MORGANTOWN — Through the course of the game, both Capital and University stared calamity right in the face. The Cougars refused to blink, and as a result are back in the playoff semifinals.
Kerry Martin Jr. threw for two touchdowns and ran for another and Capital flashed big plays on offense, defense and special teams Friday night, boarding a 48-24 victory over No. 3 seed and previously unbeaten University in a Class AAA quarterfinal at chilly Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium.
The win sends No. 6 seed Capital (9-3) into the semifinals for a fifth straight year. The Cougars make the long trip to the Eastern Panhandle next weekend to face unbeaten Martinsburg (12-0), the defending champion. The time and date of that game will be decided Sunday.
Martin started out completing his first nine passes, including touchdown throws of 44 yards to Deishawn Harper and 19 yards to Anthony Pittman as Capital rushed out to a 28-3 halftime lead.
Also in that first-half flurry was an 89-yard TD return of the opening kickoff by the Cougars’ K.J. Taylor.
But just as key for the Cougars was the performance of their defense, which three times stopped the Hawks from scoring after they’d gotten first downs in the red zone — including first-and-goal from the 8 in the opening quarter, first-and-goal from the 1 in the second period and first down at the Capital 20 in the third quarter.
“That was big for our defense,’’ said Capital coach Jon Carpenter. “That was huge. Our defense played their tails off, and I’m tickled to death with that. It’s got a chance to be a different game if the defense doesn’t step up there.’’
The first two thwarted University drives were set up by Capital’s own mistakes — Martin fumbled a center snap at his own 8 in the first quarter and Kobe Turlington of University intercepted a tipped pass at the Cougars 13 in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, the Hawks (11-1) drove to the Capital 20 while trailing 28-10, but fumbled it away and the Cougars’ Andrew Morton recovered to end another threat.
“We were just going hard, man,’’ said Capital senior linebacker Chase Goldsmith. “We have a great defense and we have great defensive coaches. We stick together, and when we stick together, we’re dangerous.’’
Capital’s defense eventually put some points on the board, too, when senior defensive back Anthony Pittman picked off a Clay Bailey pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown with 7:08 left in the game to make it 42-17 and perhaps end the suspense.
University’s offense was hamstrung a bit by the absence of Buddy Leach, one of its top receivers who missed the game with mononucleosis, along with No. 2 rusher Trevor Barnhart leaving in the first half with a leg injury.
However, the Hawks kept picking up first downs with a balanced attack and stringing drives together — just not far enough to score. They ended with 25 first downs and 415 total yards.
“We were always clawing back into it,’’ said Hawks coach John Kelley, “but every time we clawed back, they answered right away. They’ve got a little too much speed and skill for us. Our guys made it a game, but their athletes in space were a little too much for us. We don’t see that kind of speed and skill in space up here.
“Defensively, we gave up way too many big plays. Offensively, we had some yards and some nice plays.’’
In addition, University had two touchdowns called back by offensive penalties.
Quisean Gray, Capital’s junior running back, also delivered some game-breaking plays with carries of 54 and 68 yards in the second half to go along with a 15-yard TD run in the first half. He finished with a game-high 164 yards on just eight attempts.
Martin wound up 12 of 18 passing for 204 yards but was intercepted once and lost a fumble. He also ran 6 yards for a score in the third quarter.
“He does a good job,’’ Carpenter said of his junior quarterback. “It takes him to get us in a good place, to distribute the ball where it has to go.’’
Harper caught four passes for 115 yards, all in the first half, and Pittman added four catches for 53 yards.