UC still hoping for postseason bid
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A chance for some postseason football is still within reach of the University of Charleston.
But the Golden Eagles, who face West Virginia State at 1 p.m. today at UC Stadium, need a victory and a bit of assistance, as well as maybe a break in tradition.
UC (8-2) enters today's season finale as the No. 7 team in the NCAA Division II's Super Region 1 rankings and, in all likelihood, must finish the season in the top six to earn one of six regional playoffs berths.
The Golden Eagles not only need to defeat the Yellow Jackets (2-8) but must concern themselves with the Shepherd Rams (7-2), who are ranked No. 6 in the region and play host to Fairmont State today. Shepherd also leads the West Virginia Conference with a 6-1 record in league play; UC, Concord and Glenville are 5-2.
If the Rams win today and tradition holds, Shepherd will be the only WVC team chosen for postseason play, leaving UC out in the cold.
"A Shepherd loss to Fairmont would be a great situation for us,'' said UC coach Pat Kirkland.
Since the WVC debuted in the NCAA playoffs in 1997, no more than one league member has ever been chosen for the annual postseason competition. In some years, WVC teams were shut out entirely.
Thus, the Golden Eagles know they must win today and keep an eye on the Shepherd game, which begins at noon.
Tradition aside, Kirkland believes it's reasonable that both Shepherd and UC should advance to the six-team regional playoff. After all, the 16-team Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference regularly sends two, three and sometimes four teams to the playoff.
The tradition of picking just one WVC team for postseason play, said Kirkland, is outdated, or at least should be.
"I think everybody is basing that on a ways ago,'' he said. "As of late, our conference has had success in playing out-of-conference schools, a lot of success. I was in the conference at Glenville from 2000 to 2005 and came back [to the conference] after being at WVU, and the conference has changed drastically in the six years I was gone. The players are better, the coaching staffs are larger and the schools have committed more resources to the programs. This conference can compete with any of them.''
The prospect of postseason play should add to UC's motivation today, said State coach Earl Monroe.
"They're playing well, and I think they still have a chance to go to the playoffs, so they still have a lot to play for,'' he said.
Teams are chosen for the postseason not only on their won-lost records but their strength of schedule. The Golden Eagles own two nonconference victories - over Shaw University of Raleigh, N.C., and UNC-Pembroke - that bolster their case, Kirkland said.
"We had a few good ones,'' he said. "We beat a Shaw team that had a couple big wins and almost a couple more big wins early in the year. And at the time when we beat UNC-Pembroke, they were in the top 25 in the country. That was a big win for us. We're in the top few in our region in what they call the OWP, which is your opponents' winning percentage.''
West Virginia State has lost five straight and ranks last in the conference in scoring at 17.8 points a game and last in points allowed at 40.4.
"We've moved the ball fairly consistently the last few weeks,'' said Monroe, "but we've had problems in the red zone. For whatever reason, we can't get the ball in the end zone. We have turnovers or costly penalties or something like that. That's been plaguing us quite a bit the last few weeks. The guys are still practicing hard and playing hard. We met at 7 a.m. [Tuesday] on defense and met at 7 a.m. [Wednesday] on offense. We're still fighting every week to try to win.''
The Super Region 1 playoff is one of four six-team playoffs in Division II's 24-team postseason championship.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.