The challenge is clear.
When Fairmont State University (2-4, 1-4 Mountain East Conference) travels to Urbana (5-2, 5-1 MEC) for a noon game today, the Falcons will be trying to contain the Blue Knights’ top 10 passing offense led by quarterback D.J. Mendenhall, a preseason All-American who has thrown for more than 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
“He’s the real deal,” first-year Fairmont State coach Jason Woodman said. “He has a really good arm. He can make every throw. And they do some stuff schematically that puts him and their offense in advantages, whether it’s play action or using matchups on certain guys.”
What isn’t so clear is how to deal with this challenge.
The Falcons may count on senior linebacker Garrett Davis, the heart of the defense who ranks 13th in the nation with 46 tackles … Or defensive end Jake Kelly, who is 12th in the country with seven sacks ... Or linebacker Ryan Watts or defensive back Dominik Mensah, two players who lead the team with two interceptions each.
But they won’t.
Though Woodman said, “The one thing I continue to be happy about is the desire and determination that we’re playing with on defense,” he is looking elsewhere.
Instead of putting the pressure on Davis or Kelly or Watts or Mensah or any other player from the defense that is ranked second in the Mountain East Conference against the pass, he’ll instead count on his offense.
“More than what our defense does, I think the key to it is what we can do offensively and what we can do to keep (Mendenhall) off the field,” Woodman said.
That pressure naturally falls on the quarterback Cooper Hibbs. Like the rest of the offense, he’s experienced a bit of an up-and-down season.
Look no further than the Falcons’ last outing against West Liberty in which Hibbs threw for a season-high 257 yards and two touchdowns, but also three interceptions.
“Cooper is just like the rest of the young guys on our team in the sense that he continues to get better each week. It doesn’t always show on game day,” Woodman said. “I think he’s improving, and he’ll get better. He’ll just have to work like the rest of the team.”
It doesn’t help Hibbs much that wide receiver Chris St. Hilaire, who ranks eighth in Fairmont State history with 1,676 receiving yards, has been sidelined with a foot injury since the second quarter of week two.
Freshman Fabian Guerra has begun to step up in his absence, catching nine balls for 114 yards and a touchdown against West Liberty.
But still, Hibbs admits that he and the offense are a work in progress.
“We’re starting to get that chemistry down a little better every single week. But we’ve got to get better,” he said. “I feel that I should be at a different level than I’ve been recently. I feel like I plateaued a little bit.”
Junior running back Daniel Monroe will help take some of the pressure off Hibbs. After missing the first five games with a knee injury, he returned against the Hilltoppers to rush for just 39 yards on 21 carries.
Woodman said that the bye week helped Monroe to continue to get healthier and get closer to the form that helped him rack up more than 1,700 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in two seasons at Fairmont State.
“For him specifically, the bye week was seven more days to get back into football playing condition,” Woodman said. “He wasn’t quite up to game condition. And at times you could see it. He didn’t really have legs when he was in the game for a longer period of time.”
Despite the challenges that the Falcons face, they said they are looking to make improvements today.
And for Hibbs, maybe even more than that.
“We’re looking to make a statement,” Hibbs said. “Granted we’re 2-4 and we don’t have the best record. But we can still play with the best of them.”
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.
The challenge is clear.
- Fairmont State Sports
FSU men, women miss NCAA Tournament
For a season that had its ups and downs for Fairmont State, both the men’s and women’s teams just missed the cut for the NCAA Tournament.
FSU’s rally falls short against ’Toppers
Twenty minutes into Saturday night’s Mountain East Conference semifinal-round showdown between top-seeded and No. 3 ranked West Liberty and fourth-seeded Fairmont State here at the Charleston Civic Center the Falcons looked down and out.
Cooper leads FSU past Bobcats, 70-62
Brendan Cooper played liked a first-team all-league selection even though he strangely wasn't, and Chase Morgan did what he does best in the game's final 1:18 – hit shots.
The result was a 70-62 Fairmont State victory over fifth-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan Friday evening in the quarterfinals of the Mountain East Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.
West Liberty, Glenville, Charleston advance to MEC semi-final
Charleston out-lasted Wheeling Jesuit, 91-85, in overtime in the first quarterfinal of the Mountain East Conference Tournament presented by GoMart on Friday afternoon.
Andre Harris, who finished with a game-high 22 points, picked up a steal and then converted a traditional three-point play to put Wheeling Jesuit up 76-73 with :21 seconds left.
Cold-shooting Lady Falcons fall to State
In its biggest game of the season to date Fairmont State suffered its worst performance.
Fifth-seeded FSU shot a season-low 29.5 percent from the field (18-of-61), including a dismal 8-of-33 showing (24.2 percent) in the second half and as a result fell, 71-59, to fourth-seeded West Virginia State in the quarterfinals of the first Mountain East Conference Women's Basketball Tournament here Thursday night at the Charleston Civic Center.
Falcons hope for tournament run
Since day one, making another post-season run has been at the top of Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun’s mind.
Last season the Falcons went three-for-four in the WVIAC Tournament, falling to West Liberty in the tournament’s final game. The strong run, though, propelled the Falcons into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed.
FSU women roll in MEC Tourney opener
Fifth-seeded Fairmont State didn't waste any time Tuesday night punching its ticket for Charleston and earning a berth in the Mountain East Conference Women's Basketball Tournament quarterfinals Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center.
Wimbush named MEC Freshman of the Year
Thomas Wimbush has been named Mountain East Conference Freshman of the Year, as announced by the league office this afternoon. Wimbush also joined teammates Stevie Browning and Brendan Cooper on the MEC second team.
FSU women to open MEC Tournament
When Fairmont State’s women’s basketball team toppled Shepherd, 103-80, Saturday, coach Steve McDonald didn’t know who his team would face.
Falcons edge Shepherd, earn first-round bye: PHOTOS
The scenario Saturday afternoon on Senior Day for Fairmont State's men's basketball team in its regular-season finale against visiting Shepherd University was pretty simple.
Win and receive an automatic first-round bye in the upcoming Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament. Lose and host a first-round game Tuesday night at the Joe Retton Arena.
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