By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
The slide for Fairmont State University’s football team turned into an all-out free fall here Saturday afternoon at University of Charleston Stadium.
The fired-up Golden Eagles celebrated Senior Day on a beautiful fall afternoon by dominating the visiting Falcons in every phase of the game as they cruised to a 45-0 victory.
The loss was the fifth in a row for Fairmont, which fell to 2-7 overall and to just 1-7 in the Mountain East Conference. Charleston, on the other hand, won its second straight game since dropping a heartbreaker in overtime to Concord and improved to 6-4 overall and to 6-2 in the league.
Right from the start there was little doubt this was going to be the Golden Eagles’ day. UC scored on its first possession of the contest, and then linebacker Justin Avery picked off a Cooper Hibbs pass and returned it 20 yards to the FSU 11 to set up another touchdown which gave the Golden Eagles a 14-0 lead just over 10 minutes into the game.
“I challenged the guys last night,” said UC coach Pat Kirkland. “I told them we hadn’t played a complete game yet. Today, I think we finally did. We put it all together on offense, defense and special teams.
“I was really happy for our seniors. We have a good group of them and I wanted them to play well in their last home game. It was just one of those days. Things were clicking for us.”
While it seemed as if Charleston could do no wrong Saturday, it was pretty evident that the Falcons didn’t do much right. UC’s swarming, stingy defense shut out the Falcons for the first time this season and for the first time since last year’s season-opening 7-0 loss to Clarion (Pa.) University.
Charleston held FSU to a season-low 19 yards rushing in the loss and just 141 yards of total offense – the Falcons’ second-lowest offensive output of the season. Fairmont had just 131 total yards in a 31-14 loss to Glenville State in week three.
Sadly, FSU managed just six first downs in the game and tallied three of them and gained 61 of their 141 total yards in the final 11:42 after Charleston had built a 45-0 lead.
“We really couldn’t get anything going today, and we didn’t play well in any phase of the game,” said FSU first-year coach Jason Woodman. “We got down early, and when you’re struggling like we have been here in recent weeks it’s hard to overcome that.
“Give Charleston credit; they did pretty much what they wanted to do against us, and it wasn’t anything which surprised us or caught us off guard. We were prepared both offensively and defensively for what they did, but we couldn’t stop them on defense and we couldn’t move the ball on them offensively. We also didn’t play well on special teams.”
UC pulled off a pair of huge plays on special teams which aided in the win. First, leading 14-0 and after it appeared that the Falcons had stopped the Golden Eagles on back-to-back drives, Charleston executed a fake punt. UC upback Zach Wellman took the snap, caught the Falcons off guard and rambled 24 yards for a first down at the FSU 24. On the next play, quarterback John Knox connected with Davon Henry on a 24-yard TD strike to make it 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
The second big special teams play came when Charleston’s Torie Wagner took the second-half kickoff and raced 90 yards to the end zone to make it 33-0 and effectively end any thoughts of a possible FSU rally in the final 30 minutes.
“Those two special teams plays were big deals for us,” said Kirkland. “They really helped to spring us forward in the game.”
“They totally caught us with the fake punt, and then at the half our guys were still positive and still looking to come out and mount a comeback and they return the second-half kickoff for a touchdown,” said Woodman. “It just killed us.
“You know, I don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason this team this year doesn’t play well on the road. I can’t figure it out, but we’ve got to get that corrected in the future.”
FSU is 0-4 in road games this season and has been outscored on the road by a combined 151-36.
While Fairmont’s offense struggled Saturday, Charleston’s didn’t. The Golden Eagles rolled up 439 yards of total offense in the victory, including a season-high 311 yards on the ground. The 311 rushing yards is the most allowed in a single game by FSU’s defense this season.
Knox, UC’s senior quarterback, led the Golden Eagles with 115 yards on 16 carries. He also completed 7-of-14 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 24-yard TD pass from Maurice Leak for Charleston’s first score.
Fairmont State will attempt to bounce back in its season finale Saturday, Nov. 16 when it hosts Virginia-Wise (2-8, 2-7) for Senior Day at Duvall-Rosier Field. Virginia Wise stunned West Liberty Saturday, 24-13.