Saturday marks the final day of the Mountain East Conference’s 2021 spring regular season, and West Virginia State and the University of Charleston are set to face off at noon on Saturday at University of Charleston Stadium.
WVSU (2-1) and UC (2-0) didn’t play last week as cancellations within other programs sidelined UC and lack of an opponent halted State. However, this weekend’s matchup, as of Friday, is a go. State coach John Pennington talked about the matchup and UC’s strength as a team.
“They’re a really good football team,” he said. “They’ve got [an] explosive running back and a quarterback that is really running the offense well. They’ve got a big O-line, their defense has been dominant, forcing turnovers. We’ve definitely got our hands full and got a good team to play this week.”
UC’s defense has been stingy in its two wins this season, allowing 24 total points, including a 45-0 shutout of Glenville State in which it allowed 67 total yards. The Golden Eagle defense has four interceptions.
Despite the undefeated record, UC coach Pat Kirkland said this weekend’s matchup will be no walk in the park and he knows the Yellow Jackets bring a lot to the table.
“When you look at the team they have now, it’s probably top to bottom one of the most athletic teams they’ve had that I’ve seen,” Kirkland said. “When you couple that with a lot of experience they have playing for them, they’re a tough team. It’s gonna be a challenge for us on Saturday.”
Because neither team played a game last week, Kirkland talked about how he utilized the unexpected off time.
“We gave the guys time off and they got away from us [coaches] a little bit,” Kirkland said. “They got a chance to have some more time to focus on their school work and maybe mentally take a break from trying to do both [school and football].”
After Saturday, the Yellow Jackets will have played more games than any other team in the MEC (four). Pennington talked about the mental fatigue that comes with that in an unprecedented season and the importance of the off week heading into the season finale.
“There’s [COVID] testing, masking, quarantining, changing of schedule, things that wear you down," Pennington said. “We really needed that weekend to get back on track in the classroom. Our players had time to get a haircut. We had time to take a breath, get ready to focus and put everything on the line this week.”
Both coaches said they already see positive results from the off time as they prepare for Saturday’s game.
“We took Monday off as well just to have an academic meeting on campus, then they came back out for a quick practice on Tuesday, Kirkland said. “They seem fresh and they’re out there flying around and playing fast.”
“Our team is really gelling at the right time as far as the connection, they’re really connected,” Pennington said. “They’re really fun to coach.”
Though there has been no official announcement from the MEC about a postseason, the original plan was to play a championship game between the North Division winner and South Division winner two weeks after the conclusion of the regular season. Saturday’s game could have postseason implications.