Williams sparks Golden Eagles, defense seals win
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former George Washington High School star Shaquille Williams is finding life as a college football star quite satisfying.
After two weeks for the University of Charleston, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound redshirt freshman is also finding it productive.
Williams set a school record with a 99-yard catch-and-run with 7:12 left in the third quarter and the Golden Eagles' defense held Great Lakes Valley Conference member St. Joseph's (Ind.) scoreless in the second half of a 33-14 victory over the Pumas (1-1) at University of Charleston Stadium on Thursday night.
On a record-setting night during which UC lost star running back Jordan Roberts and starting quarterback Maurice Leak, it was the unheralded Golden Eagles who stepped into the spotlight.
Charleston placekicker Puma Nuredini, who set a school record with three field goals in last week's 44-26 season-opening victory over Shaw, set another school mark on Thursday with a 49-yard field goal that concluded the scoring with 13:33 remaining in the game.
Still, the game's most electrifying play came with UC (2-0) in the shadow of its own end zone clinging to a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter.
A Gavin Voss punted was downed at the UC 1 and a false start moved the ball back inches before the gamebreaking connection from backup quarterback John Knox - a freshman - to Williams.
"One-hundred percent our offensive coordinator Jason Vrable," UC Coach Pat Kirkland said. "He said he had complete confidence in John Knox, so let's take a shot and I said, 'Go for it.' That's a great call."
Knox and Williams were surprised with the call, considering UC was without Roberts - the Harlon Hill Award candidate - and Leak.
Roberts - who was "feeling under the weather" prior to gametime - left the game after scoring on a 14-yard run with 5:37 left in the first half. He sat on the sidelines while trainers tended to him after gaining 85 yards on 14 carries and scoring on a 32-yard catch. He expects to play one week from Saturday when the Golden Eagles (2-0) open West Virginia Conference play at Concord. Leak left the game late in the first quarter after injuring his foot, leading to the emergence of Knox.
"We called a play action, I'm supposed to sell it, take my time, just a nice little post route, across the seam and he put it right on the money," said Williams, who beat the coverage of sophomore cornerback Chris Edgerton and outraced he and defensive back Kevin Isom to the end zone.
This was the second touchdown in two weeks for Williams, and the second career touchdown pass for Knox, who also completed the 32-yarder to Roberts.
"Honestly, I was a little bit surprised (with the call)," Knox said. "They were coming down hard on the run, so I figured we would do play action, but I didn't know it would be that play.
"I saw (Shaq) beat his man and I just thought to myself, 'You can not mess this throw up, you can not mess this throw up.' Luckily I didn't mess it up, I hit him right on stride and he ran it out."
The result was disappointing to St. Joseph's second-year Coach Cory Sanders, whose team was coming off a 36-34 win over FCS foe Valparaiso.
"Our punter did a heck of a job pinning them down there, we knew the play action was coming, the way we practiced, driving the top shoulder, they made a hell of a throw and catch," Sanders said.
UC's sixth consecutive victory was sealed by the defense and Nuredini. St. Joseph's wide receiver Julian Walker had 11 catches for 205 yards and two touchdowns against Valparaiso, but UC held him to 47 yards on nine catches. His longest reception was 12 yards and he averaged only 5.2 yards per catch.
Nuredini's first missed field goal of the season was a block, but he rebounded with the 49-yarder. He also punted four times for an average of 44.8 yards with all four kicks landing inside the 20.
Defensively, UC held the Pumas to 224 total yards and 2.1 yards per carry after St. Joseph's rolled up 549 yards against Valpo.
"It's huge, it's huge," said Kirkland of his team stepping up in the absence of two of its stars. "That's something that maybe a year ago we wouldn't have felt as good about. Credit to those guys, C.J. Stallworth, Dustin Phelps, John Knox and Jason Vrable coaches both of those positions.
"I can't say enough about how some of these young guys have progressed."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.