CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Down by a point with a minute and a half left in the game, the University of Charleston had the ball and, among other things, a chance to give its young offense a jolt of game-on-the-line experience.
Starting at their own 22, the Golden Eagles moved to the Notre Dame College 18 in just eight plays and, with 4.5 seconds left, brought out senior Puma Nuredini, who kicked a 35-yard field goal with plenty to spare for a 34-32 UC victory Saturday afternoon at University of Charleston Stadium. A crowd of about 800 attended.
A bit earlier, with 1:36 remaining in the game, Notre Dame had taken a 32-31 lead on a six-play, 61-yard touchdown drive, leaving UC quarterback Maurice Leak and his mates little time to work.
But Leak then completed 5 of 7 passes - three to Daniel Cherry for a total of 41 yards - and, after nearly throwing an interception, connected with Josef Hinnant on a 7-yard pass to ensure the Golden Eagles good field position at the ND 18.
After a requisite Notre Dame timeout, Nuredini, a senior from Naples, Fla., gave the Golden Eagles (2-2, 2-0 Mountain East) a victory that should be a big lift to an offense that opened the season with just three returning starters.
"It gave our young guys a chance to feel what it's like to be in a close game and be in that environment,'' said Leak. "Everybody was out there communicating, so it made my job easier. I think they handled it really well, and that'll help us out in the future.''
"We've had some growing pains,'' said third-year UC coach Pat Kirkland, "and hopefully we can turn the corner a little bit. We're young on offense.''
Leak, a senior from the Charlotte suburb of Waxhax, N.C., delivered a veteran's presence in the clutch.
"You can't say enough about Maurice Leak on that final drive,'' said Kirkland. "He made just great decisions.''
For the day, Leak completed 15 of 26 passes for 157 yards and two interceptions, and John Knox, who splits time at quarterback and wide receiver, carried 18 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 45 yards. Leighton Settle, a Northern Illinois transfer, rushed 21 times for 90 yards and a score. Defensive back Torie Wagner returned an interception 75 yards for a TD early in the third quarter for a 17-10 UC lead.
Nuredini's kick was the eighth lead change in a game in which the Falcons of South Euclid, Ohio, hurried out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead, at which point UC had collected just one first down. But the Golden Eagles rallied for a 10-10 tie with 6:10 left in the first half and, starting early in the second half, the lead bounced back and forth for the rest of the afternoon.
The UC offense, Kirkland noted, helped offset some deficiencies on a defense that yielded less than 16 points a game last year to lead the West Virginia Conference and opened the season with eight returning starters.
"Today [the offense] stepped up big-time because defensively we played well at times and played pretty poorly and undisciplined at times and gave up some big plays,'' Kirkland said.
Things looked good for UC when Knox took a shotgun snap and burst up the middle for a 67-yard TD run, giving the Golden Eagles a 31-26 lead with 9:31 left in the game.
And on the Falcons' first play after the kickoff, UC's Dorian Curry recovered a Notre Dame fumble to give his team the ball at the ND 42. But six plays later, the Falcons blocked Nuredini's 33-yard field goal attempt and, after UC forced a punt, the Golden Eagles were unable to move the ball and punted.
From there, the Falcons drove the 61 yards to take the brief lead.