CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Is there a Mountain East Conference football team out there with the wherewithal to challenge Shepherd's supremacy in the league?
After convincingly handing the University of Charleston its first league loss (28-9) last weekend, the NCAA Division II 12th-ranked Rams (5-0 overall, 4-0 in the MEC) seem like a good bet to continue their unbeaten ways when they visit winless Virginia-Wise (0-5, 0-3) at noon Saturday.
UC's loss leaves Shepherd and Concord as the lone unbeaten teams in league play. Concord (4-1, 3-0) doesn't face Shepherd until the final game of the season (Nov. 16), so the Mountain Lions' game at Urbana (3-2, 3-1) at noon Saturday looms as the MEC's game to watch this week.
It'll be a matchup of Urbana, the league's best passing team, against Concord, the MEC's best - in fact the nation's best - at defending the pass.
Urbana quarterback D.J. Mendenhall won his second MEC offensive player of the week award after throwing for 297 yards and six touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing in last weekend's 62-10 rout of West Virginia State. Mendenhall, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior, leads the MEC with 1,665 passing yards and 17 touchdown throws.
On Saturday, though, Mendenhall and the Blue Knights will face a Concord defense that leads not only the MEC but also the D2 nation in fewest passing yards allowed per game (103.2) and has yielded just one TD pass in five games. Concord junior defensive back Mike Carey won MEC defensive player of the week honors after snagging two second-half interceptions and coming up with six tackles in the Mountain Lions' 34-17 home win over Fairmont State.
With a 28-21 loss to Shepherd on Sept. 21 already in the books, Urbana needs a win over Concord and some help - maybe from the Mountain Lions in the final week? - to knock Shepherd off the MEC top spot. The toughest task on the Urbana schedule after Saturday looks like a final-week showdown at home against UC.
Concord, meanwhile, will have tough tests at UC (Oct. 26) and Notre Dame (Nov. 9) before finishing with Shepherd.
In other MEC games Saturday: