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Eagles' offense takes flight

Chip Ellis
With starting quarterback Maurice Leak nursing an injury, John Knox ran the first-team offense during Charleston's Maroon-Gold spring game Thursday night at UC Stadium.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the end of the University of Charleston's Maroon-Gold spring game Thursday night at UC Stadium, Golden Eagles coach Pat Kirkland gathered his team.

"Defense," Kirkland said, "give the offense a round of applause."

It was well-deserved. Even with senior quarterback Maurice Leak sidelined with injury, UC's offense rolled to a 45-14 victory under a scoring system that rewarded first downs, defensive stops, etc.

In addition, Charleston's offense was without offensive linemen Justin Johnson and Gabe Poe and tight end Justin Lawrence.

"Today we showed what we can do," said quarterback John Knox, who ran the first-team offense. "I feel I got better this spring, but I think the team got better, too. We still have things to do, but we're getting there."

Knox actually waited until there was but one tick left on the game clock before posting his touchdown pass, which went to 6-foot-5 Dan Cherry in the back of the end zone.

"Our defense finished second in the country last year," Knox said. "We knew they would be ready. On the first day of spring practice, they looked like they hadn't missed a practice since the last game."

UC's defense was without nose guard Rock Stone, but standout linebacker Matt Kelly and most of his peers were on the UC Stadium field on Thursday evening.

"That was the No. 2 total defense last season [allowing an average of 264.6 yards per game] and almost all are back," Kirkland said. "I thought the offense did a tremendous job against that defense. I'm encouraged."

Kirkland even had the game clock roll until the end of the halves, completing the contest in an hour and 20 minutes. Much of that was to protect against more injuries.

"I've never had a spring game with so many guys banged up," Kirkland said.

He limited the carries of starting tailback C.J. Stallworth and Northern Illinois transfer Leighton Settle.

"[The backs] got some good reps early," Kirkland said, "but not much."

Settle said he transferred from NIU "because I didn't like the way NIU ran its offense. I was looking for a Division II school to get more carries."

With Stallworth and Settle mostly sitting, UC's 5-6 speed back Kevin Myers took advantage with a touchdown burst in the first quarter. Freshman quarterback Jermaine Kelly also had a solid outing, punctuated by an 11-yard touchdown rocket screen pass to Josef Hinnant on the right side.

"I've got a lot of work to do," Kelly said. "I've got to feel comfortable. I've got to go in confident."

Until the last-second TD pass from Knox, though, the most exciting play came from the defense. Senior defensive back Bam Harrison intercepted a pass and returned it 65 yards, accounting for six defensive points.

"We came out and competed," Kirkland said. "I'm really excited about some of the new guys ... I'm encouraged."

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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