MEC football: W.Va. State-Wise a battle of winless teams
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Something has to give when the Mountain East Conference's only two winless teams - West Virginia State (0-7, 0-6 MEC) and University of Virginia at Wise (0-7, 0-5) - meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at Beaty-Richmond Field at Carl Richmond Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets (0-7, 0-6 MEC) are on a 13-game losing streak - their third since 2003. That year under Coach Carl Lee, a 10-3 defeat to Charleston Southern on Sept. 21, 2002 started a skid that didn't end until a 20-19 win over WVU Tech on Oct. 4, 2003.
In 2010 under Coach Earl Monroe, State opened with a 34-14 defeat to Central State (Ohio) and lost the next 12 before a 27-21 win over Seton Hill halted the streak on Oct. 1, 2011.
State's biggest issue is scoring points. The Yellow Jackets moved the ball between the 20-yard lines in last week's 31-9 loss to University of Charleston, but struggled in the red zone.
The Yellow Jackets' percentage of red zone opportunities isn't at the bottom of the league, but mostly because of its lack of chances. State has been inside the opponents' 20-yard line only 17 times with only four touchdowns. That's three more chances than Wise, but the Cavaliers have scored 10 times in 14 trips to the red zone.
"We have to stick to our game plan for that week, whatever it is," State first-year Coach Jon Anderson said. "Obviously the field shrinks for offenses and it gets more difficult. We're kicking field goals down there (with freshman Josh Reuber), which is great, but we have to be able to get touchdowns. The biggest thing we talk about is finishing drives."
Defensively, the numbers have been deceiving for the Yellow Jackets, who have trailed at halftime by a combined score of 42-23 against five of its seven opponents. In the second half, however, State has been outscored 90-29 against those same teams - Lock Haven, Concord, West Liberty, W.Va. Wesleyan and Charleston.
This week's focus will be on Wise's 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior wide receiver James Long. The Roanoke Rapids, N.C., native has caught 56 passes for 922 yards and six touchdowns. He needs just 134 yards to pass Jason Lovett on Wise's single-season reception yardage list.
Sophomore Terrence Younger, a 6-2, 195-pounder from Naruna, Va., has 31 catches for 414 yards and three scores.
State's strength is its pass defense, which leads the MEC in interceptions with 14 with 13 of those coming from the back end, while the other is from freshman linebacker Justin Carr. Sophomore defensive back Romell Haley leads the team with five interceptions, picking off one pass in all but two games.
Senior DB Dominique Matthews has four, which includes three against W.Va. Wesleyan, and sophomore DB William Merritt has four, two of which came against Concord.
"It comes down to those guys have some talent and they've really taken to coach (Nick) Benedetto's coaching," Anderson said. "He has their eyes in the right spot and their technique under control. They were here when we came and they've been coached really well and have been really open to that coaching. Put those things together and we get results."
Wise freshman quarterback Jeremy Eubank led the Cavaliers last week, completing 23-of-41 passes for 250 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Four players have thrown passes for Wise this season.
The Cavaliers have lost eight in a row but, like the Yellow Jackets, have had a tough start in the new NCAA Division II MEC.
"I don't know if this is the right way to put it, but our message is this: we're just as successful as they are," Anderson said. "This is an opportunity for both teams to get that first win. From our standpoint, we're constantly concerned about ourselves and how we'll work to get better each week."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.