UC's Leak up to old tricks
In last season's stretch run in which the University of Charleston went 5-1 to close the year, quarterback Maurice Leak showed a penchant for making game-winning plays.
As it turns out, Leak doesn't discriminate in using his gift, even when it's against his own team.
After the offense struggled through most of the game, Leak capped a furious fourth-quarter rally with a 33-yard rushing touchdown with just 18.6 seconds left, giving the White (offense) a 41-37 win over the Maroon (defense) in the UC spring game Thursday at University of Charleston Stadium.
A modified scoring system was used in which both the offense and defense received points for various things such as touchdowns, turnovers, first downs, three-and-outs, etc. The teams played four 12-minute quarters with the clock continuously ticking except inside of two minutes at the end of each half.
Coming into the fourth quarter, the defense held a 33-17 lead and the only touchdown the White had scored was on a gadget play resulting in wideout Marquis White hurling a 22-yard touchdown pass to Shaquille Williams as time expired in the first half.
White was injured on the play and did not return.
"They came out and played assignment football," Leak said of the defense. "Everybody took care of the gaps in the running game, everybody covered their zones in the passing game. They were crisp in the first half and they were crisp in the second half too. I'm very excited about what they're going to be able to do next year."
As it turned out, coach Pat Kirkland's squad set him up perfectly for a post-game speech revolving around playing all four quarters. After three basically inept quarters by the offense, it struck for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Leak connected on a 50-yard touchdown with Darrell Byrd and freshman quarterback John Knox had a 53-yard touchdown scamper to set up Leak's winning score.
"I think we've got to make sure we understand you've got to play four quarters," Kirkland said. "Not two quarters or three quarters - it's a four-quarter football game. We play in a competitive conference where anything can happen. We're young and we're starting to figure out that we've got to compete on every snap and win every snap. I was glad to see the offense battle back in the second half that was great to see."
The defense was able to force two fumbles, two interceptions and five three-and-outs, which made up the majority of its points.
About the only consistent offense for the Golden Eagles was sophomore running back C.J. Stallworth, who took the bulk of the carries with starter Jordan Roberts sidelined with mononucleosis. Stallworth carried seven times for 60 yards.
Visions of a tandem backfield uniting the two bruising runners could be enough to give any West Virginia Conference coach nightmares, but Kirkland insists a lot of their success will depend on what goes on in front of them.
"We've got two big physical backs and as they get better you'll see our offensive line has gotten better," Kirkland said. "We've got good leadership up front with George Davila and Matthew Farhat, both seniors on the offensive line. Coach [Paul] Johnson does a tremendous job with those guys and I think a lot of Jordan's success late in the fall was because we got that much better up front."
Leak and Kirkland are looking forward to the fall and some heavy expectations for a squad that graduated just five seniors.
"Our expectations are to win the championship," Leak said. "We're very confident that we're going to be able to push for a championship and that's what we're focused on right now."
"I know we've gotten better and that's what you want out of spring ball," Kirkland said. "You want to see progress from Day 1 to practice 15, and we have. We're not where we need to be but we have made progress and August is a long way away. We've got to make sure we do the right things, get in the classroom, watch film and continue to be in the weight room so come August we're not taking a step back."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.