CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- David Taynor didn't need any time to realize the plight his Urbana Blue Knights faced in their first season in the Mountain East Conference.
As they prepare to step out of MEC play this week for a trip to Cape Girardeau, Mo., to face Football Championship Subdivision team Southeast Missouri State, the Urbana coach knows what lies ahead in the quest for the playoffs.
The postseason is still weeks away, but a 28-21 defeat at Shepherd on Sept. 21 could prove devastating. Urbana (6-2) is the only team to stay within a touchdown of the Rams, but a loss is a loss.
"I think all of our players and coaches, including myself, are aware that game against Shepherd had a huge impact," said Taynor, whose Blue Knights were tied at 21 with Shepherd in the fourth quarter. However, a 54-yard pass from the Shepherd 30 to the Urbana 16 set up the game-winning touchdown six plays later with four minutes remaining.
"We're fighting an uphill battle to get back into contention. To do that, you can't afford to have a week off. You have to focus each week to prepare as if it's a playoff week."
Since that loss, Urbana survived a close call against Glenville (12-9), but has reeled off four consecutive victories by an average of 29.75 points.
The nation's 39th-best team in terms of offensive yards per game is led by the sixth-best quarterback in yards passing.
Senior D.J. Mendenhall, a preseason Division II All-American, is 186-of-322 for 2,531 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has completed at least 27 passes to four receivers.
His favorite target is 6-foot, 195-pound senior Joe Webb. Webb has 54 receptions for 883 yards and is tied for fifth in the country in touchdowns with 11. Two of his teammates, juniors Alvin Busbee (29-417) and Marc Johnson (27-463) each have seven touchdowns.
The overlooked Urbana defense hasn't given up more than 13 points since the loss to the Rams - a span of five games.
Urbana came into the MEC as one of three teams - the others were Notre Dame and UVa-Wise - that wasn't part of the now-defunct West Virginia Conference.
There was a lot to learn in a short time, and after a 1-2 start that included losses to FCS Findlay and the Rams, Urbana got back on track.
THE UNIVERSITY of Charleston (4-4, 4-2 MEC) has a Halloween night visit to West Liberty for an MEC meeting with the Hilltoppers (3-5, 3-3) at Russek Field.
This will be the first game under the lights for West Liberty, which had lights installed primarily to practice at night.
The Golden Eagles are coming off a frustrating 9-3 double-overtime loss to Concord at University of Charleston Stadium. While the UC defense continued its strong play, holding Coach Garin Justice's Mountain Lions to 198 total yards, the offense failed to score after losing the ball on downs at the Concord 4 with 8:05 left in the third. Concord missed two field goals in the fourth quarter, but one attempt was set up by an interception.
In three consecutive games, UC has given up a total of 572 yards. In three of its four conference losses the last two seasons - including two as a WVC member last year - Charleston could muster an average of only 11 points per game while losing by an average of 5.3.
Junior linebacker Justin Avery leads UC in tackles with 54.
Offensively, senior running back Leighton Settle leads UC in rushing with 565 yards on 117 carries. Quarterback Maurice Leak has completed 100-of-169 passes for six touchdowns and seven interceptions. The team's most valuable offensive player could be backup QB John Knox. The sophomore is second on the team in rushing (83-350-4 TD) and is also the team's second-leading receiver with 18 receptions for 172 yards and a pair of scores. Daniel Cherry leads with 21 catches for 212 yards.
West Liberty has its own problems, scoring more than 20 points only twice this season. Sophomore quarterback Dylan LaGarde, in his first season as a full-time starter, has completed 109-of-228 passes (47.8) for 1,074 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions.