WVC football: UC inches closer to postseason berth
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston offense is built around the West Virginia Conference's leading rusher, a running quarterback, and patience.
Lots and lots of patience.
On Saturday at Russek Field, the Golden Eagles continued to march toward their first NCAA Division II playoff berth by sticking with their game plan in a 27-14 West Virginia Conference victory over West Liberty (4-4, 3-3).
Charleston (7-1, 4-1) ran for 286 yards and the conference's leading defense held West Liberty to 176 total yards - 111 fewer than the Hilltoppers had averaged.
Statistically, the Golden Eagles dominated shorthanded West Liberty, which was playing without its leading rusher Kenjay Trueblood - who was nursing a separated shoulder suffered last week against Shepherd - and defensive tackle Matthew Betz - a key piece of the defensive rotation.
Still, through untimely penalties, turnovers and the failure to capitalize on opportunities, UC led only 6-0 at halftime.
"We can't get off the hill soon enough," said second-year UC Coach Pat Kirkland, whose team didn't seal the result until a time-killing drive after defensive lineman Dylan March forced a fumble at the Golden Eagles' 31 with 6 minutes left. "I can't wait to see the tape to see what we're doing wrong. That's what was stopping us was the penalties, and we left a lot out there."
It was the fifth consecutive road victory for the Golden Eagles, which hasn't lost outside of UC Stadium since a 19-14 setback to Fairmont State on Oct. 1, 2011 extended Kirkland's tenure-starting losing streak to five games.
The backbreaker for West Liberty, which became a player in the conference race after last week's 17-16 win over Shepherd, was an 82-yard touchdown run by All-American Jordan Roberts.
"I thought we ran the ball pretty good (in the first half), we hit a few crucial passes, we just couldn't punch it in," said Roberts, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season and has 1,068 yards on 166 carries and 11 touchdowns. "I felt like our offense didn't get down on itself and we just bounced back and finished the game."
Roberts, who actually has a Wikipedia page, had only 98 yards on 15 carries before his season-long touchdown run.
"They packed the box," Kirkland said. "We changed up the personnel grouping a little bit and we had a hat for a hat and we blocked it well. Jordan made a good read and was able to break one tackle."
His run gave UC a 13-0 lead and the Golden Eagles appeared ready to break the game open when senior defensive back Andrew Okokhere intercepted a Dylan LaGarde pass at midfield.
However, on the return, West Liberty's Darrell Stanley forced a fumble recovered by Isiah Moody, who promptly returned it for a touchdown to cut the lead to 13-7.
"I've never seen that before," UC defensive end Jeff Green said. "We did a good job holding up and bouncing back after that."
The Golden Eagles had another chance to extend the lead, but a 43-yard field goal attempt in swirling winds went wide left.
The teams traded scores - an eight-play 46-yard drive for UC and a seven-play 74-yard march for the hosts - to make it 20-14 with 9 minutes remaining.
West Liberty saw yet another opportunity when it regained possession at its own 20 and 7:16 showing on the clock.
UC defensive back Ricky Steele intercepted LaGarde near midfield, but a roughing-the-passer penalty and personal foul resulted in 30 yards in penalties followed by two runs totaling 19 yards put the ball at the UC 31 with less than 2 minutes left.
On the next running play, junior third-string running back picked up 3 yards before fumbling the ball back to UC. It was McBride's fifth carry of the game and only 21st this season.
A 79-yard drive against a deflated West Liberty defense was capped by a 22-yard touchdown run from freshman quarterback John Knox with 1:21 remaining wrapped up one of UC's best defensive performances of the season.
"It felt great," said defensive end Jeff Green, who had one solo tackle while being shadowed by a second blocker most of the game. "I knew our offense would get it going, and of course, they did. When (the offense struggles) we know we have to put it on our shoulders."
Knox finished the game after junior starter Maurice Leak - who was limping for most of the game - went out of the game for good with less than 2 minutes left in the third.
Leak suffered an ankle injury in the second game of the season against St. Joseph, and has been in and out of the lineup since then before playing perhaps the best game of his career at UNC-Pembroke on Oct. 13 when he was 16-of-20 for 150 yards against the 24th-ranked Braves.
"Unfortunately it's a lingering injury and something we have to deal with," Kirkland said.
On Saturday, Leak was 10-of-16 for 71 yards, and reserve Knox was 6-of-8 for 80 yards.
"I thought we were timely with our passing and did a nice job with it," Kirkland said. "I thought we ran the ball well. The things that killed us were penalties and we have to figure out those."
The Golden Eagles have visits to Glenville State (4-4, 4-1) on Saturday and West Virginia Wesleyan (2-6, 1-4) on Nov. 3, before returning home for the regular-season finale against rival West Virginia State (2-6, 1-4) on Nov. 10.
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UC PLACEKICKER Puma Nuredini connected on a 46-yard field goal into the wind in the first quarter and a 20-yarder with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
He had a 68-yard punt roll out of bounds at the West Liberty 6-yard line and averaged 44.2 yards on five punts.
However, his good fortune in the weather conditions didn't hold up as he went wide left on a 47-yarder just before the half and missed a 43-yard try in the third quarter.
The one just before the half came after Ryan Foster returned a punt through West Liberty defenders for 36 yards before getting stopped at the host's 30 with .09 seconds remaining.
For the season, Nuredini - who West Liberty Coach Roger Waialae called "a weapon" - is 10-of-14 on field goals with one being a block.
Of his 42 punts, seven were 50 yards or longer and 12 were inside the 20.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.