There could be history in the making when West Virginia State’s football team hosts Notre Dame College at noon Saturday at Lakin Field — stacking itself on the history already made by the Yellow Jackets program this season.
State, at 7-3 overall and 7-2 in the Mountain East Conference, already has hit a major milestone. Those seven conference wins are the most in the history of the program. The Yellow Jackets already have assured themselves of a winning season, their third in a row. That hasn’t happened in Institute since Oree Banks coached three straight winning seasons from 1978-80.
But the biggest piece of history would come with a WVSU win over the Falcons. That would give the Yellow Jackets a share of the MEC title. They haven’t won a conference championship since their 1968 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown.
As much as there is at stake Saturday afternoon, State coach John Pennington is trying to keep his players focused on a pretty tough task — trying to beat a Notre Dame College team ranked 15th in the country.
“We’re excited about the opportunity, but we learned from our last experience that it all comes down to execution,” Pennington said. “No matter how much we want it, we have to execute better than the other team. I think the whole team is locked into trying to execute the game plan.”
That last experience he referred to was State’s Nov. 2 game against Charleston. WVSU entered that matchup in the regional rankings but ended it on the bad end of a 49-24 loss.
It’s why Pennington has tried to focus more on execution than emotion this week in preparing for the Falcons. In the State locker room is a sign with the word “execution” circled and the word “emotion” crossed out.
“We learned from the last big game we played that we have to cut out the emotion and just execute,” he said. “We were scarred from not playing well in the last big game and we tried too hard. We were a little too emotional.”
Pennington said the message has gotten through. State went to Wheeling University on Saturday and pitched a 24-0 shutout against the Cardinals. It was the Yellow Jackets’ first shutout since beating Central State 6-0 in August 2009.
“Everyone gets it,” he said. “All week, it’s been nothing but business and everyone executing what they have to do.”
When Pennington does think about the opportunity to make history Saturday, his mind goes past the State locker room and to the rest of the university’s community. He thinks about all the players, staff members, administrators and volunteers who have helped push the football program to the level on which it now sits.
Yet Pennington isn’t satisfied with the current level. He wants to end the season a rung higher with a conference title to place in State’s trophy case.
“It’s awesome to be where we’re at, and to think about how much effort has gone into this, the only way to pay them back is to win and finish on top. That’s my sole purpose this week is to do my job and make sure those people get rewarded.”