Urbana quarterback Eddie Stockett’s 4-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter Saturday lifted the Blue Knights to a 35-31 win at West Virginia State, handing the Yellow Jackets their first loss against a Mountain East Conference team in 2019.
While State dropped to 5-2 overall and 5-1 in MEC play, it was the first time since a Week 3 loss at FCS Southeast Missouri State that Yellow Jackets coach John Pennington was able to use a final result to get a message across to his team that had previously shown in every statistic but final scores.
The message: We’re not that good … yet.
“We just made some mistakes that were hard to overcome,” Pennington said. “We’ve been able to do it. We’ve got a tough team that overcomes a lot of them and we almost did it again, but we’ve got to play better. That comes down to me doing a better job of leading this team.”
State entered Saturday tied for first place in the conference with Notre Dame College with a 5-0 conference record. However, the Jackets’ point differential on the season was a minus-17 due to its 54-10 loss to Southeast Missouri State and an average margin of victory of just 5.8 points per win.
The late-game heroics that led to victories over Frostburg State, Glenville State and on Oct. 12 at Fairmont State failed to materialize Saturday, thanks in no small part to a penalty after what looked like yet another game-winning score by senior wide receiver Isiah Scott.
Down 28-17 with less than 4 minutes to play, Dant’e Jones cut the lead to 28-23 with 3:01 left with a 2-yard touchdown run. After Urbana (5-2, 5-2 MEC) moved the ball to State’s side of the field on its ensuing drive, the Blue Knights failed to convert on a fourth-and-3 call at the State 41 with 1:54 remaining.
In short order, State quarterback Austin Hensley moved the Jackets up the field. On the third play of the drive, Hensley found Scott on the left sideline, where he fought off Urbana defender Dimitri Lee Jr. for the catch, then sprinted the remaining 30 yard for a touchdown.
Having grown used to these kinds of events at WVSU football games this season, the celebration that followed the score almost had the feeling of something that had been planned and awaited. But Scott’s celebration of his would-be, could-be game-winner drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was assessed on the kickoff after State took a 31-28 lead.
That flag proved to be huge, as was a defensive holding call that added 15 yards to Stockett’s 5-yard run to start Urbana’s final drive of the day.
The very next play saw Stockett connect with Rafael Floyd for a 41-yard gain that put the ball at the WVSU 4-yard line. Two plays later, Stockett was in the end zone.
State moved the ball to the Urbana 40 with 4.3 seconds left, but Hensley was sacked on the game’s final play.
Pennington spent extra time after talking to his team addressing Scott personally after the receiver was visibly angered by the call that, in his eyes, decided the game. When asked about the potential long-term effect on his team of losing a game that had such a similar ending to earlier wins, Pennington said he welcomed the challenge.
“That’s why I wanted everyone in there praying together, hands together, breaking it down together,” Pennington sad. “Right now it hurts, bad, but my thought is, ‘good.’ We weren’t good enough. We’re not a good enough team yet. We’ve got to use this to get better and hopefully we can turn it around these last couple of games.”
The game’s final minutes, and the need for heroics and late-game drama, were symptomatic of State’s shortcomings through the first three-and-a-half quarters. Urbana ran for 4.9 yards per carry in the win, amassing 278 rushing yards. Although he never reached the end zone, W.R. Sanders led the Knights with 24 carries for 141 yards.
This was something that is not new to State, as the Jackets entered the game giving up 200.7 rushing yards a game.
“They’re big up front, and we’re banged up on the D-line,” Pennington said. “Fairmont [State] was able to do that, and we kind of had a good idea that Urbana was going to do it as well. When you get tough footing, it’s always kind of to the offense’s advantage, and that’s why I was kind of mad at our offense because we gave away some opportunities.”
One of those came not long after State tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. The State defense held Urbana to a three-and-out on its ensuing possession, but the Jackets gave the ball right back after failing to get a first down in three plays of their own.
State also let a golden opportunity go by midway through the third quarter. Pinned inside its own 1-yard line to start a drive, Urbana was gifted 5 yards of breathing room when a State defender jumped offside. Urbana was eventually stopped when a 33-yard field goal attempt was blocked, but not before chewing up 8 minutes of third-quarter clock.
While the State offense sputtered through much of the first three quarters, Hensley threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, completing 20 of 34 passes without an interception. Scott had five receptions for 149 yards and two scores, while Zach Pate caught seven balls for 102 yards and a score.
Taylor Carter led the Yellow Jackets with 101 rushing yards on 14 carries.
State plays at 1 p.m. next Saturday at West Virginia Wesleyan (1-6, 1-5 MEC) before returning home for an 11 a.m. kickoff against the University of Charleston (4-3, 3-3) on Nov. 2.