Oct. 25, 2009

Courtesy of West Liberty State Athletics

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - No. 18 West Liberty took control of the West Virginia Conference race in thrilling fashion here Saturday afternoon, outlasting No. 10 Charleston, 48-42, in double-overtime at Laidley Field.

The host Golden Eagles (8-1, 5-1) had overcome a two-touchdown deficit in the last 6 minutes of regulation and had momentum on their side when they scored a touchdown on the first snap of overtime to take their first lead of the day.

But Coach Roger Waialae's Hilltoppers (8-1, 6-0) would not be denied. They tied the game on a clutch 4th-down TD pass from Zach Amedro in the first overtime and regained the upper hand with a Kevon Calhoun TD dive in the second extra frame.

The West Liberty defense then brought down the curtain when UC quarterback DaRante Hunter missed connections with running back Julian Johnson on an option pitchout and the Hilltoppers' Jayson Keyser made a diving fumble recovery to lock up the visitors' 8th straight victory.

Amedro came away as the clear winner in a game featuring two of the top NCAA Division II quarterbacks in the nation.

Although West Liberty receivers were charted with at least 10 drops on the damp and chilly afternoon, Amedro still completed 28-of-51 passes for 333 yards and 4 touchdowns without an interception. It was the ninth straight 300-yard passing performance for the junior signalcaller, who has equaled his own school record with 3,297 passing yards this season and leads the nation with 33 TD tosses.

Hunter, who entered the game leading the nation in pass efficiency rating, was held to 9-of-18 passing for 144 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He ran the ball 26 times for 98 yards and 2 scores.

Amedro and the Hilltoppers were firing on all cylinders at the start. The strong-armed QB wrapped touchdown passes of 6 and 3 yards to Willie Walker around a 25-yard scoring strike to Ryan Travis as West Liberty bolted out to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

But Charleston refused to fold, striking back with a 24-yard touchdown run by Aaron Higdon and a 2-yard dive to paydirt by Mike Drake that trimmed the deficit to 21-14 at the half.

A blocked punt by the Hilltoppers' Derrick Evans gave the West Liberty offense a short field early in the third quarter and Amedro capped a 10-play, 46-march with a 1-yard sneak for a 28-14 lead.

Johnson pulled UC within a score on the first play of the fourth quarter when he took an option pitch from Hunter and tightroped down the sideline for a 16-yard touchdown.

Amedro then led West Liberty on an 8-play, 80-yard scoring drive with Calhoun darting into the end zone from 6 yards out with 11:13 left in regulation.

Hunter's longest completion of the day - a 36-yard bomb to Justin Nelson - set up a 3-yard Hunter TD run that cut the gap to 35-28 with 5:40 on the clock.

The Golden Eagles then recovered a Calhoun fumble at the UC 42. Hunter scored the equalizer from 2 yards out with 1:41 remaining as the Charleston offense - averaging more than 40 points a game - finally seemed to be hitting its stride.

A last-second pitch from Hunter got Johnson to the corner on the first snap of overtime and the speedy running back dove for the pylon to complete a 25-yard TD.

Facing 4th-and-4 from the UC 9, West Liberty was down to its last play when Amedro ducked away from a heavy pass rush and sprinted to his left. Just as the pursuit closed in, Amedro whipped a laser between two defenders to Kashif Walls in the back of the end zone for the tying touchdown.

Calhoun put the Hilltoppers ahead 48-42 when he slammed into the end zone from 2 yards out in the second overtime but UC's Joey Lindamood blocked the PAT attempt, leaving Charleston only a touchdown and successful extra point away from victory.

Hunter picked up a first down with a 10-yard run to the 15 but was then thrown for a 2-yard loss on Clay Beeler's 16th tackle of the game.

A 6-yard Hunter run set up 3rd-and-6 from the 11 but Johnson couldn't handle the option pitch and Keyser's recovery touched off a wild celebration on the Hilltopper sidelines.

Calhoun went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season with his seventh 100-yard rushing game, carrying the ball 24 times for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns. Walls led all receivers with 6 catches for 104 yards and a TD.

The Hilltoppers can clinch their first outright WVIAC title since 1971 with wins against Seton Hill and Concord in the final two games of the regular season. West Liberty and Fairmont State shared WVIAC championships in 1979 and 2000.

Saturday's game against Seton Hill is set for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Russek Field.