By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Fairmont State’s mission Saturday afternoon against the University of Charleston here at UC Stadium was to eliminate the Golden Eagles’ big-play capabilities.
The mission failed — miserably.
UC scored three of its four touchdowns on plays of 45 or more yards and cruised to a convincing 30-10 victory over the hapless Falcons.
The loss dropped Fairmont State to 1-4 overall on the year and to 1-2 in the West Virginia Conference. Charleston, on the other hand, improved to 4-1 overall and to 2-1 in the league.
“There’s no question the big plays hurt us today,” said sixth-year FSU coach Mike Lopez, who has never beaten the Golden Eagles at UC Stadium. “The first series of the game we gave up the long TD pass. Then five or six series later they were running the wildcat which we knew they were going to run and they ran power out of it and hit like a 45-yard touchdown run against us right up our sideline. We also gave up a few other big plays today and the bottom line is you can’t win if you give up big plays.
“The other side of that is you can’t win if you don’t have any big plays on offense and we didn’t have any of those.”
UC wasted little time trying its hand at the big play. On the Golden Eagles’ fifth offensive snap of the game backup quarterback John Knox, who was subbing for injured starter Maurice Leak, connected with Chris Maxwell on a 56-yard scoring strike which gave Charleston a 7-0 advantage just 2:16 into the contest.
Late in the first quarter FSU’s special teams came up with a big play of its own when Ryland Newman fielded a UC punt at the Golden Eagles’ 38-yard line, did a nifty job of avoiding some early tackle attempts and out-raced everyone to the end zone to knot the score at seven.
It was the third punt return for a touchdown in Newman’s career which is a new school record. It was also the seventh return of some facet for Newman which has result in a score.
“Coach (Ryan Dumont) called hold up right, but I saw an alley on the left and just took off and followed my blockers from there,” said Newman, who has also returned three interceptions and one blocked field goal for touchdowns during his career. “It feels nice to set a school record, but I’m not worried about records. I’m out there just playing for my team and trying to get a win with my teammates. This was another tough loss for us.”
The game remained tied at seven until late in the second quarter when it turned in UC’s favor for good. Forced to punt from his own end zone, Fairmont’s Chris Kish fielded a high snap and was swarmed under by a host of UC players before he even attempted to kick the ball. The football rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety for the Golden Eagles.
Two plays after the ensuing free kick, UC tailback Jordan Roberts took a snap out of the wildcat formation and broke numerous tackle attempts on his way to a 45-yard TD run that made it 16-7 at the half. Roberts, the league’s second-leading rusher, finished with a game-high 148 rushing yards on 24 attempts.
“I’ll take responsibility for two of their big plays,” said FSU free safety Bryan Wilson, who finished with six tackles and a fumble recovery. “I allowed the first TD pass and missed a tackle on the long touchdown run. That’s tough knowing we were in the game with this team and it was big plays that made the difference. They’re a good team. Don’t take anything away from them, but we had some breakdowns today that cost us.”
After Fairmont’s offense opened the third quarter with a three-and-out series, UC mounted its only extended scoring drive of the game when the Golden Eagles marched 68 yards in 16 plays and took a 23-7 advantage on a one-yard TD plunge by Knox. The freshman quarterback finished with 93 yards rushing on 15 carries and completed 10-of-18 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted once.
The Falcons, though, answered right back when Johnny Dearstine connected on a 31-yard field goal to make it 23-10 with 2:29 left in the third. UC, though, drove the final nail in Fairmont’s coffin when two plays later Knox hooked up with Darrell Byrd on a 55-yard swing pass for a score to give the home team a 20-point lead.
“We knew we had to guard against the big play against them because they like to run the ball with Jordan Roberts and then take shots on you,” said FSU redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Larrubia, who finished with six tackles and a forced fumble. “We had nine guys in the box to stop the run and unfortunately when they did take some shots against us they hit a couple. The three big plays killed us. That was the big difference.
“Now we’ve got a week off so we have time to re-group, get healthy and get better. We’re a young football team in a lot of positions and even though we’re not having a lot of success in terms of wins and losses I think we’re growing and getting better.”
Once again Fairmont’s offense struggled in the loss. The Falcons converted their first three third down attempts in the contest, but went 0-of-11 on third downs after that. The offense managed just 229 total yards Saturday, while UC rolled up 436. Five weeks into the season FSU has scored just six offensive touchdowns and still remains without a rushing TD.
Sophomore tailback Daniel Monroe returned to the lineup yesterday and led the ground attack with 83 yards on 15 attempts. Junior quarterback Bobby Vega completed 13-of-32 passes for 171 yards. He, however, was intercepted once and was sacked a season-high six times. Matt Wilmer led the FSU receivers with four catches for 63 yards.
Fairmont State, which has suffered a plethora of injuries this fall, will be idle next weekend. The Falcons will return to action Saturday, Oct. 13 when they host West Virginia Wesleyan in a 1 p.m. game at Duvall-Rosier Field.