UC's Ricky Steele tries to turn the corner as State's Will Merritt chases him down.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Through much of the first quarter, the University of Charleston struggled against an opponent that seemed hungry for redemption and looked surprisingly competitive.In their first three possessions, the Golden Eagles punted twice and fumbled the ball away, and they even allowed winless West Virginia State to pose a scoring threat.Shortly thereafter, however, UC quarterback Maurice Leak began batting close to a thousand, as his coach described it, and defensive back Hassan Coleman made a game-changing interception.And the Golden Eagles kept alive their tradition of dominating their Kanawha County rival, defeating the Yellow Jackets 31-9 Saturday afternoon at Dickerson Stadium (formerly Lakin Field) in Institute. A crowd of about 600 attended on a rainy day.Since reviving football in 2003, the Golden Eagles have beaten State eight times in nine tries and, at 4-3 overall and 4-1 in the Mountain East Conference, they stayed in contention for the league title. State fell to 0-7 and 0-6.Leak, a senior from Waxhax, N.C., who threw just two touchdown passes in UC's first six games, set a post-2003 UC record by passing for four TDs - to John Knox twice for 14 and 29 yards, Daniel Cherry for 31 and Justin Lawrence for 7. Leak completed 20 of 28 passes for 221 yards and one interception (by Will Merritt)."It was really easy for us because we had a great game plan, and everybody executed,'' said Leak. "The stats go to me, but it was team effort. It was our coaching staff at their best.''
Said UC coach Pat Kirkland, "We had a good game plan, one that highlighted [Leak] making decisions with the ball pre-snap. And he did a good job of doing that today. We gave him the opportunity to make some adjustments - pass, run and where to go with the football. I don't want to say he was batting a thousand, but he was pretty close to that. I thought Maurice Leak played a great game. I really did.''State, which was limited to 35 rushing yards and 166 through the air, presented its early scoring threat by recovering a fumble at the UC 23 on the Golden Eagles' first drive but promptly lost four yards and surrendered the ball on downs.After UC's early difficulties, Coleman intercepted a State pass to give his team possession at the UC 36 and, from there, the Golden Eagles drove for the score in 11 plays, capped by Leak's 14-yarder to Knox.They scored again late in the first half on Leak's throw to a wide-open Cherry for a 14-0 halftime lead and built the advantage to 24-0 midway through the third quarter.
Except for some second-half success against UC's reserves, the Jackets were not the same after the first quarter."Honestly, West Virginia State came out with a lot of emotion,'' said Kirkland, "and I think we did too, but we didn't really execute real well. I thought after that, we settled down and did a nice job. Really, through quarters two and three, we did some great things on both sides of the ball.''The Jackets, said first-year coach Jon Anderson, started well. "I thought our kids responded to what we asked them to do early on,'' said Anderson. "We asked them to match [UC's] physical play on both sides of the football. We asked them to come out swinging, play with confidence, and I was proud of the way our kids did that in the first half.''
But Coleman's interception seemed to make a difference. "Hassan Coleman is a senior DB who's been pretty clutch for us in the last few years,'' said Kirkland. "He made a big play and kind of jump-started the offense a little bit.''Said Anderson, "We need to find ways as a team to be more resilient during momentum swings, and we always talk about weathering the storm and being able to play through that. We have at times, and at other times we have not. As we mature as a football team, the guys will have confidence, the guys will be able to do that better. And as a coach, I need to do a better job of putting them in those situations during practice and talk about them during the week.''State scored on Josh Reuber's 38-yard field goal with 4:32 left in the third quarter and on reserve quarterback D'Von Dorsey's 9-yard TD run with 1:24 left in the game. In addition to Leak's 221 passing yards, the Golden Eagles picked up 193 on the ground, led by Knox's 57 on six carries, C.J. Stallworth's 56 on 14 and Leighton Settle's 46 on 12.Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.