WEST LIBERTY- A lengthy road trip and another challenging non-conference opponent are the issues the West Liberty University football team must overcome in today's season finale.
Coach Roger Waialae's Hilltoppers (1-9) close out the 2011 campaign with a 550-mile trek to rural North Carolina, where they will take on regionally ranked UNC-Pembroke (7-3).
Kickoff at Grace P. Johnson Stadium is set for 1 p.m.
West Liberty's three non-conference opponents this season have a combined record of 21-8 (.724). Southern Connecticut and UNC-Pembroke are still listed among the top-10 teams in their respective regions while Edinboro just dropped out of the Super Region One rankings.
While this season hasn't worked out as planned, Waialae makes no apologies for the Hilltoppers' tough schedule.
''Our goals as a program are to win every week and get to the playoffs,'' Waialae said. ''With three non-conference games and the way the rankings are structured, you can't play sub-.500 teams and expect to be ranked highly enough to get to the postseason. We've played good schedules every year and that's not going to change.''
West Liberty comes into the finale off another frustrating loss. The Hilltoppers came from behind in the fourth quarter to take a 29-24 lead against WVIAC co-leader Concord a week ago, only to see the Mountain Lions pull out a 32-29 victory, scoring the game-winning touchdown with just 1:13 remaining.
Going up against the conference's top-ranked defense, West Liberty responded with its best offensive performance. The Hilltoppers' 29 points, 374 passing yards and 404 yards of total offense were all season-highs but six turnovers, two botched PATs and a missed field goal prevented WLU from pulling off the upset.
''Obviously we did some good things,'' Waialae said, ''and we came out of that game with several positives to build on, but the bottom line is that we just have to take better care of the football.
''The defense only gave up one touchdown but Concord ran two interceptions back for touchdowns and had a fumble return for a score. You can't give up 21 points with your defense on the sideline and beat a good football team.''
Sophomore WR Brandon Schroeder turned in his third consecutive 100-yard receiving game, catching 12 passes for a career-high 185 yards including both fourth-quarter touchdowns. Schroeder is the second-leading receiver in the WVIAC with 67 catches for 913 yards.
Fellow sophomore WR Tyler Tucci had his first 100-yard receiving game with 12 catches for 114 yards both career-highs.
Junior QB L.D. Crow posted his third straight 300-yard passing game, going for 304 yards and two TDs but being victimized by four interceptions. Crow ranks No. 2 in the WVIAC in passing yards (2,246) and completions (205).
UNC-Pembroke, a southern independent that slipped to No. 10 in this week's NCAA Division II Super Region Two rankings after a 34-7 loss to nationally ranked Winston-Salem State (N.C.), features the most balanced attack West Liberty has faced this season.
The Braves rank No. 6 nationally in total offense at 486.1 yards per game and are one of only a few teams nationwide to average more than 200 yards a game in both passing and rushing.
Senior TB Travis Daniels is fifth in the country with 1,472 rushing yards and 14 TDs. He's topped the 100-yard rushing mark in 9 of 10 games.
Sophomore QB Luke Charles ranks among the top-10 passers in the nation in quarterback rating. He's broken the school's single-game passing mark three times in the past five outings and has completed 190 of 311 passes for 2,793 yards and 23 TDs with just six interceptions.