By all accounts, Coastal Carolina’s football season began to shift sometime after the Chanticleers returned home from one of the more humbling losses in program history back at the end of September.
It seems so long ago now, but it’s nonetheless a significant point of reference as the team rides its second-half-of-the-season surge into new territory for the program this weekend.
These Chants have won six-straight games by double figures and secured their first-ever FCS playoff victory last week at Bethune-Cookman as they now get set for a second-round clash with No. 3-ranked Old Dominion on Saturday in Norfolk, Va.
These Chants (8-4) have gone further than any Coastal team ever has, have posted the program’s most wins since 2006 and have been playing with a pronounced confidence for a month and a half now.
But these Chants haven’t faced an opponent or road environment like the one they’ll encounter Saturday at Foreman Field since that forgettable afternoon Sept. 29 in Boone, N.C., and if this memorable season is to continue, well, they’ll have to prove that they really are a different team than the group that got bulldozed by Appalachian State for 684 yards in that pivotal loss.
“Without question, we’ve got our work cut out for [us],” CCU coach Joe Moglia said. “They’ve got a culture that’s thinking winning. They’ve got a culture in terms of trying to be big-time. They’re going to have 20,000 people at the game – I doubt [those] 20,000 are going to be rooting for us. That’s OK. We’ve got to be able to handle that.”
Old Dominion (10-1) has quickly established itself as an FCS force and will begin the transition to the FBS level next season. The Monarchs no doubt have the look of a national championship contender this fall.
They lead all FCS teams in total offense at 538.27 yards per game, rank a close second in scoring at 44.45 points per game and boast one of the most dynamic players in the country in sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
“Everybody checks stats, and I’m one of the guys that says, ‘You are what your stats say you are,’ ” Coastal junior cornerback LaDarius Hawthorne said. “So you’ve got to respect who they are, but at the same time I feel if we execute ... we can win the game.”
The Chants certainly acquitted themselves well in their playoff opener last week in Daytona Beach, Fla., while scoring the first 24 points en route to a 24-14 win over No.22-ranked Bethune-Cookman, but the question remains as to how ready Coastal is at this point to match up with one of the country’s best teams in one of the FCS level’s best game day atmospheres where the Monarchs average 20,026 fans per home game as the hottest ticket in town.
And that question stems in part from what happened the last time the Chants faced such a challenge.
“If I had to do Appalachian State all over again, we don’t show up,” Moglia joked. “We don’t go, we don’t bother with the 14-hour trip, we don’t get killed, etc. Now what we would have lost from that is the incredible learning experience we had the following week. So maybe all that was worth it for what we gained from that the following week.”
Moglia was asked if looking back, he sensed an intimidation factor for his team in that game.
“I think it’s a fair question. I want to say no, I didn’t feel that. I didn’t sense that,” he said. “... When I look back on it, it was one of those days where no matter what happened it was good for them and bad for us. It was a bad day. So I try not to over think about that. ... But we did learn from that. We did learn from that.”
After regrouping during the ensuing bye week, Coastal put a scare into Big South power Stony Brook and then began the current streak of six straight lopsided wins.
It has drawn heady praise from Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder this week.
“What they’ve done the last six games is nothing short of spectacular,” Wilder said. “To win six games in a row and do it by an average margin of 27 points is impressive. ... That’s probably as good a job as any coach has done [this season].”
No matter what happens this week, it is indeed fair to say Moglia has laid a strong foundation in his first season at Coastal. He was brought in to make the program into a national contender with the idea that such growth takes time.
This game, this opponent, this stage Saturday is another chance to gauge that process, though, and see truly how far this team has come since its early-season stumbles.
“We are playing in a big game,” Moglia said. “We’re playing in the national playoffs, we’re certainly playing against one of the best teams – if not the best team – in the entire country. Certainly the best offense in the country. They’re going to have 20,000 people yelling and screaming. It’s going to be a hostile [environment]. All of our guys know that. We’ve got to go take care of business and we’ve got to go do what we’ve got to do.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.