CONWAY — It’s always worrisome for a team to see its starting quarterback knocked from the game, but redshirt-freshman Alex Ross’ brief stint in relief of senior starter Aramis Hillary was one of the more encouraging signs Saturday night for Coastal Carolina.
Ross, who had thrown just one collegiate pass entering the evening, was pressed into action early in the third quarter and managed to lead the Chanticleers into the end zone while Hillary went through tests on the sideline after taking a hard hit to the head on the first offensive play of the half.
The Chants’ promising-yet-untested backup quarterback completed 3-of-4 passes for 14 yards on the drive, including a 5-yard touchdown strike to junior Matt Hazel in the back of the end zone.
“Aramis went down, and that’s what I practice for – in case he goes down, I’ve got to be able to come in and I’ve got to be able to lead the offense and do what I need to do to drive the team down to score a touchdown,” Ross said. “Unfortunately he went down, but I came in there and felt comfortable and I knew we had to drive down and score. So I just played football.”
Ross, who came to Coastal after quarterbacking Buford High School to a pair of Georgia 2A state championships, showed poise on his touchdown pass as he took time to scan the field on third-and-goal before finding Hazel with some space on his defender.
“We think Alex Ross is an excellent quarterback, and he’s going to be very, very good one of these days,” CCU head coach Joe Moglia said. “You bring a guy off the bench that hasn’t even taken a warmup because your guy goes down, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready to go. And remember, that was a critical situation because we were behind and we needed to be able to move the ball offensively without taking up too much of the clock. … Alex did a good job when he came in.”
Hillary, meanwhile, was cleared to return and re-entered the game on the next series.
“The hit hurt my brain it was such a hard hit,” Moglia said. “I thought it was helmet to helmet ... but it was a good, hard hit.”
Hillary was not available after the game for interviews, but there did not seem to be any concern about his status for the coming week. The reigning Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Week finished 24-of-37 passing for 205 yards, one touchdown , one interception and a lost fumble.
“He’s OK,” Moglia said. “Had he not been OK, he wouldn’t have been able to go back in the game.”
Mastromatteo matches mark
Junior receiver Niccolo Mastromatteo tied a program single-game record with 10 catches Saturday, picking up 96 yards and a touchdown while further establishing himself as a ever present threat out of the slot.
His 8-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter came on a quick screen as he danced and juked his way into the end zone from there. His long catch for the night was a 24-yarder, and he came close to breaking several other long gains after short catches in space.
Mastromatteo is now up to a team-high 20 catches for 214 yards through three games in his first year as an offensive starter.
“It might just be the way they’re playing,” he said afterward of his opportunities.
Predictably, he also didn’t have much to say about his record-tying feat after the tough loss. His 10 catches matched the mark set previously by Rodney Burgess (2003) and Jerome Simpson (2005).
“It feels nice, but we still lost. So that’s still at the top of my priority list,” he said.
Senior defensive end Jamel Davis left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. “We’ll have a better feel on that tomorrow,” Moglia said. … Junior linebacker Mike McClure led the Chants with 10 tackles and has reached double figures in tackles in each of the first three games. … Sophomore kicker Alex Catron made a 45-yard field goal for the second week in a row and is now 6-of-7 on field goals to start the season. … Hillary was the team’s top rusher with 41 yards. … Freshman defensive tackle Marcus Crowder notched his first career sack. … And the Chants opted to play freshman defensive end Roderick Holder, meaning he can not be redshirted barring injury.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.