WVC football: UC faces huge test today at No. 24 UNC Pembroke
Today could be a season-turning day for the University of Charleston.
The Golden Eagles (5-1) visit nationally ranked University of North Carolina Pembroke (5-1) at 2 p.m.
A victory for the Golden Eagles, who are playing their final nonconference matchup of the season, would squarely thrust them into the NCAA Division II playoff picture.
UC's only setback this year was a 16-10 loss to Shepherd, which entered the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 for the first time this week at No. 25. UNC Pembroke is No. 24 and hasn't lost since being defeated by No. 3 Winston-Salem State on Sept. 1.
UNC Pembroke handed UC one of its only two loses at home in the last 10 games, a 52-14 defeat last season in the teams' only meeting.
"They've got a lot of upperclassmen playing for them,'' said UC second-year coach Pat Kirkland of Pembroke. "They're a complete football team, a senior QB who makes adjustments pre-snap. They are talented and you couple that with upperclassmen, they're a challenge. They're playing as well as anybody right now.''
Pembroke's defense has surrendered 392.2 yards per game (268 passing and 124.2 rushing) but has been bailed out by forcing turnovers. The Braves own a plus-9 turnover ratio, recovering seven of their opponents' 13 fumbles. Pembroke had seven interceptions in a 49-35 win over Wingate.
Braves senior quarterback Luke Charles has passed for 990 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions while hitting on 61.2 percent of his attempts. Charles' favorite target is sophomore wide receiver Te'vell Williams, who has 30 catches for 424 yards (a 14.1-yard average) and six scores.
Pembroke sophomores Elliott Powell (405 yards, five TDs) and Damonte Terry (316 yards, six TDs) spearhead the running game. Powell averages 6.8 yards per carry while Terry gets 5.9 a tote.
Golden Eagles starting quarterback Maurice Leak is beginning to take more snaps each week after nursing a high-ankle sprain. He was 8 of 17 passing for 88 yards with two interceptions and picked up 41 yards rushing in UC's win over Seton Hill last Saturday.
All-American tailback Jordan Roberts, who had been slowed by flu-like symptoms, seems healthy after churning out 205 yards, three touchdowns and 301 all-purpose yards in last week's 30-13 win.
"He ran hard,'' said Kirkland. "I was also very impressed with the way our front five played. That was as physical as I've seen them in a couple of games now, just jumping out of their shoes and knocking the other team in the teeth. [Roberts is] a tremendous player when those front five guys are getting after it.''
Kirkland said UC's players can't worry about the implications of today's matchup.
"We've got to make sure we're disciplined,'' the UC coach said. "There's a lot of excitement surrounding [playing UNC Pembroke] and players have a tendency to want to go out and make a great play all the time.
"I need them to go out there and just make the play each time. Our scheme is based on discipline. That's what we've got to continue to do. We're going to have to play our best game.''
West Virginia State and Glenville State are both looking to get back on track.
The Yellow Jackets (2-4 overall, 1-2 WVC) travel to Glenville (2-4, 2-1) for a 1 p.m. WVC matchup.
After ending its 20-game road losing streak, State fell to West Liberty 52-19 last week at home. The Yellow Jackets had several defensive starters out and quarterback Ricky Phillips didn't practice in the week leading up to the game because of a leg injury.
Phillips threw for 210 yards and a score versus West Liberty despite his limitations while running back Aubura Taylor turned in 101 yards and a score.
The Pioneers are also coming off a loss, dropping a 14-9 decision at defending conference champion Concord last weekend. Darold Hughes passed for 101 yards while Rahmann Lee had 105 yards on the ground.
Glenville has won the last four meetings with State, including last year's 30-23 overtime triumph.
"They're big and athletic as usual,'' State coach Earl Monroe said of the Pioneers. "A lot of formations and routes. The quarterback is really good with a quick release. We're expecting a dogfight again this year. We've simplified the defense as best we can so [our players] have fewer adjustments and checks to make.''
In other WVC games today, Concord (3-3, 2-2) visits Seton Hill (0-6, 0-4), West Liberty (3-3, 2-2) hosts No. 24 and WVC-leading Shepherd (5-1, 4-0) and West Virginia Wesleyan (2-4, 1-2) visits Fairmont State (1-4, 1-2).