College Football, Minus the Fanfare

Not even 24 hours after the bright lights shined down on the Mountaineer Field turf for the varsity team's nationally-televised matchup with Colorado, a less-heralded group of players took to the field with significantly less fanfare for its competition day.

At first glance, the West Virginia junior varsity squad looks much the same as its top-tier counterparts.

They wear the same jerseys and helmets with the same "Flying WV" logo. Perhaps the most notable difference is that those jerseys don't have name plates sewn onto the back -- only the player's number.

The scene in the stands stands in stark contrast to the one that transpired in the same stadium the previous night.

On one side of the stands, massive bags filled with trash left behind by fans from the previous night's game are strewn across the stadium steps. On the opposite side, the refuse remained ungathered, littering the aluminum bleachers and the aisles alike.

In the same place where more than 60,000 people had gathered the night before, only around 100 fans were seated when the game began at 1:00 p.m. Around half of those were loved ones of players from Fork Union Military Academy, which provided the opposition on Friday afternoon.

The massive video board that resides at the Puskar Center side of the stadium remained black. Only the smaller, dot matrix scoreboard attached to the facing of the Touchdown Terrace was in use.

Where verbal communication between players, coaches and officials can be a near impossibility during a varsity game, no such issues existed during the JV game.

Along the sidelines, even a reporter (yours truly) was able to chat with the referees between plays, after the back judge threw a flag on WVU for having too many men on the field to return a punt. West Virginia wasn't just one player over the limit of 11 -- indeed, there were 13 men on the field to return the kick. The five-yard penalty gave Fork Union a first down.

Along the sidelines, the Mountaineer coaching staff watched the action, most of them wearing sweatshirts and jeans. They didn't do any of the coaching, however, leaving that job to the team's graduate assistants. Instead, they mingled with some of the varsity players, many of whom showed up in street clothes to prowl the sidelines, offer encouragement, and in the case of slot receiver Carmen Connelly, even help call and signal in plays.

Of course, the biggest difference may be in the quality of football played by the two squads. Penalties were almost too numerous to count, and even a simple shotgun snap was an adventure on more than one occasion, as low snaps rolled across the ground and led to either lost yardage or turnovers.

The game was an old-fashioned defensive struggle, with field position playing the biggest key. Fork Union held the edge in that area for the vast majority of the game, but couldn't capitalize.

West Virginia, with Coley White at quarterback, finally managed a sustained drive and was in position to score in the fourth quarter.

White took off up the middle and gained solid yardage before a Fork Union defender hit the ball squarely with his helmet on a tackle attempt, popping the ball into the air. The defense came away with the fumble to end the threat.

The Mountaineer defense made its first key mistake of the game on the ensuing series, as a long pass play put Fork Union in the red zone in the closing minutes. With 1:30 left, FUMA quarterback Myles McKee found Michael Davis crossing the middle of the field for a 5-yard touchdown pass.

Without a viable option to kick field goals, the team went for a 2-point conversion. A bad snap rolled on the ground before being picked up by WVU's Benji Powers, who returned the fumble around 80 yards for a defensive 2-point conversion.

A long kickoff return allowed White and company to start in Fork Union territory, but the quarterback was sacked on third down and threw an interception on fourth-and-14 to seal the win for the visitors.

While the final tally of 6-2 may have looked like something one would see more typically at the WVU baseball team's Hawley Field, there were no hits or errors on the scoreboard.

The players all shook hands in a long, organized line not unlike what one sees after a high school game. Afterwards, the junior varsity players headed to the locker room to deal with the same bumps and bruises that their varsity counterparts do.

While they don't receive the same attention as the players who suited up against Colorado for a Thursday night game on national television, they still play the same game for the same school.

There are many stark differences between the two teams, but the fact that the players thrive on competition remains the same.


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