MEC football: Nuredini last-second field goal lifts UC over Notre Dame
Don't be fooled by Puma Nuredini's seemingly passé attitude.
The University of Charleston kicker is fully aware of what's going on, so when he came on to attempt a 35-yard field goal with 6.6 seconds left against Notre Dame College, he knew what was on the line.
Nuredini hit the field goal as time expired, giving the Golden Eagles a 34-32 Mountain East Conference victory over the Falcons (2-2, 1-2 MEC) and setting off a wild celebration.
"I like those situations," said Nuredini, whose 25-yard field goal with 6:10 left in the first half gave him a UC record 22 career field goals. "I actually tell coach every day in practice to give me game-like situations. I try to keep my mindset the whole game no matter what kind of kick it is. To me, practice or game, I have to do it all the same.
"I have a great snapper, Justin Palmer, and a great holder, Ryan Foster."
The kick concluded a wild MEC meeting at University of Charleston Stadium during which the Golden Eagles (2-2, 2-0) ran for 309 yards, the Falcons threw for 345 and the teams combined for 55 first downs.
Notre Dame's Pedro Powell came into the game as the second-leading rusher in the MEC and left the game as the league leader. He had 200 yards on 32 carries - two more than his average of 30 per contest. Quarterback Ray Russ was 36-of-56 for 345 yards and three touchdowns.
His final scoring toss to Mikhail Morgan came with 1:36 remaining and gave the Falcons a 32-31 lead.
The Golden Eagles took over at their own 22 and quarterback Maurice Leak started picking away at the middle of the Notre Dame defense. Daniel Cherry was the recipient, catching a 17-yarder, a 6-yarder and an 18-yarder that helped put the ball at the ND 25 with 32 seconds left. A near interception was followed by a pass to Josef Hinnant for a fourth-and-3 at the 18.
That rapid-fire scoring drive by UC was symbolic of a big-play day. Two dropped passes by Golden Eagles' receivers were intercepted, UC lost a fumble and sophomore defensive back Torie Wagner had a 75-yard interception return for a TD.
John Knox, the backup quarterback who also plays receiver, had a 67-yard touchdown run and finished with 147 yards on 18 carries. Northern Illinois transfer Leighton Settle, who broke out last week with 128 yards on 17 carries against UVa-Wise, had 90 yards on 21 carries against Notre Dame.
While the Golden Eagles struggled to find their offensive identity, Coach Pat Kirkland cobbled together enough situations for his playmakers to pile up 466 total yards on 77 plays.
"Last year, we were a team that hung our hat on ... regardless of what they did, we were able to run the ball," Kirkland said. "We were dominant up front. We knew coming into this year we had to be more balanced, 50-50 with the run and pass and haven't been. We started the turn the corner last week, rushing for more than 220 yards. This week, obviously, I was excited to see us move the ball down the field with passing the ball. We have to do a great job of making a defense defend the whole formation."
The Golden Eagles will try to extend their winning streak to three games when they visit Shepherd at noon on Oct. 5. The unbeaten Rams, ranked 15th in Division II, are coming off a 45-10 victory over West Virginia Wesleyan on Saturday.