By Kendrick Jackson, Contributing Writer
Down 21-10 after the first half, the Black and Gold scored nine unanswered points with a chance to tie the game on a two-point conversion. The Hilltoppers failed the rush attempt and the Blue Knights of Urbana held on to win 21-19.
Gannon University transfer, Zach Phillips, finished his first game as a Hilltopper with two interceptions on 209 passing yards. However, Phillips did rush for 83 yards, including one touchdown in the second quarter. Rushing back Charles Westbrook also added 83 rushing yards and a touchdown.
West Liberty will have a chance to redeem itself tonight against West Virginia Wesleyan. The Bobcats also lost in their season opener after having a 21-7 lead in the first half.
Bobcats starting quarterback Luke Casey’s 380 passing yards wasn’t enough to hold off the surging Mountain Lions of Concord in the second half. Concord would come out and score 27 points in the second half to win the game 34-31.
Head Coach Roger Waialae returns to the Black and Gold gridiron for his fourteenth consecutive season. Coach Waialae added two new faces to his coaching staff this offseason in Offensive Coordinator, Mike Kellar, and Defensive Line Coach, Brian Hill. Both coaches migrated here from Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.
Coach Waialae does welcome back 55 returning players, including 15 starters.
Last season’s starting quarterback, Brenton Calabella, returns for his senior year. Calabella will compete with Lukas O’Connor and Phillips for the starting job this season. Cliff Clark and Logan Deri will bring back their defensive presence to WLU this season. Clark led the Mountain East Conference in tackles last year as a linebacker, and Deri is an All-Conference safety.
The MEC Coaches’ Preseason Polls ranks the Black and Gold as the sixth best team in the conference. After finishing the 2017 season 3-8 and second-to-last in the MEC, Coach Waialae and his Hilltoppers looks to turn things around. West Liberty football hasn’t had a winning record in five years after going 6-5 in the 2014 season.
Last year when these two teams faced off against each other, the Bobcats got the best of the Hilltoppers, winning the game 34-0. It was a rough game from start to finish for West Liberty and it dropped them to 1-1 on the season. The Hilltoppers will have a lot of motivation going into tonight’s game after losing week one and still remembering the shutout loss last season against Wesleyan.
Action begins tonight at 7 p.m. at the West Family Stadium. Next Thursday, WLU will travel to Charleston University for a conference matchup.
Photo Credit: Hilltoppersports.com