West Virginia State is swiftly building a reputation for last-minute heroics in the 2019 Mountain East Conference football season.
The Yellow Jackets, who saw a 17-point lead disappear in the second half and turn into a four-point deficit in the game’s final two minutes, got a 10-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Austin Hensley to senior wide receiver A.J. Barrette with 40 seconds left on Saturday, giving them a 33-30 win over Glenville State at Lakin Field in Institute.
“It was just about business. Coach [John] Pennington instills in us the idea of ‘adversity, adversity, adversity’ and how we respond to it,” Barrette said after coming up with the two biggest plays of the game-winning drive. Just four plays before catching the game-winner, he hauled in a 15-yard reception of fourth-and-10 from the Pioneers 25-yard line.
“Last week we were faced with adversity and we overcame it,” Barrette said. “It was the same thing today.”
State pulled out a 20-17 victory at Frostburg State in its season opener on Sept. 5 after losing a pair of fourth-quarter fumbles at the Frostburg 1-yard line while trailing before Isaiah Scott caught an 11-yard pass from Hensley with less than 4 minutes remaining to get the win.
State (2-0, 2-0 MEC) had a 20-3 lead late in the third quarter Saturday, but the game’s pivotal yet slow-to-develop story line had yet to fully emerge. As it did, the Yellow Jackets began to fall victim to big pass plays from Glenville State sophomore quarterback Tim Heltzel.
Heltzel entered the game during the Pioneers’ second possession of the opening quarter, after junior starter Jaylen McNair was knocked out of the game after scrambling for a first down at the WVSU 13. McNair slid to the ground but was hit by State safety Henry Forson, who was flagged for targeting and disqualified from the remainder of the game.
McNair’s absence combined with Heltzel’s inexperience and inconsistency slowed the GSC offense through the remained of the half, allowing Hensley and company to take seeming control of the game. After letting Glenville (1-1, 0-1) take an early 3-0 lead, the Jackets scored 20 unanswered points, with Donovan Riddick scoring on a 4-yard run with 1:05 left in the opening quarter to give them a 7-3 lead.
Hensley connected with former Hurricane High teammate Zach Pate for a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter, the first being a 39-yarder with 6:40 left in the half. The pair hooked up again with 5:49 left in the third quarter on a perfectly timed fade pattern Hensley threw into the back corner of the end zone from 3 yards out.
“The receivers were lights out all day,” Hensley said after tying a school single-game record with 38 completions on 59 attempts for 439 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
“They were getting open and finding grass, and you can’t ask for much more than that. Me and A.J. have always had a connection ever since I’ve been here,” Hensley said. “He’s a great receiver, and just knows the timing between me and him”
Scott led State receivers with six catches for 111 yards while Pate caught nine passes for 108 yards and a pair of scores. Barrette, meanwhile, had nine receptions for 94 yards and the game-winner.
State finished with 510 yards of offense to Glenville’s 414.
After the Pioneers and first-year coach Mike Kellar emerged from the locker room at halftime, however, Heltzel and his offense began to figure out how to attack State’s secondary, now that Forson was gone from the lineup. After falling behind 20-3, Glenville quickly answered when Heltzel connected with Javon Butler on a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Twice in the fourth quarter Heltzel and Butler answered field goals from WVSU’s Martin Ahlstroe with touchdowns. They connected for a 25-yard score with 10:20 left that cut State’s lead to 23-17, then cut into the margin again when they hooked up for a 53-yard score with 5:05 left, making it 26-24.
“That always hurts, because he’s a veteran guy,” Pennington said of playing without Forson and its role in allowing Glenville to be in position to win the game late.
“We let [Butler] get behind us a couple times. One time we pressured and he beat us. The other time, the safety didn’t get over the top,” Pennington said. “But like I said, you’ve got to give [Heltzel] a lot of credit. He came in there and played a heck of a game.”
Heltzel completed 16 of 34 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns, while Butler had seven catches for 133 yards and three TDs.
“Hats off to Glenville,” Pennington said. “They kept fighting, they kept battling. They just played a tough, physical game and never gave up. But you’ve got to say the same for our guys. We never got rattled up or down. It didn’t matter, we just kept playing Yellow Jacket football.”
The win was WVSU’s third straight over the Pioneers and gives State a 2-0 record for the first time since before the creation of the Mountain East Conference in 2011.
The Yellow Jackets travel to play No. 19 Southeast Missouri State at 2 p.m. next Saturday.
Glenville State will play its home opener at noon Saturday against Concord.