MEC football: UC hopes to continue dominance vs. State
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Until last week's 30-point explosion, the West Virginia State University football team had scored a combined 29 points in its first five games - all losses.
At 1 p.m. Saturday at newly christened Dickerson Stadium - formerly Lakin Field - in Institute, the Yellow Jackets will try to avoid being blanked by a team that has three shutouts against them since 2009 - the University of Charleston.
The Kanawha County rivals lock horns for the ninth time since the school (UC) formerly known as Morris Harvey College restarted the football program in 2003.
The Golden Eagles are 7-1 in the series and Coach Pat Kirkland, in his third season guiding UC, is 3-0 with his team outscoring State 146-20 in those meetings.
What's more, the UC defense is coming off its most impressive effort of the season, holding Glenville State to a meager 173 total yards.
Glenville running back Rahmann Lee, the Mountain East Conference's second-leading rusher, was held to 55 yards on 12 carries and no touchdowns.
It was just the second time this season Lee was held out of the end zone.
"It was our first full week of coming out and, everyday, having a solid practice," said senior linebacker Matt Kelly, who is 11 tackles away from becoming the fifth player in UC's 11-year history to reach 200 for his career. "Earlier in the season we would come out and have two good practices and one bad. Having a full week of good practices led to the consistency on the field and just finishing a full game."
The Golden Eagles (3-3, 3-1 MEC) had a school-record eight three-and-outs against Glenville, and saw senior defensive backs Hassan Coleman and Bam Harrison each intercept a pass, giving them eight and seven career picks respectively.
Offensively, UC has latched onto tailback Leighton Settle as its primary ball carrier. The Northern Illinois transfer has 437 yards on 88 carries, averaging 19 attempts and 100 yards since combining for only 12 carries and 20 in the first two contests.
The season had been an ongoing struggle for State with the Yellow Jackets (0-6, 0-5) losing their first five games by an average of 34.2 points.
Despite giving up 56, 62 and 45 points respectively the last three weeks, one of State's bright spots has been its defense. First-year Coach Jon Anderson's Yellow Jackets are seventh in the league in rushing defense - two spots better than Charleston.
State's pass defense is ninth in the MEC, but its defense is eighth overall and giving up just 24.4 yards more per game than No. 7 UC.
Sophomore Romell Haley has five interceptions and senior Dominique Matthews has four for State.
Offensively, State has moved the ball - averaging almost 16 first downs per game.
LeFloyd Phillips has been State's leading rusher with 278 yards on 99 carries. Quarterback Tyler Seals has picked up some of the slack on the ground for State with 69 yards and a score.
Seals has completed half of his passes (92-of-184) with four touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has been sacked 18 times, losing 110 yards, but managed 289 yards passing in last week's loss to Wesleyan.
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IF MEC TEAMS are waiting for Shepherd (6-0, 5-0 MEC) to lose, the 11th-ranked team in the American Football Coaches' Association Poll could make them wait a while.
The Rams play host to Notre Dame this weekend before visits to Glenville Nov. 2, hosting W.Va. State Nov. 9 and playing at Concord - which is expected to be its biggest test the rest of the season.
Since 2000, Shepherd is 42-11 in its final four games of the regular season with the losses coming to West Liberty (4), Glenville (3), W.Va. Wesleyan (3) and Concord (1).
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FORMER BLUEFIELD High School star Jake Lilly is second in the MEC in tackles for Concord, averaging 10.3 per game.
The senior linebacker is second in the MEC in assists with 34.
Fairmont State defensive end and former Capital standout Jake Kelly is third in the league with 6.5 sacks.
Lilly and Kelly are first and second respectively in the MEC in forced fumbles.
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URBANA (4-2, 4-1 MEC) and West Liberty have a critical meeting at Russek Field at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The Blue Knights' one conference loss was a seven-point heartbreaker at Shepherd in a game that was tied at 21 with 4:30 remaining. Urbana's pass offense has rolled up 353.3 yards per game behind preseason All-America quarterback D.J. Mendenhall.
However, West Liberty gives up just 176 yards passing per game (4th in MEC) and is third in the league in total defense.
Scoring has been a problem for the Hilltoppers (3-3, 3-1), who average only 13 points per game.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.