MORGANTOWN — The University and Preston football teams are coming off two very different games. University scored 28 points in the first quarter and rolled to a 63-6 victory at Buckhannon-Upshur.
Preston hosted Washington and neither team got on the board until the second half. Washington edged the Knights, 14-13, but first-year head coach Mark Deep saw some encouraging things from his players.
“We finally got some confidence last week,” Deep said.
He also said keeping that confidence will be a tall task against the No. 3 Hawks when they match up Friday night in Kingwood.
“We can’t sugarcoat it,” Deep said. “They know what we’re up against. Let’s worry about what we do, not what they do. It’s still a rivalry game and I think that will get our juices flowing. It would be nice to come out and play like we did last week. I was so proud of the kids for playing a good, competitive game last week.”
Special teams and defense were the name of the game against Washington as Preston’s Tyler Jeffries, Zack Blosser, Todd Fraley, Riley Land, and Dillon Taylor came up with some key plays.
The Knights (0-5) scored on two touchdown passes from Trevor Thomas to Taylor.
For University (7-0), special teams plays also made an impact as Daminn Cunningham opened the scoring with a 53-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter. Cunningham took another 53-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter and returned the opening kickoff of the second half 68 yards to the house.
Five different players had a rushing attempt for the Hawks, while seven different players caught at least one pass. Starting quarterback Chase Edwards was 7-of-10 passing for 197 yards and three touchdowns, while backup Luke Hudson saw some significant action and went 4-of-7 through the air for 36 yards.
“We got everybody in in the first half,” said UHS head coach John Kelley. “Everybody had some good, consistent play. We developed some kids who we feel can fill in at some spots to have a better transition into next year. They came up real big last week.”
This will be the third-straight road game for the Hawks, who have still taken care of business every step of the way. With an open week following the team’s 35-6 win against Fairmont Senior on Sept. 24, it will have been more than a month since University has played a home game.
The Hawks will host Morgantown in the annual Mohawk Bowl on Oct. 29.
“It’s been a little difficult,” Kelley said of playing on the road so far in October. “You have to feed them and load everything up and then you have to get everything ready to travel and then you get back at a later time. They know how to deal with it by now. They’ve handled it well.”
Preston has had to deal with its share of roadblocks in Deep’s first season at the helm. With COVID challenges and a two-week layoff, it has not been the most conventional way to start building a program.
“He’s had it tough this year,” Kelley said. “They started and stopped, then started again, and then as soon as they got started back up they run into Bridgeport.”
The sixth-ranked Indians defeated Preston 72-0 on Oct. 8.
“After the Bridgeport loss, we moved on,” Deep said. “We owned what we did out there and we moved on. We can’t worry about who our opponent is. We play who’s on our schedule and we want to play quality opponents each week.”
Deep said he hasn’t had many opportunities to talk with Kelley but is well aware of the legacy he has built with more than 40 years of coaching experience. In his 35 years at University, Kelley has totaled nearly 240 total victories and 21 playoff appearances.
Dating back to 1991, University has defeated Preston 24 out of 26 times.
“We want to model off that,” Deep said. “We want to be in the playoffs. We can talk about it all we want, and we have talked about it a lot, but we won’t be able to start building to where we want to be without taking some action. It takes collective action from everyone involved to get to where we want to be.
“That’s what we want to build and we can do that. It just takes a lot …”
A lot of commitment and consistency, according to Kelley.
“It takes time,” Kelley said. “You have to have players, first of all, but then you have to develop those players. You have to have a system. It’s going to take some time and it’s not fair to judge somebody off of one year, especially in a year like this. If he stays with it and gets people around him to buy in, there’s a real good possibility they can develop into something.”
Deep is committed to Preston and wants to see his plan of building the program come to fruition, no matter how long it takes. Though three decades with the same program may be a bit too long for that.
“In 35 years, I’ll be in my 80s,” Deep said, laughing.
By MATTHEW PEASLEE