WEST LIBERTY - West Liberty steps out of the Mountain East Conference for the final time this season Saturday when the Hilltoppers visit FCS-foe Duquesne. Kickoff is set for 12:10 p.m. at Rooney Field on the Dukes campus.
West Liberty (2-2) is coming off a 20-3 loss to Concord last week. The Dukes (1-2) haven't played since a 59-17 loss to nationally ranked Youngstown State on Sept. 21.
The Hilltoppers have struggled to find some offensive consistency.
After being held to 74 yards of offense and a field goal in the first half, Hilltoppers' coach Roger Waialae replaced sophomore QB Dylan Lagarde with senior Tyler Tucci for the final two quarters but the Mountain Lions' nationally ranked defense still held WLU to less than 200 yards on the afternoon.
"That was Tyler's first extended action at quarterback," Waialae said, "so it was a good learning experience for him. Overall, I thought he did all right but he still missed some things. It will come down to who's better at getting us into the right play - and out of the wrong play - before the snap. We need that consistency and with one offensive touchdown in four games, we obviously haven't found it yet."
Lagarde has completed 56 of 113 passes for 530 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions, while Tucci went 12-for-22 for 100 yards with an interception during the second half of last week's game. Junior Dylan Potts is the leading receiver with 22 catches for 220 yards and a TD while senior TB Kenjay Trueblood leads the rushing attack with 210 yards on 55 carries.
The WLU defense is ranked among the nation's Top 20 in numerous categories: No. 5 in scoring defense (10.8 ppg.), No. 10 in total defense (280.5 ypg.), No. 11 in pass defense (147.5 ypg.) and No. 13 in first downs allowed (58).
Coach Jerry Schmitt's Dukes feature a high-powered passing attack keyed by redshirt freshman QB Dillon Buechel. The Western Pa., native has completed 64 of 103 passes for 966 yards and 5 TDs with just one interception and is coming off a 362-yard passing game at Youngstown State.
Senior WR Gianni Carter is his favorite target with 17 catches for 372 yards - an average of nearly 22 yards a catch - and 4 touchdowns. Junior TB Ryan Ho is the team's leading rusher with 128 yards on 47 carries. All-America senior LB Dorian Bell, an Ohio State transfer, is the big name on defense but sophomore LB Chris Kuntz tops the charts with 24 tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss and a pair of QB sacks.
"Our defense has played great and we've done well on special teams but this is a team game," Waialae said. "We have to get our offense up to speed. We're working very hard in practice to get those things corrected so that we can come out and play well on Saturday."