Apparently, West Virginia State learned its lesson - but not a moment too soon.
In their first home game three weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets failed to protect a halftime lead against Virginia State and consequently saw a two-year losing streak continue to grow. On Saturday, they found themselves in the same position - desperately clinging to a late-game lead - only this time, they held on. Just barely.
State's defense held Seton Hill on three plays from the 15-yard line in the closing seconds to secure a 27-21 West Virginia Conference victory in the muck and mire of water-logged Lakin Field.
The dramatic finish in front of a homecoming crowd of 797 ended a 13-game losing streak for the Jackets (1-3, 1-1), who hadn't won since Nov. 7, 2009 against Fairmont State.
"I tell the guys all the time not to get too low over a loss or too high over a win,'' said State coach Earl Monroe, "but I've got to let the lettermen enjoy this a little bit. It's been a long time coming. You want to get that one off your back, and hopefully we can start a new streak.''
The Yellow Jackets were cruising along with a 27-7 halftime lead Saturday, getting starring efforts from running back Fabian Payne, quarterback Ricky Phillips and receiver Landon Johnson.
Phillips threw for three first-half touchdowns - 36 yards to Payne on a beautifully executed screen pass, 30 yards to tight end Nicholas Ortiz on a sweet play fake and 36 yards to Ervin Kent on a classic post pattern. Payne also caught the Griffins napping on a 91-yard TD burst around left end and down the sideline.
But it nearly all went for naught when the offense somehow dried up in the second half on the rain-soaked field.
The Jackets' seven second-half possessions resulted in six three-and-outs and a lost fumble on first down. State mustered just 8 yards on offense and zero first downs in the entire half. That allowed Seton Hill (0-5, 0-3) to creep back into contention.
To make matters worse, State's final three-and-out wasn't even followed by a punt as it tried to milk the clock, leading 27-21 with less than a minute left. In the tricky conditions, punter Dave Wissler couldn't handle the snap from his own 42 and the Griffins' Jason Russell was on top of him as he tried to boot the ball. It resulted in a punt of minus-7 yards and Seton Hill took over at the State 35 with 39 seconds to go, needing a TD and extra point to win.
A second-down scramble of 15 yards by quarterback Ryan Morris put the Griffins at the 15 with 17 seconds remaining - enough time for three plays.
On first down, Morris' arm was hit by rushing lineman Akeem Nofiu and the ball fell harmlessly to the mud. On second down, Morris tried to find tight end Zach Delo on a curl pattern at the goal line, but defensive back Cooksey Hunter jumped in front of Delo and nearly intercepted the ball, leaving three seconds on the clock.
"My gloves were so slippery,'' Hunter said. "I tried to dry them off, but my whole uniform is wet.''