After a dreadful offensive first quarter on Friday, Capital had accumulated 23 yards through its first five quarters and early in the second period, and the Cougars faced a 14-0 hole to rival South Charleston on its home field.
But on one screen-pass connection from Evan Landers to Tay Calloway, the Cougars turned momentum, the game and maybe their season.
Calloway took that pass and scampered 50 yards to the end zone to cut SC’s first-half lead to 14-7, but it was just the start of what was to come as the Cougars ripped off 38 straight points and rolled to a 38-14 win at University of Charleston Stadium.
The Cougars looked about as inept as possible offensively in the first quarter, accumulating minus-47 yards of offense in the opening period with a 2-yard run from Calloway as the team’s only positive play.
But Calloway would go on to score four touchdowns and gain 102 yards on 17 carries to lead the comeback charge along with a stiffening Cougars defense.
That first big play seemed to settle Capital down, and coach Jon Carpenter credited that pass and overcoming preseason adversity caused by a lack of practice time and field issues at UC Stadium.
“Just guys getting settled in,” Carpenter said. “We just played great in three quarters but it’s criminal the hand we were dealt in August. We came out here and let the kids play the toughest game on earth without practicing and it’s awful and that’s what you saw. We weren’t ready to play. Our kids, thank God they’re tough as hell.”
Calloway, who played for Capital as freshman, South Charleston as sophomore, Nitro as a junior and now is back with the Cougars as a senior, made his presence felt in a big way on Friday.
“It was real big, we were waiting for that all week in practice,” Calloway said of the early big play. “We just kept telling everybody, ‘We’ve just got to stay patient, our time is going to come.’ ”
Capital put the ball on the ground five times in the first half, with four of those coming on bad snaps. The Cougars lost just one of those and by the end won the turnover battle 6-1, an important factor in seizing control in the second half after leading 21-14 at the break.
Calloway scored three of his touchdowns in the second quarter, adding a 1-yard run and a 15-yard run with 24 seconds remaining to give Capital a lead at the break. South Charleston fumbled away the opening kickoff in the third quarter but held, giving freshman quarterback Trey Dunn and the offense another chance trailing by just a touchdown
But the Cougars (1-1) picked off Dunn for the first of three times in the second half as Capital slowly pulled away.
SC made another critical error facing a fourth-and-7 from its own 35 as the punt snap sailed over Bryce Casdorph’s head leading to a Cougars first down at the Eagles 11. Logan Spurlock eventually converted on a 30-yard field goal to push Capital’s lead to 24-14.
Not helping matters for South Charleston were penalties. The Black Eagles were flagged 17 times for 115 yards and despite outgaining Capital 349-297, were on the bad end of a lopsided score.
“I told our guys I think we’re a heck of a football team and I thought we outplayed those guys in every aspect except for big plays, turnovers and penalties,” SC coach Donnie Mays said. “I like where we’re headed, but we can’t turn the ball over like that and we can’t give up the big play.”
The Black Eagles were again without division-I defensive line prospect Zeiqui Lawton, who was injured in the opening quarter of SC’s 28-14 win over George Washington last week. Receiver Qwailei Turner also was out as was fellow receiver Samajhi Simon.
Quay Sutton hauled in eight passes for 132 yards, but also fumbled twice.
After Spurlock’s field goal gave Capital a 10-point, second-half lead, Dunn was picked off for the second time and Capital marched 45 plays in five plays capped by a 4-yard run from Calloway. A late 32-yard touchdown connection from Landers to Kerion Martin provided the final margin.
Martin led Capital receivers with three grabs for 65 yards. Shyleik Kinney caught six passes for 66 yards for SC with Dunn throwing for 289 yards on 17-of-31 passing.
With a rugged five-game stretch looming (at Hurricane, Parkersburg, at Cabell Midland, at Spring Valley, at Huntington), Friday’s win was of the utmost importance for Capital.
But it was far from good times in the Cougars camp afterward.
“You’ve got guys that are pressing and things didn’t go well for us early and guys were fighting like hell to make plays,” Carpenter said. “Playing football in this town is something and all these fans are passionate about it and these kids feel that. They want to do good and I feel so damn bad for them I can’t see straight.
“They want to play well. Even winning like that I still feel like crap.”