LEXINGTON, Va. — Mired in the first four-game losing streak in program history and finally catching a break in the schedule after an especially challenging stretch, the Coastal Carolina football team seemed to take out five weeks worth of frustration on the VMI Keydets in a dominant performance on both sides of the ball Saturday.
The Chanticleers scored the game’s first 34 points, rushed for a season-best 331 yards on the ground, held the Keydets to just 16 rushing yards and altogether left no doubt as to the outcome on the way to a 34-7 win at Foster Stadium.
“It’s good to get that behind us, get that streak behind us,” senior running back Jeremy Height said. “Now we can move forward and look on to the next game.”
Indeed, this was just the start for Coastal (3-4, 1-1 Big South), which will almost certainly need to win out and get some help along the way to catch league-leading Stony Brook in the standings. But it was exactly the kind of start the Chants needed.
The 331 rushing yards were the most for Coastal in a Big South game since going for 332 against Gardner-Webb in 2006 and the most overall since a 490-yard performance against Division II Chowan in 2007.
The 16 rushing yards allowed – which was inflated as the Keydets rushed for 27 yards on their final drive – is the second-lowest total ever allowed by Coastal behind Chowan’s 8-yard rushing effort in that 2007 game.
More generally, after playing three ranked FCS teams and an FBS opponent the last four games, the Chants seemed to relish the opportunity to play a team from the conference’s lower tier Saturday and let that be known against the struggling Keydets (2-5, 1-2).
“[Our mindset was] just get a win,” junior linebacker Mike McClure said. “We realized they had the same record as we did coming into this game, and we knew they were going to fight, so we were just trying to outwork them and fight harder than them.”
Height keyed the rushing effort with 97 yards in 12 carries – all in the first half. Senior quarterback Aramis Hillary finished 11-of-19 passing for 114 yards and one touchdown before turning the game over to redshirt-freshman Alex Ross late in the third quarter. And the defense notched a season-high five sacks after having a total of seven through the first six games.
In short, Coastal controlled this one in most every way.
Height gave the Chants a quick 7-0 lead on a 19-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter as he took a pitch to the right, found ample running room and delivered an impressive closing burst to find the end zone.
Coastal scored again on its next possession while continuing to move the ball with ease on the Keydets, going 86 yards in eight plays. Hillary connected with senior Akeem Wesley on a 27-yard strike, and junior Lorenzo Taliaferro scored on a 16-yard touchdown run on the next play.
The Chants would then get their third touchdown early in the second quarter after Height delivered a 15-yard run down to the 10 and Hillary hit junior DeMario Bennett in the end zone on the next play as the visitors went up 21-0.
To that point, Coastal had outgained VMI 311 yards to 38 and would need just two quarters to eclipse its season-high for rushing with 218 yards through its first 29 carries.
Coming off a 201-yard effort the previous week against Stony Brook, the Coastal rushing attack is suddenly looking rejuvenated as the Chants embark on the season’s second half.
“We knew that we could run the ball this week,” CCU offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “We felt that we could come out and establish the line of scrimmage against these guys, so going in we wanted to kind of run the ball and get the play action going off of that.”
The Keydets have no doubt been vulnerable against the run this season and had just allowed 307 yards on the ground the week before in a loss to Charleston Southern, but the rushing attack has been the weak link of the Coastal offense for much of the last two seasons. So the 532 yards on the ground over the last two weeks is eye-raising regardless.
In addition to Height’s efforts, Hillary ran for 58 yards, Taliaferro rushed for 54 in eight carries and senior Marcus Whitener gained 45 yards late in the game while seeing his first action since injuring himself in the season opener.
“Ideally, I think we’re reasonably balanced,” CCU coach Joe Moglia said. “But depending on what a team gives us, if they’re giving us the pass, we’re not afraid to throw it 50 times; if they’re giving us the run, we’re not afraid to run 50 times.”
As the Chants showed Saturday with their 49 carries and an average of 6.8 yards per attempt.
That set the tone, and if they hadn’t made enough of a statement in thoroughly controlling that first half, they punctuated it with a special teams touchdown in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
Junior Tyler Watkins, a walk-on who dressed for his first game of the season last week, blocked David Eberhardt’s punt deep in VMI territory on the Keydets’ opening drive of the second half, and sophomore Lorenzo Boyles scooped up the loose ball at the 4 on his way into the end zone. It was CCU’s first blocked punt return for a touchdown since 2006 and gave the Chants a 28-0 lead with 12:12 left in the third quarter.
Sophomore Alex Catron tacked on a 30-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and junior Grant Clayton added a 29-yard field goal later in the period to stretch the lead further before VMI scored in the final minute.
Coastal is 8-2 all time against the Keydets and has taken the last four meetings by at least two touchdowns each.
Moglia still saw room for improvement Saturday, noting the Chants’ nine penalties for 94 yards, but in the end they did what they were supposed to do.
“We did take control,” he said. “This is literally, it’s about every week kind of focusing on what you’ve got to be able to do every week and focusing on trying to take care of business.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.