WEST LIBERTY - It was Senior Day at West Liberty's Russek Field on Saturday afternoon and the 21 seniors who were honored in a pre-game ceremony certainly rose to the occasion when the pads started popping against the University of Charleston.
Not only did the Hilltoppers (5-3 overall, 4-2 WVC) snap the Golden Eagles' 3-game winning streak in impressive fashion with a 37-23 victory in the final home game of the regular season, every one of West Liberty's 37 points came from a senior who was making his final appearance on the MondoTurf surface.
Senior quarterback Zach Amedro completed 36 of 48 passes for 419 yards - his fourth consecutive 400-yard passing game - and 4 touchdowns while senior tight end Ryan Travis caught 13 passes for 143 yards and 2 scores. Senior WR Willie Walker had TD grabs of 6 and 4 yards while senior TB Kevon Calhoun added a 7-yard touchdown run. Senior kicker Mike Blewett cashed in four PATs and booted a 22-yard field goal.
"It's not often you have 21 seniors in a program," Waialae noted. "It says a lot about their character for them to bounce back the way they did after last week's loss (to No. 11 Shepherd) but it didn't surprise me. All but three of them have been here helping build the program for the past four or five years and they've probably done even more for the school than they have the program with all the positive publicity they've generated. This has been a really special group since the first day they stepped on campus."
The teams traded scores for most of the first half before Amedro put the Hilltoppers ahead to stay with one of his patented last-minute scoring drives.
After Charleston (5-4, 3-3) had tied the score at 16 on a Jordan Roberts 1-yard dive, West Liberty's All-American QB led the Hilltoppers on a 10-play, 70-yard march that he capped with a 4-yard scoring strike to Walker with just 27 seconds left in the half. It was the 31st time in 42 career games that Amedro has led West Liberty to a touchdown or field goal in the final 2 minutes of a half.
Amedro's assault on the NCAA Division II record book continued on Saturday as he completed his 1,000th career pass and now ranks No. 2 all-time with 1,011 completions. The NCAA Division II record is 1,055, held by Ted Schlafke of Minnesota-Duluth.
The WLU quarterback took another step closer to becoming the leading passer in NCAA Division II history. The 10th 400-yard passing game of his career gave Amedro 13,852 career passing yards - less than 500 yards away from the all-time Division II mark of 14,350 yards held by Jimmy Terwilliger of East Stroudsburg (Pa.).
"Zach just puts on a show every game," Waialae said. "He's so consistent and just makes so many plays. Zach's worst games are better than most quarterbacks' great games. He's an incredible talent."
The Hilltoppers defense took its turn in the spotlight during the third quarter with senior LB Mike Buffo and junior CB Carl Hayles each coming up with interceptions in the red zone to send the visitors away empty-handed.
Calhoun's 7-yard touchdown run at the start of the fourth quarter and a 6-yard TD toss from Amedro to Walker - on a play that saw Amedro scrambling away from UC pass rushers for more than 10 seconds before locating the wide-open wideout in the back of the end - put West Liberty in total control, 37-16, with 9:12 left to play.
Charleston added a late touchdown to make the final margin more respectable.
Travis's 13 catches pushed him past Glenville State's Carlos Ferralls into the No. 2 spot on the WVIAC's career receiving list with 270 career grabs. His 143 receiving yards made him West Liberty's first 3,000-yard career receiver with 3,035.
Brandon Carver backed Travis with 5 catches for 101 yards while Calhoun had another productive day, rushing for 73 yards on 21 carries while adding 42 receiving yards on 7 catches.
Freshman QB Maurice Leak led UC with 73 rushing yards on 18 carries while WR Andre Higgins had 6 catches for 106 yards but this day belonged to West Liberty's 21 seniors.
"The best part about this for me," Waialae said, "is that every one of these 21 seniors will leave here with his degree. Nineteen of them are on track to graduate in May and the other two will finish up in December after they complete their student teaching. My proudest day as a coach is watching them walk across the stage at commencement."
The Hilltoppers hit the road this week with a Saturday game at Seton Hill. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. at Offutt Field in Greensburg, Pa.