Saturday’s intra-county football clash between the University of Charleston and West Virginia State University will feature two of the most prolific passing offenses in all of NCAA Division II.
That the Yellow Jackets are part of that formula is no surprise. Coach John Pennington’s offenses long have been known for their ability to take to the air.
The Golden Eagles, on the other hand ...
UC under coach Pat Kirkland has been better recognized in past seasons as an offense more comfortable grinding out yards on the ground and balancing that with the pass. This season, though, the Golden Eagles have not been afraid to throw.
So the battle for Kanawha County supremacy could rest on the arms of State quarterback Austin Hensley and UC quarterback Brant Grisel when the two teams kick off at 11 a.m. at Lakin Field in Institute (WOWK-TV).
Both Charleston (5-3, 4-3 Mountain East Conference) and West Virginia State (6-2, 6-1 MEC) sit in the top 10 of Division II in passing offense. WVSU is seventh at 316.9 yards per game. UC is third at 331.1 yards per game.
Contrast Charleston’s average in 2019 with its average in 2018, a much more ordinary 214.2 yards per game. Yet nothing about UC’s passing game has been ordinary this season.
“We’ve had guys who have been good players individually,” Kirkland said. “But now we’ve got three, four receivers who can play and play at a very high level. When you couple that with consistency at quarterback ... that consistency has been a big deal for us.”
Grisel hasn’t dealt with the injuries this year that former QB Mason Olszewski worked through in his UC career, and has made the most of that healthy time. He ranks third in Division II with 2,587 passing yards and has thrown 21 touchdowns against just six interceptions. He has three receivers — Mike Strachan, Tremain Ross and Xavion Gordon — with at least 474 receiving yards, and Strachan is No. 1 in Division II in receiving touchdowns (15) and No. 2 in receiving yards (1,060).
On the other side, the Yellow Jackets have the luxury of a healthy Hensley, who missed all but one game last year to injury. He ranks seventh in Division II with 2,394 passing yards and 20 touchdowns against six interceptions. The Yellow Jackets have four receivers with at least 422 receiving yards this year, led by Isiah Scott’s 704 yards (No. 24 nationally) and nine touchdowns (tied for 14th nationally).
Where the Yellow Jackets really have gotten a boost, Pennington said, is with the group’s maturity. That has allowed the passing game to come up big late in games. State’s last two wins have come on touchdown passes at the end of last-minute drives.
“It always helps when you have an older quarterback directing traffic out there, some older offensive linemen and three senior receivers,” Pennington said. “When you’re older, you kind of understand what’s going on in situations during the game and you can adjust.”
There won’t be many surprises when the Golden Eagles and Yellow Jackets tangle at Lakin Field. Both teams are well-versed with each other, and both had the luxury of their defenses getting some top-caliber practice time this week against their own nationally ranked passing games.
“We do a lot of good-on-good this week, where we’re going against each other,” Pennington said. “We’re just ready to go. There’s no scheme that’s perfect. It’s just going to be mano y mano and whoever plays the best will win. That’s what’s exciting.”