CONWAY — Sophomore quarterback Alex Ross and his vaunted crew of receivers were uncharacteristically out of sync for much of the night, and the same Coastal Carolina offense that has emerged as one of the most prolific units at the entire FCS level couldn’t manage a drive longer than 43 yards in the first half.
It didn’t matter.
Big plays on special teams and defense sparked Coastal to a 14-point halftime lead Saturday night and the No. 6/8-ranked Chanticleers rolled just the same to yet another lopsided win while topping visiting Gardner-Webb 42-7 in the teams’ Big South opener at Brooks Stadium.
“I don’t think we played perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” Chants head coach Joe Moglia said. “But we played good football tonight, and we beat a good football team.”
Senior running back Lorenzo Taliaferro continued his prodigious season with 144 yards and three touchdowns in 24 carries, leading the way with his third three-touchdown performance in the last four games. As a whole, Coastal finished with a modest 379 yards – after going for 652 in its last game – while Ross was 12-of-21 passing for 157 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
The Chants entered the game ranked seventh among all FCS teams in total offense while averaging 507.6 yards through their first five contests, and while they were not quite at that level Saturday night, it was still good enough to get the team to 6-0 and keep this breakout season rolling right along.
“I think it might have been rust coming off the bye week,” Ross said. “We definitely had the looks we wanted. Just a few dropped balls here, a few misplaced balls there – I’ve got to put those balls more on target – but I’d say it was rust coming off the bye week.”
Gardner-Webb (4-3) looked to be one of the tougher opponents remaining on the schedule, having already defeated two ranked teams this season with wins over Richmond and Wofford, but on this night the Runnin’ Bulldogs just couldn’t keep pace.
After being forced to punt on their first three possessions, Coastal eventually got the spark it needed on special teams when Gardner-Webb’s J.J. Hubbard dropped a punt return and senior LaDarius Hawthorne recovered for the Chants at the visitors’ 5-yard line. Taliaferro scored two plays later from 4 yards out for a 7-0 lead late in the opening quarter.
On the ensuing Gardner-Webb possession, Coastal junior linebacker Quinn Backus added another notch to his Big South Defensive Player of the Year candidacy with a 73-yard interception return for touchdown – the longest in program history – to make it 14-0.
“All week I was making jokes about the quarterback being my friend,” Backus said later.
Even more so, he was the Coastal offense’s friend Saturday night while helping the Chants continue to build their lead despite that aforementioned rust.
And after the Runnin’ Bulldogs finally found the end zone while capitalizing on a holding penalty that waived off a Coastal interception near the goal line, the Chants’ defense stepped up further on the visitors’ next series and forced a punt from the GWU 10. With prime field position from the Gardner-Webb 43, Ross moved the Chants to the 2 in three quick plays before Taliaferro scored again to make it 21-7 late in the second quarter.
While Ross was just 4 of 11 for 38 yards in the first half, he was much sharper after halftime, going 8-of-10 for 119 yards to help put the game out of reach.
“The defense played a great game,” Ross said. “They carried us tonight, and we started picking it up later in the second half, but the whole first half, it was the defense’s game.”
Coastal held Gardner-Webb to 160 yards and no points after halftime, and added points on Taliaferro’s third touchdown run, Ross’ 1-yard touchdown pass to senior Matt Hazel and a 12-yard touchdown run by senior Travis Small.
Another week, another dominating effort; the Chants have now won each of their last four games by at least 19 points.
“We’ve just got to go out and play tough each week, practice hard and I guess just send a message that we’re hungry,” Backus said. “… Each week [if] we just continue to get better and not be lazy and not think we arrived or anything, we should be all right.”
CCar—Taliaferro 4 run (Catron kick), 4:21. CCar—Backus 73 interception return (Catron kick), :42.
GWb—Blount 3 run (Day kick), 8:26. CCar—Taliaferro 2 run (Catron kick), 2:56.
CCar—Taliaferro 13 run (Catron kick), 5:26.
CCar—Hazel 1 pass from Ross (Catron kick), 11:50. CCar—Small 12 run (Catron kick), 2:09.
Att.—7,819 (at CoastalCarolina).
|Time of Possession||36:55||23:05|
RUSHING—Gardner-Webb, Blount 26-84, Talley 4-27, Team 1-(minus 1), Hubbard 2-(minus 2), Beatty 8-(minus 10). Coastal Carolina, Taliaferro 24-144, Ross 7-37, Henderson 2-27, Small 3-12, Silverberg 1-2.
PASSING—Gardner-Webb, Beatty 21-40-2-282, Dunlap 0-1-1-0. Coastal Carolina, Ross 12-21-1-157.
RECEIVING—Gardner-Webb, K.Cook 7-100, Jules 4-37, De.White 3-58, Swinton 3-28, Estes 2-45, Cranfill 2-14. Coastal Carolina, Bennett 4-70, Taliaferro 4-23, Hazel 2-23, Israel 1-23, Mastromatteo 1-18.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or follow him on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.