David Bykowski

WVIAC Preview: Week 7

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
If you don't read my column this week, I can't really blame you. After all, I missed on all four in-conference predictions last week, so in most of your eyes, I probably have no credibility left. Sure, all four games matched up opponents that were close in ability/achievement this year, and yes, the biggest win was by 14 points. But it's still no excuse for me not being Nostradamus.

And still, for some reason, I try again.

UNC Pembroke (4-2) at Charleston (1-5)

Well, at least the Golden Eagles found some offense last week. And it seems they needed just about every bit of it, racking up 714 total yards (a school record) in their 49-35 win over Seton Hill. Not surprisingly, Jordan Roberts had a huge day with nearly 200 yards. But what did surprise me was finally seeing some success from Maurice Leak in the passing game (even if he didn't have a touchdown) as well as another emerging runningback: Adrien Jenkins. I can't say that the defense was a huge improvement, but hey, you have to start somewhere, right?

UNC Pembroke, however, will be a fierce test to that Charleston defense. They set some school records of their own in their 58-38 win over Tusculum last weekend in which they had 668 total yards. When I talked about the Braves earlier this season, I focused on runningback Travis Daniels and how, if you could stop him, you could contain the offense. Well, forget that. Quarterback Luke Charles threw for over 300 yards last week and has shown in recent weeks that he can be a major impact player in a game. The Braves put up 42 points on Glenville State about three weeks ago, and there's no reason to think their offense won't do at least the same job against Charleston. But since UNCP's defense isn't so hot, giving up 34 points per game this season, expect the Golden Eagles to put some points on the board, just not enough to keep up.

Prediction: UNC Pembroke 45, Charleston 28

West Liberty (1-5, 1-3) at Shepherd (4-2, 2-2)

I've said before that no coach in the WVIAC is better at making halftime adjustments than Monte Cater. And last week, it looked like he and the Rams would prove me right again, turning a 24-14 halftime deficit into a 38-24 lead by halfway through the fourth quarter.

And then the Rams returned to earth.

Say whatever you will about the decision to go for two at the end of overtime, even after the extra point was good. Regardless of the outcome, we really don't know if it was the right call or not. Just because it failed doesn't mean they shouldn't have done it. That said, there's a reason it's standard advice not to take points off the scoreboard. Someone in my Concord-Glenville State liveblog last week said that Shepherd would lose if the game went into overtime. Maybe that person saw something that I don't know about. But regardless, I will say this: championship teams can find a way to get one yard when they need to. That's all.

Now, as for this week, Shepherd at least gets to return to the friendly confines of Ram Stadium (where they play the four weakest opponents in conference this year). No matter what anyone says, let's be honest: the defensive secondary is really hurting without Keon Robinson and D.J. Scott. Thank goodness Elijah Davis has stepped up this season or things would really be in bad shape. Offensively, Bobby Cooper may have moments of playing well, but he's not the leader that Kevin Clancy was last season. Someone has to take charge and motivate this team on that side of the football.

West Liberty found its spark, and believe it or not, it came on special teams! I'm not really sure the Hilltoppers would have won last week were it not for the blocked field goal returned 92 yards for what was basically a game-clinching touchdown. Yes, L.D. Crow had his best game yet this season and looked a lot more comfortable than we've seen him so far. Yes, Brandon Davis started to get the ground game going that we were looking for over a month ago. But neither one was really outstanding. The momentum started to build last week, but there's just not enough critical mass to really carry them that far right now. Last week, it took pretty much everything they had to get a win over one of the weakest teams in the conference. Shepherd may be down some right now, but they haven't fallen that far that fast: this is still a team that dominated Charleston and Seton Hill (two teams on a similar level with West Liberty and West Virginia State) by a comined score of 123-16. Tommy Addison will get plenty of carries, and Shepherd bounces back this week (I mean it this time).

Prediction: Shepherd 35, West Liberty 14

Seton Hill (0-6, 0-4) at Concord (3-3, 3-1)

Poor Seton Hill. After last week, I really don't think the Griffins will win another game this season. That's really a shame given that there is some real talent on this Seton Hill team. The running game that looked at least decent earlier this year was almost an absolute disaster last week against Charleston. The offense is relying way too much on the combination of Ryan Morris throwing to Jeorge Valdovinos. Don't get me wrong: Valdovinos is one of those talents that's on this team. But you can only go to the well so many times before the well runs dry. The defense has been an even bigger disappointment: over 42 points per game allowed from a team that has solid players like Nick McGahagan.

Concord won't help Seton Hill's cause this week. I watched the Mountain Lions play in Glenville (a town that doesn't deserve the bad rap that some people on the message board seem to give it; yes, it's definitely off the beaten path, but the people are great and contrary to popular belief, the Pizza Hut is NOT the best restaurant in town), and Glenville State's defense simply disrupted Zack Grossi and his receivers all day long. The secondary made a number of good, clean plays to break up good passes, and the line actually got to Grossi a couple times, something that's hard to do against quite possibly the best offensive line in the conference. Personally, I think having Brian Kennedy would have been a big help: Chris Rodriguez is a good #2 runningback, but he did not look like a #1 guy, and it was clear there wasn't much depth beyond that on the team. Kennedy should be back to almost full health, and Concord's offense will be desperate to score early and score often. Again, like I said, poor Seton Hill.

Prediction: Concord 49, Seton Hill 14

Glenville State (3-3, 3-0) at West Virginia State (1-4, 1-2)

Right now, the best team in the WVIAC might not actually be the one with an undefeated record.

A month ago, there's no way I would have believed that I would be saying this, but the best football being played in the conference right now is coming from Glenville State. I attributed holding West Liberty to 14 points in a dominant win two weeks ago to the Hilltoppers' offensive, um, struggles (I had to replace the word I originally had there). But after holding Concord to just a field goal, I'm sold: the defense is now looking like they are for real, and I can point to certain players who are making that happen. Like DB Norman Seignious (who's not bad in the return game either). And DB Brandon Absher, who seemed like he was getting his name called on about every other play. And LB Nate Ingersoll, who was pretty much flying to wherever the football was and had a huge part in stuffing the Mountain Lions running game.

The Pioneers' problem right now, though, is that they lost quarterback Darold Hughes for a little bit. I can't confirm this, but early reports looked like Hughes re-injured his Achilles tendon in the first quarter of last week's game. Good thing backup Steffen Colon had gotten some action in the first couple games this season because he had to suddenly figure out how to get the offense going, as the 7-3 halftime lead was because of special teams, not offense. You could tell that the playbook had been shrunk some for Colon, but that should change at least a little this week if he ends up starting.

But as the Pioneers are over their win over Concord and mentally getting ready for West Virginia Wesleyan, West Virginia State may have an opportunity to pull off a surprise. After all, Ricky Phillips is also a very capable quarterback. Fabian Payne has already had a couple 100 yard games this season. The Yellow Jackets are surely disappointed in how they lost to West Liberty, but now they've spent more time being in contention in games. They know how it feels to be close and have a chance to win, and as they experience it more, they'll get better at it.

Yes, this is a trap game for Glenville State. But I think there's just more talent there for the Pioneers such that, even if they are looking ahead a bit, they'll still be able to win comfortably. After all, I still think they're the best team right now in the WVIAC.

Prediction: Glenville State 31, West Virginia State 13

Game of the Week
Fairmont State (5-1, 2-1) at #23 West Virginia Wesleyan (6-0, 3-0)

I'll start by apologizing to folks in Buckhannon. I like your town; I really do. It's charming, there's some pretty good food (not just the Mexican restaurant that seems to go by three or four different names), and the West Virginia Wesleyan campus is beautiful. But I will not be there this weekend for this week's game. No, this has nothing to do with the press box being only slighly larger than my dining room, but some sort of upgrade there would definitely help encourage me to come back sooner.

Now that that's off my chest, we can talk about football. Despite these teams' records, I can find plenty of problems in each one. Fairmont State's pass defense still appears suspect: as the run defense has steadily improved, the pass defense has become more of a question mark in my mind. Penalties can still be a big problem for this team. Yes, the offense looked good last week, but let's be honest: Bowie State is a weak 3-3 team, and putting up 49 points on them looks a little more impressive than it actually is. What the Falcons do have going for them is the play of Matt Wilmer, not just in the return game but also as someone who is looking now like a #2 receiver (I'm not sure what has happened to Chris Saint Hilaire the last couple of games, but he basically hasn't been seen).

West Virginia Wesleyan, meanwhile, has had a tougher road the last two weeks. A close game against Shepherd is to be somewhat expected, and Adam Neugebauer needed all of his over 400 yards in the air not just to win but to help offset the net negative rushing yards for the team in the game. Penalties and turnovers are still a problem for this team, and the defense has given up 70 points in the last two games combined. And despite all of this, the Bobcats are still somehow undefeated.

Now I'm going to skip ahead just a little bit here. West Virginia Wesleyan is now right in the middle of a tough three game stretch: home against Shepherd, home against Fairmont State, and a road trip to Glenville State next week. I will say this now: the Bobcats will not make it through that three-game stretch undefeated. Neugebauer, T.J. Benners and Jon Meadows simply cannot do pretty much everything on offense for this team. The defense has to improve. Silly mistakes must be avoided. West Virginia Wesleyan knows this, and most of these players remember how those things killed their playoff chances last year. Against Fairmont State (albeit on the road), the Bobcats had a started the second half with four straight turnovers. The Falcons turned them into four straight touchdowns. Right then, the game was pretty much over, and even with two losses, so were the Bobcats' playoff chances. After the way things went last year, this is a revenge game for the Bobcats, and once again, a 9-2 record isn't going to get them into the playoffs on their strength of schedule.

In the end, I think the Bobcats' offense will once again be too much for Fairmont State to be able to keep up. Oh, the Falcons will keep things interesting, and yes, Logan Moore is a good quarterback, but he's no Adam Neugebauer. He'll have to be perfect for the Falcons to win, and that's too much to expect.

Prediction: West Virginia Wesleyan 40, Fairmont State 37

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  1. bobedge's Avatar
    I am the person (bob) that said that Shepherd would lose in OT. Would like to discuss. Do u have d2football e-mail.
  2. David Bykowski's Avatar
    I'm always available by email at david.bykowski@d2football.com.