West Virginia State football coach John Pennington is never shy about injecting a little razzle-dazzle into his playbook.
Pennington’s Yellow Jackets began their season with some trickery, and when receiver Zach Pate put the cherry on top of WVSU’s first 2-point conversion of 2019, it was enough to be named the Mountain East Conference Play of the Year.
That play was chosen out of 15 finalists through a fan vote and discussion among conference administrators and the league office.
Opening-week games already have an aura around them, Pennington said, much like a bowl game. For Pennington and the Yellow Jackets, the excitement only intensified when they scored on their first drive of the game against Mountain East newbie Frostburg State.
“Adrenaline was about as high as you could imagine,” Pennington said. “We had planned to do ‘muddle huddle,’ which is something you do a lot on extra points. It’s just something that makes the defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator have to spend time to work on. It wastes practice time.
“If you can get ’em off guard, though,” he added, “you can steal two points.”
And that’s just what happened. Eight WVSU players lined up on the far left side of the field. The long-snapper, with Pate behind him, and a receiver lined up on the other side. Most of the Frostburg defense stayed with the group of eight, which gave Pate plenty of room to take the snap and score. Pate, the former Hurricane standout who Pennington said the players consider the roster’s best athlete, sprinted toward the end zone, vaulted into the air, somersaulted over a Frostburg defender and landed on his feet in the end zone.
“Everyone was already so hyped, we all just looked at each other with dropped jaws,” Pennington said. “In your mind, in the moment, you were like, ‘Oh man, we’re gonna win by a hundred.’ ”
The final score was a lot closer than that. State scored with less than four minutes left in the game to earn a 20-17 comeback victory.
Dan Stratford finished his time as a Mountain East soccer coach in style, winning MEC Men’s Coach of the Year for the second time in three years.
For the second time in three years, Stratford led the University of Charleston men’s team to an NCAA Division II national title. UC outscored foes 15-1 in the postseason, including 2-0 over Cal State Los Angeles in the national title game.
Stratford used that win to catapult himself to a job at his alma mater, West Virginia University.
That award marked the third time a UC men’s soccer coach has won the award. Former UC coach Chris Grassie, now the head coach at Marshall, won the inaugural MEC Men’s Coach of the Year award in 2015.
Other MEC awards
Women’s soccer Coach of the Year: Luke Duffy, Concord
Female Athlete of the Year: Stephanie Sylvester, Wheeling Jesuit (volleyball)
Male Athlete of the Year: Jaleel McLaughlin, Notre Dame College (football, running back)
Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Haley Kramer, Wheeling Jesuit (volleyball)
Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Tony Vezzetti, Notre Dame College (wrestling)