Record-setting reception highlights UC's 33-14 win
It was a record-setting Thursday night for the University of Charleston even though its two biggest offensive stars were sidelined.
Freshman wide receiver Shaq Williams and freshman backup quarterback John Knox connected on a school-record 99-yard pass play that gave the Golden Eagles the momentum they needed to put away St. Joseph's College 33-14. A crowd of about 3,000 attended at UC Stadium on the Golden Eagles' final weeknight contest.
UC senior running back Jordan Roberts, who set a school record with 238 yards on 23 carries in last week's win over Shaw University, was taken out of the game after barreling over a defender for a 14-yard touchdown late in the second quarter to put the Golden Eagles ahead 21-7. The All-American running back from Scott High School, who finished with 85 yards on 14 carries, was suffering from dehydration brought on by flu-like symptoms and never returned to the field.
UC starting junior quarterback Maurice Leak suffered a high-ankle sprain during the team's third offensive series and didn't play the rest of the way. The Waxhax, N.C., resident completed 1-of-4 passes for 14 yards and added 15 yards on two rushing plays before exiting.
Roberts and Leak handed the Golden Eagles (2-0) a 21-14 lead at halftime, but it didn't look good after a three-and-out on UC's first series of the third quarter.
On UC's second possession, though, Knox hit Williams on a 99-yard post pattern for a 28-14 advantage with 7:12 left in the period, taking all of the air out of the Pumas' sails.
UC was backed up its own 1-yard line after St. Joseph's freshman punter Gavin Voss' 40-yard punt and a false start on the Golden Eagles offense that moved the ball six inches closer to the goal line. Knox hit Williams in stride at the UC 30 and Williams, a former George Washington High standout, did the rest with his speed.
"We needed that,'' said Williams, who sat out last year and took a redshirt season. "That put [the game] away. I knew when I caught it [the defender] wasn't going to catch me.''
The previous school record for the longest pass play from scrimmage was 91 yards, set in October 2005. The Knox-to-Williams connection was also the longest play from scrimmage in school history, eclipsing a 94-yard run by Chris Moore in 2004. UC's school records date back to 2003, when the school reinstated the football program after a 40-plus year hiatus.
Knox finished 5-of-12 for 145 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. The Salisbury, N.C., resident added 53 yards on 11 carries. The Golden Eagles racked up 439 yards of offense, with 280 yards coming on the ground.
The Golden Eagles picked up two points when Voss inadvertently stepped out of his end zone when punting from his 1-yard line late in the third quarter.
UC junior kicker Puma Nuredini broke his school record with a 49-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to set the final score at 33-14. Nuredini set the mark with a 44-yarder last October.
"I'm happy with the leadership,'' said UC coach Pat Kirkland, whose team won its sixth straight dating back to last season. "We've got a lot of faith in John Knox.
"He's been practicing well. We don't miss a beat. I was so proud of that young man. He's got a whole lot of ability. He's got a live arm and he knows the offense. He did a nice job in the offseason of learning and watching film.''
Williams said it's good see his hard work finally paying dividends.
"Just like a kid again scoring your first touchdown in Little League,'' said Williams of scoring his first TD in last week's victory over Shaw University.
"I just worked, worked to get back on the field. It's tough to stay focused knowing you're not going to play Saturday to Saturday. I'm looking forward to moving on.''
The UC defense tamed a potent St. Joseph's offense, holding the Pumas to 12 first downs and 224 total yards.
St. Joseph's Julian Walker was named the Division II national wide receiver of the week by Beyond College Sports Network after catching 11 passes for 203 yards and two TDs in a 36-34 win over Valparaiso, a Football Bowl Subdivision school.
Puma quarterback Billy VandeMerkt was honored as the Great Lakes Valley Conference offensive player of the week after throwing for 303 yards and a pair of scores.
"Just young mistakes,'' said St. Joseph's second-year coach Cory Sanders. "We've got to get our practice habits better.''
UC hits the road for the first time this season to open West Virginia Conference play at Concord, the reigning league champion and an NCAA Division II playoff squad, at 1 p.m. Sept. 15. ... After committing 16 penalties for 186 yards last week, the Golden Eagles were flagged seven times for 60 yards Thursday. ... St. Joseph's is a Division II school located in Rennsselaer, Ind.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.