Charleston's C.J. Stallworth (right) fights off Glenville State's Darren Elliot to score a touchdown Saturday.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pat Kirkland's late-game fourth-and-one gamble at midfield failed big-time, thereby extending hope to a Glenville State offense greatly in need of invigoration.
But Kirkland, the University of Charleston's third-year coach, had a back-up plan - defense.
With UC leading by a touchdown and 8:48 left in the game, the Golden Eagles coach gambled that his offense would gain the needed yard on fourth down and thus deliver another dispiriting punch to the Glenville chances.
The Pioneers, however, held their ground and took over on the UC 49. But in a microcosm of their long afternoon, the Pioneers continued to struggle against the UC defense, allowing the Golden Eagles to escape with a 17-10 victory Saturday at UC Stadium. A homecoming crowd of about 2,500 attended.
"The reason they went for it on fourth down,'' said UC cornerback Torie Wagner, "is because the coaches have faith in the defense. We were stopping them the whole game.''
The Pioneers, to their credit, moved 27 yards to the UC 22 after thwarting the Golden Eagles' gamble but surrendered the ball on downs. And after forcing a UC punt, they took over at their own 39 with 13 seconds left, giving them time for two short completions and a failed Hail Mary at the buzzer.
Despite the late threats, Glenville (2-4, 2-3 Mountain East) totaled just 173 yards of offense, averaged only 2.5 yards per play and committed five turnovers on three interceptions and two fumbles.
"We were fortunate that our defense stepped up,'' said Kirkland. "Our defense stepped up all day. We're proud of the way our defense played today.''
He was disappointed, however, that his offense, which rushed for 234 yards on the day, failed to pick up the first down with 8:48 left.
"Fourth-and-one, we should be 100 percent,'' he said. "I felt confident that our defense would step up, and they did. And I also felt confident in our offense - fourth-and-half-a-yard. We should have gotten it. We had been running the ball pretty well. The offensive line had been playing well. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to get it.''
Though UC (3-3, 3-1 Mountain East) hardly excelled on offense, the Golden Eagles' Leighton Settle rushed 27 times for 111 yards and C.J. Stallworth carried eight times for 66, including a 46-yard TD run in the first quarter, giving UC its only offensive touchdown. Davon Henry had 43 yards on two carries.
Wagner returned a punt 37 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, giving the Golden Eagles a 14-0 lead, and Puma Nuredini contributed a 30-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 17-10 lead.
UC, however, lost four fumbles and had an interception.
"We stopped drives on ourselves whether it was penalties, turnovers,'' said Kirkland. "We made some poor decisions that stopped drives. We moved the ball well, which was good to see, but I didn't think we played as well as we should have. I thought we had some opportunities to really keep our foot on the gas pedal, but we didn't. And that was disappointing.''
The Pioneers, meanwhile, botched their best scoring chance. After they reached the UC 3 midway through the second quarter, a bad center snap sailed over the head of quarterback Sean Steele, producing a 16-yard loss and forcing them to settle for Josh Brown's 36-yard field goal. An earlier bad snap contributed to a five-yard loss.
Glenville scored its only touchdown on Quin Thornton's 92-yard kickoff return to open the second half, cutting the UC lead to 14-10.
"We needed to execute better,'' said Glenville coach David Hutchinson. "We had some bad snaps that completely changed field position. But I was proud of our defense. I don't know that [UC] completed more than a few passes. I thought our defense created some turnovers and did their part to win the game, but offensively we made way too many mistakes, too many dropped balls.''
Glenville defensive end Gary Henderson intercepted a pass, blocked a punt, recovered a fumble and was involved in six tackles. The Pioneers' Rahmann Lee, who entered the game with an average of 119 rushing yards, picked up just 55 yards on 12 carries.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org