WVSU football john pennington

West Virginia State University football coach John Pennington and the Yellow Jackets are unbeaten in the MEC after three games for the first time.

Both the University of Charleston and West Virginia State University football teams march into their games Saturday riding the wave of some pretty impressive firsts.

The Golden Eagles travel to Wheeling University for a 1 p.m. Saturday kickoff after beating Valparaiso, the Division II team’s first victory over a Football Championship Subdivision foe.

The Yellow Jackets host West Liberty at noon Saturday for their homecoming game after beating Concord last week to start out 3-0 in the Mountain East Conference for the first time.

As impressive and exciting as those pieces of history are, both UC coach Pat Kirkland and WVSU coach John Pennington are cautioning their teams not to look back and revel. There’s still plenty of season ahead.

The next step in that season for Charleston (3-1, 2-1 MEC) is a date with the Cardinals. Wheeling’s inaugural MEC football season is going as most fledgling programs’ first years go. The Cardinals are 0-4, though they’ve seen some bright spots in those losses.

“They’ve shown flashes of being a really good football team,” Kirkland said, “where they’ve moved the ball and done some really good things. Defensively, they’ve stepped up and made big stops.”

Wheeling quarterback Tucker Strachan is third in the MEC at 268 passing yards per game and is one of three MEC quarterbacks with at least 1,000 passing yards so far.

“He’s got one of the best releases I’ve seen in this conference in a long time,” Kirkland said. “They can throw it.”

So can Charleston, with QB Brant Grisel, who leads the MEC and ranks third in Division II with 344.5 passing yards per game.

West Virginia State’s road to 3-0 in the MEC (3-1 overall) hasn’t been a breeze. The Yellow Jackets have been in battles with each conference game. At Concord last Saturday, the Mountain Lions took a fourth-quarter lead before State rallied with two late TDs and a 33-23 victory.

Pennington said that shows that’s evidence that the Yellow Jackets’ ceiling can be higher.

“We know what kind of football we can play and we want to be elite,” Pennington said. “That’s the standard we’re constantly pushing for. We haven’t been there yet.”

The Hilltoppers (2-2, 2-2 MEC) are coming off a convincing 43-20 win at Glenville and took the surprising new MEC member Frostburg State to the limit in a 27-24 loss the week before. West Liberty features the best pass defense in the MEC, allowing 209.3 yards per game and just four touchdowns overall.

WVSU quarterback Austin Hensley averages 237.5 yards per game and has thrown six touchdowns against just two interceptions.

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.