DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Coastal Carolina football coach Joe Moglia stressed several times this week that nothing was going to change with his team’s preparation or mindset just because the Chanticleers were now in the playoffs.
What he didn’t specifically mention was that nothing would change in terms of the Chants’ recent penchant for dominance either.
Making the third NCAA FCS playoff appearance in program history, Coastal scored the game’s first 24 points, didn’t give up a score until midway through the fourth quarter and never had its lead seriously threatened on the way to a 24-14 win on the road over No. 22-ranked Bethune-Cookman inside Municipal Stadium.
It is the first-ever postseason win for the Chants (8-4), who advance to the second round and will go on the road to play fourth-seeded Old Dominion (10-1) next Saturday in Norfolk, Va.
“It’s huge. It’s huge for all the seniors, for us as a program period,” senior quarterback Aramis Hillary said. “It kind of gets us on the national level if you want to say. That’s kind of what we talked about when we had our first meeting with coach Moglia. For him to come in and do it his first year and for our seniors to go out like this, it’s great. For us to have a chance in the playoffs and try to make some noise and try to go win it all, it’s great. Words can’t even explain how excited we are each and every time we get an extra opportunity to go play a game.”
After winning their final five regular-season games by 21 points or more to earn the Big South Conference’s automatic postseason berth and claim their spot on the 20-team FCS playoff bracket, the Chants certainly made the most of this extra opportunity.
Hillary completed 19-of-24 passes for 180 yards, a touchdown and an interception while also rushing for 38 yards, seniors Jeremy Height and Marcus Whitener rushed for 78 and 72 yards respectively, the Coastal defense forced two turnovers and delivered in big moments and the Chants played a disciplined game with just two penalties for 10 yards while the host Wildcats were busy racking up 10 infractions for 108 yards.
Coastal’s eight wins now marks its highest total since 2006 and, again, the program will be entering new territory next week with its second-round matchup.
“It’s a historical fact, which I know everybody is proud of,” Moglia said of securing that first playoff win. “But I think what’s more important is that we’re really able to lay a foundation upon which to build.”
After a scoreless first quarter for both teams Saturday, Coastal broke the game open before halftime with 17 second-quarter points.
Whitener found the end zone on a 14-yard option pitch in the opening minutes of the second quarter for the first score, and the Chants pushed their lead to 14-0 about six and a half minutes later when junior Matt Hazel made a beautiful grab in the back left corner of the end zone on a 3-yard fade pass over two defenders from Hillary.
On the ensuing possession for Bethune-Cookman (9-3), junior safety Johnnie Houston jarred the ball free from junior tight end Jordan Murphy and Coastal recovered the fumble at the Wildcats’ 43. After Hillary was then sacked on third down from the 12, sophomore Alex Catron converted a 35-yard field goal to make it 17-0.
Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins, meanwhile, would have a contentious afternoon with the officials, beginning with that fumble. Murphy was initially ruled down on the play, but the call was overturned upon review and the ball was awarded to Coastal. Jenkins was set off by the call and went on the field to let his frustrations be heard.
“He did fumble and we had a couple players that were in the area of the ball, but they blew the play dead so they stopped and their player recovered the ball,” Jenkins said afterward. “And then they reviewed it. If you call a play dead, I don’t understand how you go back and review it, but they did. My argument was you blew the play dead so it negates anything else. ... That’s what happened. And then right before halftime, the guy who blew the play dead, he came to me and we talked and I appreciate what he said.”
Jenkins wouldn’t expand on that comment.
“That’s between me [and him],” he said. “I just appreciate what he said.”
His appreciation for the officials was fleeting, though.
The Wildcats’ best chance to make the game interesting came early in the fourth quarter after they drove to the CCU 6. But facing fourth-and-5, they were called for a false start. Jenkins then made matters much worse for his team by arguing the call emphatically on the field until being flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that pushed his offense all the way back to the 26.
Senior quarterback Brodrick Waters then appeared to find senior KJ Stroud in the back of the end zone for a momentous touchdown pass on the next play, but the call was reviewed and overturned giving Coastal possession. A university administrator on the Bethune-Cookman sideline gently held Jenkins to keep him on the sideline, but the coach would say afterward all he could do was laugh at that point.
“My argument was how could you call illegal motion on us when we didn’t proceed forward. The ball never snapped. Our guys went from a 2-point to a 3-point stance. Their guys came across the ball,” Jenkins said. “I got a couple different explanations and then I just told the ref I thought it was a bad call. And he threw the flag.”
As for the play in the end zone, officials determined upon review that Stroud had touched out of the back of the end zone before his feet landed inside the boundary.
“I wasn’t surprised because I had a pretty good view of it,” Houston said. “I had seen what had happened and I felt like his hand hit the white before his feet had touched the ground.”
Houston soon added to Coastal’s lead, intercepting Waters on the Wildcats’ next drive and returning it 68 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-0 with 10:26 remaining.
Bethune-Cookman scored its first points with 6:44 to play on a 74-yard pass from sophomore Quentin Williams to senior David Blackwell and converted the two-point conversion, and the Wildcats then cut the Coastal lead to 24-14 on a 10-yard touchdown run by junior Isidore Jackson with 1:22 remaining. A failed two-point conversion try ended any thoughts of a late rally, though.
And with that, this wild, memorable and now historic season for the Chants lived to see yet another week.
“We’re very appreciative of it,” Houston said. “We realize nothing is given to us; we’ve got to go out there and earn it. And we’re just thankful that we get to go on to the next week and play [another] playoff game.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.