One might think, with the way West Virginia State’s football team has been winning games this season, the antacid bottle on coach John Pennington’s desk would be about a gallon.
Not so, though. Pennington and the Yellow Jackets figure that’s how life will be in the Mountain East Conference this year. Games will be close, opponents will be challenging. Of the five MEC games State has played in 2019, three of them have been decided by four or fewer points. None of them have been decided by more than 10.
Yet the Yellow Jackets have yet to suffer a blemish on their conference record. They’re 5-1 overall and 5-0 in the MEC when they invite Urbana (4-2, 4-2 MEC) at noon Saturday for what likely will be another dogfight.
“These games have been kind of crazy, but we know going into the week what’s happening,” Pennington said. “There aren’t any surprises. We know it’s going to be close. We don’t exactly know how, but every game you play, even if you win by two touchdowns, you’re stressed out the entire game.
“Anything can happen, so until it says zero, it’s pretty stressful all the way through.”
It was more of the same last week in State’s furious 42-38 comeback win over Fairmont State. In that game, the Yellow Jackets fell behind 17-0 to start, but surged back and held a four-point lead with 1:48 left in the game.
That lead lasted all 15 seconds, as Fairmont State ran the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdowm, but State rebounded to drive 87 yards in 72 seconds and go ahead for good on Austin Hensley’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pate.
Pennington said it went just like he keeps telling the team it will.
“I keep telling them that it’s going to come down to overtime or the last play of the game,” he said. “Our pastor, he keeps telling me, ‘I keep missing the ends of all the games because I’m praying the whole time.’”
Urbana snapped a two-game losing streak last week with a win over Glenville State. Pennington sees a lot of WVSU in the Blue Knights, especially the number of veteran players in the lineup. It will be a matchup of strength versus strength. State is second in the league with 446.5 yards per game. Urbana tops the MEC in allowing just 300.5 yards per game.
“I think we’re really looking in the mirror a lot this weekend with a team that’s got a lot of experience,” Pennington said, “scratching to try to get to the top of the conference, and that’s the same with us.”
Scratching and clawing has become a way of life for West Virginia State, but what that has created is both a confidence and a belief in its ability. Games may be challenging, but they’re never out of reach.
“The whole sideline believes that, no matter what happens, we’ll be able to pull it out,” he said. “That doesn’t win you any games, but that does give you the best opportunity to win them.”