WEST LIBERTY The University of Charleston broke open a tight defensive struggle with three third-quarter scores and pulled away to a 26-9 victory against West Liberty in the first night game at historic Russek Field.
Clinging to a 7-6 lead at halftime, the Golden Eagles (5-4, 5-2) marched 67 yards in 5 plays for a touchdown highlighted by TB Leighton Settle's 50-yard run on their first possession of the second half and took advantage of two Hilltopper (3-6, 3-4) miscues to pad the margin.
West Liberty's kick returner slipped and fell while fielding the ensuing kickoff at his own 8 and, following a 3-and-out by the WLU offense, an 11-yard punt gave the ball back to UC at the West Liberty 22. Charleston couldn't punch the ball into the end zone against a gritty Hilltopper defense, settling for a 29-yard Puma Nuredini field goal and a 16-6 lead.
The defense came up big again after a Golden Eagle interception at the WLU 25, snuffing out the scoring chance with a Jovontae Johnson fumble recovery, but another 3-and-out by the West Liberty offense gave the ball back to UC at the WLU 46 and another Nuredini field goal made it 19-6 heading into the third quarter.
"Our offense put our defense in bad position at the start of the third quarter," head coach Roger Waialae said. "There's too fine a line between winning and losing in this game to make mistakes like that."
West Liberty's best shot at getting back in the contest came on the next possession as the Hilltoppers marched all the way from their own 20 into the UC red zone. The drive stalled on third-and-11 from the UC 13 when the Eagles sacked QB Dylan Lagarde all the way back at the 31.
Bryan Arbes came on to boom his third field goal of the night through the pipes from 48 yards out setting a school record with his 15th 3-pointer of the season but it wasn't enough.
"First of all, congratulations to Bryan. He's been a tremendous weapon for us this season but in all honesty, I'd rather have him breaking the extra-point record," Waialae said. "We had three chances for touchdowns and came away with three field goals. It's been the same thing every week and frankly, it's getting old. We have to finish drives."
Charleston's John Knox threw a 20-yard TD pass to Josef Hinnant to wrap up the scoring with just 3:17 to play.
The ground-oriented Eagles ran the ball 51 times for 229 yards with Settle's 12 carries for 105 yards leading the way. Knox added 82 yards on 23 carries, primarily out of the wildcat formation, but also completed 5-of-7 passes for 40 yards and a score. Davon Henry, who opened the scoring by catching a 17-yard TD pass from Maurice Leak in the first quarter, led the UC receiving corps with 4 catches for 35 yards.
Lagarde completed 18-of-43 passes for 159 yards with Dylan Potts' 7 catches for 50 yards leading all receivers. Marty Bishop led the West Liberty rushing attack with 18 carries for 59 yards.
The Hilltoppers return to action on Nov. 9 with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Virginia-Wise.
-- West Liberty alumnus Gary West and his wife, Flip, were honored in a pre-game ceremony in recognition of their donation funding the new lighting system at Russek Field
-- West Liberty's previous single-season record of 14 field goals was set by Billy Hager during the 2007 campaign
-- Hilltopper punter Griff Yocum launched the second-longest punt in school history during the first half, a 75-yarder that sailed all the way from the WLU 18 to the UC 7. The longest punt in West Liberty history was a 79-yarder by Kevin Wilson during the 1977 season
-- Charleston has rushed for 200 or more yards in each of its last six games against West Liberty
-- MEC commissioner Reid Amos - the former Voice of the Hilltoppers - attended the game and was introduced to the crowd at halftime