Conference (MEC) matchup. West Liberty fell just short in their season finale, by a score of 7-13. The Hilltoppers finished their season with a conference record of 3-7, and an overall record of 3-8, with the out of conference loss coming against nationally ranked Eastern New Mexico University.
The football season started hot with high hopes after two wins in their first three games, but then they fell into a five game losing streak, which tied their losing streaks in the 2011 and 2013 seasons. The Hilltoppers’ three wins came against Urbana, Charleston and Concord with a season high in points (44) coming against Concord late in the season.
West Liberty finished the season in the No. 10 spot in the MEC standings, with just Concord University underneath them.
The Hilltoppers had a lot of close games this year, but in a game of inches, West Liberty just couldn’t measure up to get the job done. There was a five point loss to Notre Dame College on a beautiful Thursday night on the hilltop, a four point loss on homecoming against Glenville State College, and then a six point loss the following week at West Virginia State University.
There were still shining moments throughout the season, despite the down year. Senior running back Jeremiah Ortiz etched his name into the West Liberty record books in the final game of the season, when he eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season to become the sixth Hilltopper to accomplish this impressive accolade.
Ortiz’s 1,000 yard rushing season was the ninth in school history and the first since Kevon Calhoun posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in the 2009-10 seasons. Eddie Hills in the 2006-07 seasons and Derrick Stickles in 2003 and in 2005 are the other West Liberty running backs with multiple 1,000-yard seasons.
The defense shined all season, led by senior cornerback Terrance Baldwin and sophomore safety Logan Deri. Deri led the team and was second in the conference with four interceptions and he returned one of them 61 yards for a touchdown. Baldwin was a lockdown corner in his time at West Liberty, and he showed that on opening night against Urbana with a huge interception that he returned 63-yards for a touchdown.
Junior linebacker Clifford Clark led the way for the front seven with 120 total tackles, and according to the MEC website, he led the entire conference in total tackles.
The offense will have a lot of returning players in the 2018 season, so look for them to put up much bigger numbers now that they have a year of experience under their belts. Junior quarterback Lukas O’Connor stepped into the starter’s role nicely as the season progressed, and with more reps, he will continue to get better.
Photo credit: Savanna Sieger