Redshirt sophomore running back Josh Cummings cuts downfield

Source: Mountaineer Athletics

Mountaineers knock off the Yellow Jackets

The Mountaineers’ offensive firepower was on full display Saturday, Oct. 16 during a comfortable 44-28 home victory. The Mountaineers scored a touchdown in every quarter, and went into halftime up 20-7. With the win, they move to 6-1 for the season (5-1 RMAC).

Racking up 660 total offensive yards, 400 on the ground, the Mountaineers converted 29 first downs and moved the ball with ease throughout the game. The Mountaineers rushed 47 times, averaging a stellar 8.5 yards per carry. 

Black Hills State University, in contrast, relied heavily on their pass game to move the ball, passing 29 times for 378 yards. Despite rushing 35 times, the Yellow Jacks netted just 40 yards, a 1.1 yard average per carry. 

Redshirt sophomore Josh Cummings broke the 200-yard mark on the ground, amassing 206 rushing yards and two scores. Fellow redshirt sophomore Devyon Butler rushed 14 times for 187 yards and hauled in three passes for 61 yards. 

Nine different Mountaineers caught passes from QB Connor Desch, who finished 15-26 on the day with a touchdown, a pick, and 236 yards passing. The touchdown went to redshirt junior receiver Malik White. 

The Mountaineer defense combined for six sacks on the day. Redshirt junior defensive back Darrious Gaines recorded a team-thigh eight tackles and broke up a Yellow Jacket passing attempt. 

Freshman punter Kyle Yonker also played well, punting three times for a 45 yard average and putting two inside the 20. 

Cummings stellar in his sophomore year

Josh Cummings

Source: Mountaineer Athletics

Cummings has been excellent as the premier back for the Mountaineers this season, gaining more than 850 net yards on the ground thus far. He has scored 13 touchdowns through seven games, with four games remaining on the schedule. Cummings will still have two years of eligibility remaining after this season. 

Cummings first came to campus in fall 2017 from Fairbanks, Alaska. It was difficult for him to get recruited out of a remote location where college scouts didn’t know the level of high school competition, but Cummings attended a number of recruiting and scouting camps throughout the west and in Alaska. As a result, he drew interest from a number of D-II schools scattered across the western states. Cummings ultimate went with Western’s offer thanks to Assistant Coach Todd Auers’ open and honest approach, which he noted is rare in the recruiting world. 

Cummings redshirted his first year on campus, then tore his ACL in the first game of 2018, forcing a medical redshirt. His expected recovery time frame was about a year, but Cummings came back in 9 months to prepare to play in the 2019 season. Cummings said he was largely limited to third down situations and goalline situations that year due to the coach’s concerns about overuse after his injury. Nevertheless, he rushed 87 times for 339 yards and eight touchdowns.

Fast forward to 2020. “The Covid season was really rough, just super depressing actually,” said Cummings, noting that it was a struggle to even practice over the summer and fall. The team only snuck in about a month of official practices after a late start. The Mountaineers traveled to Texas in late October and lost to Stephen F. Austin, a Division-I FCS team, 64-7. After that game, Covid quickly ended the season. 

Now in his fourth year at Western, Cummings says he has broken his personal records in the weightroom nearly every year and cut his 40-yard dash time from 4.69 in high school down to 4.5 seconds in his time at Western. He is also more durable now due to his added strength, and places more emphasis on maintaining his body through stretching and healthy eating. 

Cummings is the starting back on a Western team that loves to establish the running game, calling as many as 40 or 50 rushing plays per game. “We really like to run the ball against anyone we are playing. We really like to establish the run first,” said Cummings. “If we can run the ball, that opens up our pass, and if we can start opening up our pass then that opens up our run even more.” 

Cummings, at 5’11” and 205 lbs., is a versatile back who runs downhill with physicality but can also break for the outside or catch a pass as needed. He received the RMAC Offensive Player of the Week award in mid-September after accumulating two touchdowns and 124 yards against Western New Mexico on just 14 carries, nearly nine yards a touch. 

Source: Mountaineer Athletics

“It’s something I thought I would never actually get,” Cummings said of the award, which no Mountaineer has won since Mountaineer alum Austin Ekeler, who played at Western from 2013 to 2016, nabbed the award in 2015. Ekeler is now the starting running back for the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL. This is Ekeler’s fifth season with the Chargers after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017. 

Cummings has become a veritable star in his own right with his play in 2021, and the Mountaineers have elevated themselves from their 2019 effort (5-6 overall, 5-5 RMAC) to have a stellar season.

Posed with the question of why this team is special, Cummings had a clear answer. “We’ve all gone through a bunch of stuff, Covid and all that, and we have all been going through the same things. But I feel like us being together through all that has made us closer as a team; we are more friends and brothers than teammates at this point. We are all just out there trying to have fun with each other.”

Cummings noted that his goal is to run for 1000 yards this season. That goal would only require him to rush for a little more than 37 yards per contest for the remaining regular season games, well below his more than 100-yard game average. And that is not to mention a possible playoff berth. 

To that end, the Mountaineers are hoping to win out their final four games and get selected for the Division-II playoffs, where a rematch with Colorado School of Mines, who the Mountaineers fell to 20-14 on Oct. 2, could await. In Division-II football, ever since the format was changed in 2016, the top seven teams from each region make the four regional bracket groups, with the top team in its region receiving a bye. 

Next up, the Mountaineers will travel to South Dakota to play the Hardrockers of South Dakota Mines this Saturday, Oct. 23. The Hardrockers are 4-3 overall and 2-3 in the RMAC heading into the matchup. For Cummings, the key to the game for Western is to get out and score quickly,  looking to take control of the game and the clock with a bruising and efficient run-dominant offense. 

After the Hardrockers, the team has three straight home games to end the season against Colorado Mesa (Oct. 30), Lincoln from California (Nov. 6), and CSU Pueblo (Nov. 13).