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Hilltoppers spoil W.Va. State's homecoming

INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- The football fortunes at West Virginia State looked a bit brighter last week when the school announced plans for a $2.1 million facilities building at Lakin Field.

The structure should be a recruiting godsend and contribute much-needed good cheer to a program that combined for a 4-26 record in the three previous seasons.

The glad tidings will have to wait, however. After the Yellow Jackets suffered a 52-19 homecoming loss to West Liberty on Saturday afternoon, coach Earl Monroe admonished his players by making them glance up at the scoreboard one more time, hoping the day's agony might serve as inspiration.     

Monroe was especially disappointed that his players at times lacked toughness.

"It seemed like we weren't fighting at the end,'' he said, "and I thought that was something that would never happen.''

The Hilltoppers (3-3), who were coming off back-to-back West Virginia Conference losses, led 17-6 at halftime and broke it open by scoring two touchdowns in a 61-second span early in the third quarter - on Dylan Lagarde's 40-yard pass to Brandon Schroeder and Rod White's 32-yard interception return. The 'Toppers suddenly led 31-6.

The visitors achieved another pick-six, Mike Jefferson's 32-yarder midway through the fourth quarter, and in the game's final minute WL's Pierre Blake returned a final interception to the State 6, where the Hilltoppers ended the game by kneeling down three times.

It was that kind of day for the 'Toppers, who amassed 500 yards, forced four turnovers and seven State punts and blocked a field-goal attempt. The Jackets fell to 2-4 and 1-3 in the WVC.

"I honestly thought we were ready to play,'' said Monroe. "For a half, I thought we had a chance. We came out in the second half and still had a little fight, but then we had some bad things go against us, and it was a downhill spiral from there.''

After losing to Fairmont State and Glenville State, Hilltoppers coach Roger Waialae decided to go with a different quarterback, opting for the freshman Lagarde over senior L.D. Crow.    

"The change in quarterback really helped us, putting in a more mobile guy,'' said Waialae. "It was good to see the freshman quarterback play pretty good today.''

Lagarde, a Los Alamitos, Calif., resident, completed 25 of 42 passes for 302 yards and five touchdowns and, in keeping with the coach's expectations, kept plays alive with his elusiveness.  

"The thing that he adds is that he's able to extend plays,'' said the WL coach. "I think we only called maybe a half-dozen designed rollouts, but he was able to flush from the pocket and make some plays. It opened some things up for us running the football, and we did some things that we haven't done this year. We ran the ball really effectively.''

State quarterback Ricky Phillips, who was unable to practice during the week because of an injury, completed 20 of 41 passes for 210 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown pass to Josh Johnson in the fourth quarter.

"We were worried about Ricky Phillips,'' said Monroe. "He didn't practice all week. He was kind of pressing, throwing off the back foot. We knew we would have some issues there. We tried to get him some quick throws. He couldn't scramble very well. He tried but then he started pressing.''

State's Aubura Taylor rushed 20 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns.

Reach Mike Whiteford at mikewhiteford@wvgazette.com.


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