WEST LIBERTY - Every team enters a new season with plenty of excitement and hope, but coming off a one-win season, Coach Roger Waialae was ready to begin anew in 2012 with his West Liberty football team.
Unfortunately, excitement and hope does not always lead to victory and a new campaign did not mean a new result for the debuting Hilltoppers on Saturday afternoon against visiting Catawba.
The Indians took advantage of an ineffective West Liberty offense, collecting eight turnovers and good field position most of the day, and the Catawba defense did the rest in a 24-3 season-opening victory against the Hilltoppers at Russek Field.
Overall, West Liberty finished with negative 33 yards rushing on 36 tries, the brunt of that coming on 11 Catawba sacks while three Hilltoppers quarterbacks, and a wide-out, combined to throw for 225 stripes in the loss.
While the defeat was hard to take, the biggest thing for Waialae was not being able to understand what happened to his offense.
"This was actually the last thing I expected," Waialae said. "The offense played so well together in camp, actually better than the defense, so I don't know where this came from. And I believe we actually have more talent on offense this year than we did last year."
West Liberty had a chance early on, taking its opening drive and moving all the way to the Catawba 28 before senior L.D. Crow fumbled on a fourth down play giving the visitors the football.
It took the entire first period, however, when the Indians finally flipped field position on the Hilltoppers the entire complex of the game changed.
Taking over at the enemy 41, senior quarterback Jacob Charest needed four plays to cover the yardage, hitting junior Payton McCollum with a pretty lead pass down the near sideline from 26 stripes away for the score. Chad Hollandsworth made it 7-0 at 12:42.
Things got even worse real quick for the hosts on the very next play when Crow was hit, fumbled the football, and junior Jarred Cave rumbled 18 yards for the score just 18 seconds later as the margin grew to 14-0.
West Liberty finally dented the scoreboard with 5:08 to go in the half after recovering a Catawba fumble, but then losing four yards on the series. Junior Jeff Hoak's 43-yard field goal was right down the middle and the score was 14-3.
Crow, who had been benched for a series earlier in the game, was done for the day following a hard sack and a head injury as was relieved by freshman Dylan Lagarde of Los Alamitos, Cal.
"Any time you have a head injury you have to sit out at least a week, so I don't figure we will see him next week," Waialae added. "That is what the doctors say and I don't argue with the doctors and the training staff."
It was the defense stepping up once again early in the third with Nick Augustyn forcing a fumble and Martins Ferry graduate Marco Ricchetti recovering at the enemy 41.
Lagarde managed to hit a huge 33-yard pass to Dominic Cooper down to the five to convert a fourth down call, but after a sack Hoak's 34-yard field goal attempt sailed wide.
A fumble recovery led to Catawba's next score with just 11:28 to play as the Indians moved 38 yards on five plays with Bobby Morrison going in untouched on a six-yard pitch play and a 21-3 tally.
Hollandsworth capped the scoring with a 31-yard field goal with 9:12 to play for the final outcome.
"For some reason our offense just did not play very well, but even with four or five turnovers and seven sacks, we were still in the game at the half," Waialae added. "Defensively I thought we did a real good job, but they were able to get 24 points off of a short field.
"I feel like I may have to make some changes in how we play and get a little more conservative on offense, that is just the way I feel as a coach. We had some drives, we just weren't able to finish.
"I am very proud of my defense, but it can't be one-sided, the offense has to step up also. It just really surprises me that this happened."