It has been a trying week for the University of Charleston football team, but the Golden Eagles have approached their preparations for Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at West Liberty like everything is business as usual.
With coach Pat Kirkland taking a medical leave of absence, offensive coordinator Paul Johnson has assumed the role of head coach with the team and has been happy with the way the team has been able to handle the situation.
“They’re handling it the same as they have any other week,” Johnson said. “I have a great relationship with all of these guys and so do the rest of the coaches on our staff. In life and in football, everything is based off your relationships and I think these guys have handled it with maturity and they understand that things might change a little bit, but we still have to go to work.”
Charleston (1-1) wants to continue the momentum gained from last week’s 27-0 victory against Concord. After a sour start to the year with a loss at West Virginia State, last Thursday’s game gave the Golden Eagles an idea of how they could play if they can put it all together consistently.
Offensively, UC was effective and balanced — gaining 292 yards on the ground while throwing for another 166. Defensively, Charleston put together a handful of big stops and earned its first shutout since 2013.
“That win just showed how good we are. When you can hold a team to 74 yards on defense and your offense is doing what we did, it just shows how great we can be when we play a complete game,” Johnson said. “It was huge for our confidence. It’s so much easier to learn from winning games because it sucks to have to learn when you lose. So it was great to get that first win and say, ‘Ok, now here’s where we can keep building and continue to get better.’”
Against West Liberty, the Golden Eagles will hope their running game can continue to be as good as it has been through their first two games. UC is currently No. 4 nationally, averaging 322 yards per game on the ground.
That attack has been led by junior quarterback Mason Olszewski, who leads all MEC quarterbacks and is third in the conference overall at 129 rushing yards per game, and senior Tevion Cappe. Cappe finished last week with 85 yards and a touchdown against the Mountain Lions and thinks Charleston will be able to keep that moving against a West Liberty team allowing 171.5 yards per game on the ground.
“We’ve really been able to show off the versatility we have in the backfield, and hopefully we can continue that this week,” Cappe said. “We all bring different things to the table and the coaches do a good job of utilizing what we can all do well. That makes it hard for people to prepare for because we have so many guys back there who can do so many things.”
The Golden Eagles also want to get back on track on the road, where they struggled last season. UC was 1-5 away from UC Stadium in 2016 and dropped its first away game of 2017 to the Yellow Jackets.
Johnson expects the team to have its hands full against a Hilltoppers team hungry to bounce back after last week’s 34-0 loss to West Virginia Wesleyan. And with a Thursday night road crowd, Charleston knows that starting strong could be a key.
“West Liberty is a great opponent and they always play us great every year. It’s always a fun game because you know both teams are going to come out with a good game plan and battle,” Johnson said. “They’re going to do what they do well. And they’re at their house, they’re playing at home and want to defend their home field. We’ll have to try to go up there and take the momentum right away.”