Nov. 21, 2009

Courtesy of West Liberty Athletics

The West Liberty University football team had never appeared in an NCAA Division II football game until Saturday but the high-scoring Hilltoppers proved to be more than ready for prime time.

Junior quarterback Zach Amedro passed for a school-record 540 yards and 6 touchdowns while junior tailback Kevon Calhoun topped the 100-yard mark in rushing and receiving in the No. 9-ranked Hilltoppers’ eye-popping 84-63 romp past Edinboro in a Super Region One semifinal at Russek Field.

West Liberty had to be sharp as the teams combined for an all-time NCAA Division II record 1,394 yards of total offense and Edinboro quarterback Trevor Harris broke the NCAA Division II single-game playoff passing record by completing 50-of-76 passes for 630 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Nevertheless, the visitors never came within 20 points of the lead after the Hilltoppers had built a 28-7 advantage in the opening 15 minutes.

It was a revenge win of the sweetest kind as West Liberty extended its winning streak to 11 games by avenging its only loss of the season. The Hilltoppers haven’t tasted defeat since dropping a 42-30 decision at Edinboro in the season opener on Aug. 29.

“There was a big difference between this game and that one,” said Amedro, one of nine national finalists for the Harlon Hill Award as the NCAA Division II Player of the Year.

“We were working some new faces into our offense at the start of the season so we weren’t all on the same page for that first game. It took us a couple of games to get used to each other and understand what we do best.”

The Hilltoppers’ offensive personnel were all on the same page Saturday – and it was a page ripped from the West Liberty, WVIAC and NCAA Division II record books.

Hilltopper junior wide receiver Kashif Walls brought the crowd of 4,181 to their feet almost before the last strains of the National Anthem had faded away. When Walls gathered in the opening kickoff and sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown, it was like firing the starter’s pistol at a track meet.

The race was on.

Edinboro answered with a 21-yard scoring toss from Trevor Harris – the Fighting Scots’ own Harlon Hill finalist – to David Bostic but the West Liberty defense came up with stops on the next three possessions.

“That was the difference in the game,” head coach Roger Waialae said. “As good as these two quarterbacks are, no lead is going to be safe but getting those stops early in the game gave us the chance to open up a lead.”

The Hilltopper offense took full advantage as Amedro led West Liberty to paydirt on the hosts’ next nine possessions to put the game out of reach.

Amedro – who threw for more than 400 yards in the first half – capped that amazing surge with a perfectly-placed 4-yard out route to Walls at 6:37 of the third quarter. It was the 6th touchdown pass of the day for Amedro – second in NCAA Division II playoff history – and pushed the West Liberty lead to 70-28.

There were some nervous moments on the Hilltopper sideline later in the third quarter when Amedro came off the field holding his shoulder after a heavy hit forced a fumble that brought the scoring streak to an end.

Edinboro closed the gap to 70-42 with more than 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter and a comeback seemed possible with Amedro receiving treatment on the sideline.

But with backup QB Chris Kiedaisch in the game and the Hilltoppers backed up inside their own 10, Calhoun stepped up to meet the challenge.

“I kind of felt like Zach got hurt because I missed the guy that hit him,” Calhoun said, “and I knew we needed to get something going.”

With everybody in the stadium fully expecting Calhoun to get the ball, the junior tailback gave his team some breathing room by burrowing into the line for a 5-yard gain. On the next snap, he bounced outside to the sideline and used an outstanding block from wide receiver Willie Walker to break off a 68-yard run all the way to the Edinboro 19.

After sitting out one play to catch his breath, Calhoun returned to the field and sliced through the Fighting Scot defense for a 20-yard touchdown run that effectively put the game on ice.

Amedro completed 27-of-32 passes to break his own school record, finishing with 540 yards and 6 TDs. He went over the 10,000-yard passing mark for his career and shattered the WVIAC single-season record for passing yards (4,580) and touchdown passes (47) with the most impressive performance of his record-setting career.

Calhoun carried 18 times for 173 yards and 4 TDs and was one of West Liberty’s four 100-yard receivers with 3 catches for 116 yards and 2 more scores. His 6 touchdowns are also No. 2 on the NCAA single-game playoff list.

Walls had 6 catches for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns while Eddie Hills caught 5 passes for 116 yards and a score. Ryan Travis added 110 receiving yards on 8 receptions.

West Liberty (11-1) returns to the Russek Field MondoTurf this Saturday when the Hilltoppers host No. 22 California, Pa. (10-3) in the regional championship game. The Vulcans edged Shippensburg, 26-21, in Saturday’s other regional semifinal.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Calhoun said. “We’ll go to practice, get our reps and prepare for our next opponent. That’s what we’ve been doing for the last 11 weeks and we’re not going to change now.”