CONWAY — Sophomore quarterback Alex Ross delivered one of the most clutch and poised performances of his young collegiate career Saturday in leading Coastal Carolina to a come-from-behind double-overtime win at rival Liberty, but he won’t be able to help the Chanticleers this week.
Ross was a spectator at practice Tuesday while sporting a protective walking boot, and Chants head coach Joe Moglia said the standout sophomore will not play this weekend against VMI after sustaining a foot injury during that 55-52 comeback win in Lynchburg, Va.
“He’s going to be out this week,” Moglia said. “His foot’s sore, banged-up, so he’s got to get that to heal.”
Coastal offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude termed the injury a “mild sprain” and said it happened in the third quarter Saturday. Ross finished the game, completing 24 of 39 passes for 294 yards, three touchdowns and an interception while also rushing for 79 yards.
Patenaude said tests on the foot Tuesday came back negative and the quarterback should be able to return to action next week for the home game against Charlotte, “but definitely for Charleston Southern” the following week.
It hasn’t been decided yet who will start in Ross’ place, but sophomore Michael Church, redshirt-freshman Dalton Demos and graduate student Brian Kass are all expected to get playing time.
“It’s a precautionary deal. He’ll be fine,” Patenaude said. “I think probably by the end of the week he could play, but it’s going to be a precautionary thing and so we’re going to get the other guys ready to go.”
Neither Church nor Demos have thrown an official collegiate pass, though Church played briefly in two games this season and Demos has been used prominently in two-point conversion packages. Kass, a starter at Wofford last season, has thrown two passes this fall while rushing for 24 yards in three games.
“It will be a mix. All three guys bring a different thing to the table,” Patenaude said. “We’re kind of evaluating everything this week. Today’s practice went really well -- it looked like those guys had been out there the whole year. Traditionally those guys don’t get a lot of reps so they have to do a lot of stuff mentally, but they’ve done a really good job the last couple days of getting in and really studying and being prepared.
“They’ll each have a package of stuff to do, and we’ll kind of mix and match throughout the game and see how the flow of the game is going.”
Ross is 8-0 as a starter at Coastal, including one start last season, and has completed 64.8 percent of his passes this fall for 1,571 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions while helping the Chants (7-0, 2-0 Big South) to a No. 3 national ranking in the FCS Coaches Poll and the No. 6 spot in The Sports Network media poll.
He was 5-for-5 passing on Coastal’s game-tying drive in the final minutes of regulation Saturday night -- including a 15-yard touchdown pass -- before connecting on a two-point conversion completion as the Chants tied the game at 45-45 with 45.3 seconds left. They had trailed by 19 points twice in the third quarter.
Ross’ injury wasn’t revealed until the team was on the plane heading home.
“You would have had to cut his foot off to get him out of the game,” Patenaude said. “I don’t think he really felt it because the adrenaline was going, but if he did and he knew he hurt something, he wouldn’t have said anything unless he couldn’t walk.”
VMI brings a record of 1-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big South to Brooks Stadium on Saturday, but Patenaude said the opponent did not factor into the decision to give Ross a week to rest his foot.
Said Moglia, “The rest of the guys have got to step up. Anytime you lose one of your good guys, the rest of the guys have to be able to step up.”
Pauciello makes his mark
Sophomore tight end Thomas Pauciello has had a quiet season while working his way back from offseason ankle surgery, but he made his presence felt in a big way Saturday night.
After catching only two passes all season and none in the last four games, Pauciello hauled in a 14-yard completion and a 15-yard touchdown reception on Coastal’s game-tying drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
“It felt good to make a play for the team,” Pauciello said. “I’m just happy that the coaches gave me an opportunity to make a play like that that late in the game and had confidence in me like that.”
Those were his only catches of the night, but they were no doubt significant.
Patenaude said Pauciello’s recovery from the ankle injury has contributed to his limited production this fall, but the coaches identified a vulnerability in the Liberty defense that they thought the 6-foot-6 tight end could exploit.
“We had ran a similar play [to the 14-yard catch] earlier in the game and I was wide open on it, so I went back to the bench after that play and said, ‘Alex, the bender was wide open,’” Pauciello recalled. “So he said the next time he looked for it and that’s why he threw it that time.”
Cain reflects on fake punt
Junior punter Austin Cain said he felt no extra nerves or pressure midway through the third quarter Saturday when the coaches called for a fake punt from Coastal’s own 41, down 35-16.
For all intents and purposes, though, it was a make-or-break play for the Chants at that juncture of the game, and it became one of the pivotal moments in their comeback as Cain tossed a delayed shovel pass to sophomore Andre Johnson (a reserve linebacker) for a 25-yard gain.
“Actually, I didn’t realize how big of a play it was until looking back on it,” Cain said.
Coastal went on to score a touchdown later in that extended drive to keep pace with Liberty in a back-and-forth flurry of points before later closing the gap.
“It’s something we’ve practiced a lot, and we got the look that we wanted at the beginning of the game and they just kept coming with it so we ran it and it worked out perfectly,” Cain said. “Once the ball was snapped, I knew it was going to work because of the way they were coming.”
Cain said the team had practiced that particular fake punt play about five times. Moglia said it was ultimately the call of running backs coach Brock Olivo, who directs the punt unit.
“He’s the one who designed that, and he came over and we talked about it on third down and on fourth down he made the call,” Moglia said. “I was with him, and that was it. ... It was a pretty cool play.”
Patenaude has not been shy about expressing his confidence in the Chants’ offensive unit, saying a couple times this season that he believes the team can move the ball against anybody if it executes to its potential.
And even when Coastal was down big in the second half Saturday, Patenaude said his belief in his players didn’t waver.
“For whatever reason, I felt we were going to be able to move the ball and score,” he said Tuesday, reflecting back. “We were in a timeout [late in the third quarter] waiting for TV to come back on, and I just said to them, ‘Look, we’re going to win. Just go out and execute. The defense is going to get a stop, and we’re going to score and we’re going to win.’
“At that point, something just hit me -- let’s just do what we do, let’s not panic. We were scuffling a little bit in the first quarter and just finally got our groove and got our legs going and we started playing pretty well. So I just felt like they weren’t going to be able to stop us, and if we had a chance and had the ball last, we’d have a chance to win it.”
Glance at the numbers, and it’s not hard to understand Patenaude’s confidence. Coastal now ranks second among all FCS teams in scoring at 44.7 points per game and eighth in total offense, averaging 495.9 yards per game
On the other side
Coastal defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin gave credit to Liberty for making use of its bye week to get prepared for the Chants, but he did not express any serious concern after seeing his unit give up 615 total yards in the double-overtime win.
“I was proud of the way we finished in the fourth quarter,” Carlin said. “You know, we’ve got to tackle better and we didn’t get lined up properly a lot. We had some misalignments and some missed tackles also, so all things that are fixable -- and we’ll fix it.”
Against Coastal, the Flames went 9-of-13 on third-down conversions and sophomore quarterback Josh Woodrum passed for a career-high 382 yards. The 615 total yards marked the third-highest total the Chants have ever allowed. The defense did come up with a couple timely stops near the end, though, and the unit was holding opponents to an average of 375.7 yards through the first six games.
After reviewing tape of the game, Carlin said he doesn’t believe he needs to make any personnel changes.
On the mend
Senior wide receiver Matt Hazel was wearing a red non-contact jersey at practice Tuesday, but he was active after dinging his shoulder on a leaping catch Saturday night. Hazel finished the game and expressed confidence that he hadn’t sustained a repeat of the shoulder injury that cost him a game earlier this fall. ...
Sophomore receiver Tyrell Blanks (concussion) was wearing red Tuesday, but he did not appear to be active. “He told me that he feels really good today and a lot better than he was last week, but we don’t know yet so we’ll see,” Moglia said.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.