Nov. 28, 2009

By Amy S. Hughes
Special to NCAA.com

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. - Most headlines going into Saturday’s NCAA Division II quarterfinal game here talked about West Liberty’s high-flying offense and the 84 points the Hilltoppers put on the board against Edinboro in the first NCAA playoff game in program history.

That was enough to inspire the California (PA) defense to hold West Liberty to a comparatively pedestrian 35 points as the Vulcans advanced in the NCAA playoffs by a 57-35 margin.

“I thought that score was tremendous for us,” said Cal U coach John Luckhardt. “We just finished playing 17 weeks in a row with no open dates. We came in here off of an emotional ‘revenge win’ over Shippensburg and we spent a lot of emotional energy in that game. If West Liberty had won 35-28, I don’t think we would have focused as much, but their 84 points last week certainly got everyone’s attention.”

“A lot of guys saw the 84 [West Liberty] put up last week as a challenge,” said Vulcans senior cornerback Terrence Johnson. “That’s a lot of points for a football game. We had to do our jobs and limit their big plays. That’s what we did today.”

At the half, the offensive stats were lopsided, but not in West Liberty’s favor. Cal U had accumulated 337 yards on 40 plays while the Hilltoppers had just 152 yards on 33 plays. For the game, West Liberty was out-gained 601-454 and quarterback Zach Amedro was intercepted three times.

Johnson had one of those three picks for Cal U, stopping a West Liberty drive midway through the fourth quarter. The Hilltoppers had been able to convert a fourth-and-11 situation before Johnson snagged the Vulcans third pick of the day.

Kashif Walls was injured on the opening kickoff and caught just one pass for eight yards in the game. Walls is one of three receivers from West Liberty with over 1,000 receiving yards on the season and was Amedro’s most frequent touchdown target with 21 TD catches on the season. He caught just one pass for eight yards against Cal U.

“That had to have an effect on them,” said Cal U head coach John Luckhardt of Walls’ injury. “I thought we did a really nice job in the secondary, and I don’t think we blitzed more than once all day. If you blitz against [West Liberty quarterback Zach Amedro], he’s going to find somebody who is open downfield. We couldn’t afford to get impatient and I thought our defensive coaches did a great job of helping the kids have patience even when they were moving the ball down the field.”

The defensive game plan for the Vulcans allowed Cal U to sprint out to a 36-7 first-half lead and set the table for a third consecutive win in the NCAA quarterfinals.

“Come out and hit the hardest, first,” said Johnson of the Vulcans defensive plan for this game. “Coming out and making a statement early in the game, let everybody know that we’re not here to just play the game, we’re here to win and we did that early in the game. We did that, and it put us in a good position.”

“That’s one of the reasons I chose to defer and kick to their offense [to open the game]” said Luckhardt. “I had confidence in our defense and I wanted them out there having confidence in themselves. I didn’t want them to go in afraid.

“I give a lot of credit to our leadership – our captains and seniors. We started off 0-2 in tough games against good teams, but we didn’t exactly look like the 49ers. Our leaders called a players-only meeting before the West Chester game and they brought everybody together.”

The Vulcans have lost just one game since that meeting and left the hills of West Virginia’s panhandle on Saturday with a victory and third consecutive trip to the NCAA semifinals.