The Keystone race is now down to two – Shippensburg and West Virginia. Going into the weekend, the Mountaineers needed to beat Temple and earn a bonus point in doing so, and they needed Shippensburg to beat St. Joe’s without scoring a bonus point, and without the Hawks scoring two.
All that happened, as Shippensburg won 19-14 and WVU won 66-24. Now, all that stands between the Mountaineers and a conference title and playoff berth is a bonus point win against winless West Chester Saturday. The Mountaineers will be tied with Shippensburg in league points if they get their bonus-point win next week, but they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker having beaten Ship by two in the league opener.
West Virginia, which finished fifth in the Keystone last year, fell to St. Joe’s by one point back in September. Since then, they’ve scored max points in every game.
“We knew from then onwards all we had to do was just look out for ourselves,” said West Virginia coach Richard Glover. “We set out to win a bonus point in every game, and so far so good.”
Saturday’s win didn’t come easy, as the Owls had West Virginia on the ropes early. They led 12-3 midway through the first half, but by the time the whistle blew for intermission, the Mountaineers had claimed a 12-point lead and their fourth try to secure the bonus point.
“We definitely were riled a bit by Temple. We weren’t expecting to completely destroy them, but I guess we got ahead of ourselves and were chasing the game too much,” said Glover. “Temple came out very strong, and fair play to them, they scored two fantastic tries and put us on the back foot. Luckily, we kind of pulled back in the last 20 minutes of the half and really turned up the gears.”
The Mountaineers didn’t stop playing rugby in the second stanza, as they outscored the Owls 42-12.
“We knew we had to look after ourselves, knowing there was a chance it would come down to points difference and tries, so the main mission the second half was to keep that deficit as strong as possible and really get the points on and push on,” added Glover. “Luckily in the second half we did that. We really met them strength for strength and we scored some really nice tries.”
Leading West Virginia in tries on the day, and all season, was No. 8 Ryan Blythe. He dotted down four tries against Temple, marking his third game in a row with at least three.
“He’s just an absolute star. I wish I had about six players like him,” said Glover of Blythe. “He’s a very physical player, makes great turnovers, great carries.”
Orchestrating the attack was scrumhalf Ayato Ushio, a Japanese foreign exchange student who goes back home after this semester.
“He was put under a lot of pressure yesterday. The ref didn’t really police the offside line well, but he’s a real star for us,” said Glover of Ushio. “He’s one of the best foreign exchange students we’ve ever had at the club. His passing is just fantastic. He’s really changed the whole pace of rugby that we play.”
Making a big difference for the Mountaineers this year, too, is the presence of Glover. The team was student-run and coached previously, and Glover, a Northern Ireland native, stepped in as head coach last spring.
"I inherited a team that was really humble and had a desire to win," said Glover. "They had the talent, and they have the mindset to learn and develop and get better, and that's why we're experiencing success."