Coastal Carolina’s playoff hopes stay alive Saturday

ryoung@thesunnews.comNovember 10, 2012 

CLINTON Coastal Carolina’s task was simple Saturday -- take care of business against an underwhelming Presbyterian team and then wait to see what happened in the other Big South Conference game of note to learn whether or not the league championship remained a possibility.

Well, the Chanticleers did their part with ease -- to put it lightly -- while setting or nearing multiple program records on the way to a 65-7 win against the overmatched Blue Hose inside Bailey Memorial Stadium.

And the other part of the equation would come later in the evening as Liberty upset No. 6-ranked Stony Brook by a 28-14 margin in Lynchburg, Va., to set up a scenario in which all three teams would finish tied atop the conference standings if the Chants and Flames can win their respective finales next week. Because all three are 1-1 against each other, the tiebreaker would go to the team with the best road record in league play -- which is Coastal.

In short, the Chants are now likely one win away from locking up an FCS playoff berth as they look ahead to their home game with Charleston Southern next weekend and Liberty prepares for a road trip to VMI.

“When Liberty scored, you could hear our guys cheer. They were certainly excited,” CCU head coach Joe Moglia said over the phone later in the evening as the team was on its trip back to Conway. “But they handled it pretty good. They realize we have to win next week. They realize Liberty has to win next week. So once again, we have to take care of business.”

That was the game plan Saturday, and they executed it almost flawlessly.

Coastal (6-4, 4-1 Big South) totaled 625 yards of offense to fall just short of the program record of 638 yards set against Gardner-Webb in 2006. The Chants went into halftime with a 44-7 lead to break the school record for points in a half, which was 42 from a 2006 game against Savannah State. And the 65 total points ranks fourth on Coastal’s all-time list behind the record of 71 set in 2005 against Mansfield.

Individually, senior quarterback Aramis Hillary completed 19-of-22 passes for 261 yards, five touchdowns and one interception while returning to the lineup after a one-game injury absence. He also rushed seven times for 81 yards, and all of those stats came in the first half as he needed just two quarters to tie a Big South single-game record with those five touchdown passes.

Senior Marcus Whitener rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns in 13 carries for the Chants while junior Matt Hazel led all receivers with six catches for 78 yards and two scores.

“We weren’t going to take them lightly,” Hazel said. “We’re going to play everybody like they’re the No. 1 team in the nation.”

As for Hillary, he had stood on the sidelines last weekend while Coastal defeated Gardner-Webb and his status was in doubt again early this week due to lingering pain in his throwing arm. He acknowledged afterward Saturday that there was even a moment where he thought he might miss the rest of the regular season.

He certainly wouldn’t have wanted to miss this one, though.

“My arm was giving me a little trouble early in the week, and I started getting some bad news,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to miss this week and possibly next week, but things worked out. People were obviously praying for me, and my arm seemed to get better throughout the week. Coach prepared me well to play, and we came out here and we put on a show. We had fun doing it.”

Coastal scored on its opening drive, seizing the lead three minutes into the game on a 10-yard forward pitch from Hillary to senior Kenny Jones. The Chants then stopped Presbyterian (2-8, 0-5) on the host’s first possession, but they were flagged for running into the punter. The Blue Hose opted to accept the five-yard penalty and punt again, but this time Mastromatteo somehow eluded a pack of defenders right in front of him and found enough of a lane to race 87 yards to the end zone for another quick touchdown.

Coastal made it 22-0 by the end of the first quarter as Hillary hit Hazel for a 23-yard scoring strike, and the domination just continued from there. The Chants would tally nine touchdowns overall -- a performance that ties for the third-best ever in program history. The team’s 365 rushing yards is the seventh-best total in that record book and marks the fifth-straight 200-yard rushing effort for the Chants. Such a streak has only happened one other time for the program, back in 2004. Lastly, their 752 all-purpose yards is the second most they’ve ever had.

“We’re always pleased when those things happen, but as we’ve talked about in the past, you ... can’t worry too much about that because whatever’s going to happen is going to happen,” Moglia said outside the locker room after the game. “If it’s records you’re worried about, you keep your first team in there, you keep trying to score. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about making sure that your team is coming together as a unit and represents our university the way it should be done. There was no thoughts about records.”

The Chants made their offensive statement Saturday against a familiar face as longtime CCU safeties coach Drew Watson is in his first season as Presbyterian’s defensive coordinator. The Blue Hose entered the day ranked 117th out of 121 FCS teams in total defense and have now allowed five teams to go over 600 yards -- albeit two of those were Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt. Overall, Presbyterian has now lost its last five games all by double figures.

Meanwhile, that makes four wins in a row for Coastal -- all by at least 22 points. The Chants have won those four conference games by an average margin of 32.8 points, which qualifies as the most dominant four-game stretch in program history, and they do indeed seem to be playing their best football at just the right time as opportunity now awaits them.

“I just want this team to be remembered as one of those teams that those were some close guys -- they played in some tough battles, they came up short a few times, but they always rallied back,” Hillary said. “I also want to be remembered as the team that laid this foundation for coach Moglia and this new Coastal Carolina. I’m excited about these years going forward, these next couple years coming back and seeing coach and the rest of the staff putting on a show.”

Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.

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