Coastal Carolina’s biggest offensive play Saturday – a play that gave the Chanticleers a chance to knock off the No. 4 team in the Football Championship Subdivision – was a touchdown pass from Tyler Keane to Laquay Brown.
Considering Keane had thrown one career pass and Brown had no career catches, it wasn’t exactly the combination the Chants envisioned would provide a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter at Jacksonville State.
But that’s who the Chants were relying on with the game on the line Saturday after starting quarterback Josh Stilley left the game with a left knee injury early in the second quarter, and they epitomized the gutsy effort the Chants put forth against the Gamecocks.
But Brown’s touchdown with 13:15 left wouldn’t hold up, as JSU All-American senior quarterback Eli Jenkins capped an 11-play, 87-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run with 6:44 to play to allow JSU to escape with a 27-26 win.
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“It’s a great relief to get off that field with a win,” Jenkins said after a nearly four-hour game. “It’s a relief because I feel like we were the better team. We are the better team. … It seemed like it would never end. They played ’till the end.”
A late turnover gave CCU kicker Ryan Granger an opportunity for a 51-yard field goal, but his attempt with 2:27 remaining came up short.
“I asked the guys to give 100 percent and they gave 100 percent,” said Coastal head coach Joe Moglia, whose 17th-ranked team fell to 2-1. “We’re playing against one of the elite teams in FCS certainly over the last several years, national runner-up a year ago at their place. We gave it everything we had and came up a point short.”
Stilley, in his third career start, appeared to be on his way to a big afternoon and breakout performance. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in less than 20 minutes, and had the Chants out to a 12-7 lead.
But he suffered a left knee injury after recovering a fumble about 5 minutes into the second quarter and didn’t return to action. He spent the second half on the CCU sideline with crutches, and his injury will be evaluated.
The Gamecocks scored two touchdowns to take a 20-12 lead in his absence, as the Chants rotated Austin Bradley, a redshirt freshman from Orangeburg who saw a little playing time in CCU’s blowout victory over Florida A&M last week, and freshman Avery McCall from Dillon for the next five possessions before Keane made an appearance on the third possession of the second half.
The fourth-year junior from Myrtle Beach kept the position for the remainder of the game.
“Neither [Bradley nor McCall] were doing much, so Tyler deserved a shot and when he came in he made a little bit of noise and showed some poise, so that was good,” Moglia said. “I think the other guys were a little rattled maybe, and I don’t think Tyler was, so that’s the difference.”
Keane completed 8 of 15 passes in the game for 118 yards and a TD, and led the Chants on consecutive scoring drives late in the third and early in the fourth quarter to give them a 26-20 lead.
“I wasn’t really surprised. I prepared all week for my number to be called. If Stilley went down I was going to be ready,” said Keane, who has predominantly been a holder for kicks in his CCU career. “… Once we started moving the ball and getting some first downs I was starting to get into my groove a little bit. We were having an up-tempo offense and keeping them on their heels and got a couple scores because of that.”
But the Chants had trouble all afternoon containing Jenkins, who has thrown for more than 6,000 yards and rushed for more than 3,000 in his career, and he was particularly effective on the game-winning 11-play drive.
His final touchdown was a 14-yard run on a read option to give JSU a 27-26 lead with the extra point – Gamecocks kicker Cade Stinnett had missed one earlier in the game.
“I wish we would have played like that all game,” Jenkins said. “We play well when we’re going fast, throwing the ball out there and spreading it around. We play well like that, and that’s what we did on that drive, we were pushing it, pushing it, pushing it. It was all about tempo.”
Jenkins finished 18-of-34 for 248 yards and two touchdowns passing, had 111 yards and a touchdown on the ground on 20 carries, and repeatedly scrambled for key first downs while being sacked just twice despite being consistently pressured. Roc Thomas added 144 yards and a score on 25 carries.
“I think today we missed a few tackles,” CCU senior linebacker Alex Scearce said. “Their quarterback is a good athlete so they weren’t the easiest tackles to make. He’s really tough.”
Following Jenkins’ TD, Keane hit A.J. Sattinger on a 30-yard pass to the JSU 36, but he fumbled a shotgun snap on the next play and JSU’s Darius Jackson recovered. Just two plays later, however, Scearce sacked Jenkins and took the ball from him to give CCU the ball at the JSU 41 with 3:56 to play.
“I thought it was huge,” Scearce said. “That’s a great feeling when you do something like that towards the end of the game.”
The Chants were faced with a fourth-and-3 at the JSU 33 and opted for Granger’s 51-yard field goal attempt.
Granger, whose career long is 51 yards, made a 49-yard field goal that hit the crossbar and bounced over going the other direction on the field in the first half.
“We have made those field goals. We’ve made those in practice,” Moglia said. “… If they stop us the game’s over and if we make it we’ve got a shot. We’ve made that before, so that was the thought process.”
CCU forced a punt but got the ball back on its 28 with no timeouts and just 20 seconds remaining. The Chants reached their 41 before a wild scramble play with several laterals following a Chris Jones reception resulted in a fumble. An inadvertent whistle gave CCU one more play but Keane was sacked by Jackson.
Before his injury, which occurred when he recovered a De’Angelo Henderson fumble on a fourth down and tried to advance the ball, Stilley hit a wide-open Bruce Mapp for a 72-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field to give the Chants a 10-7 lead. The lead was extended when Jarius McMillan blocked a punt and the ball bounced through the end zone for a safety.
Jacksonville State (2-1), which fell 34-13 last week at LSU, scored consecutive touchdowns on a Josh Clemons 11-yard run and Jenkins’ second TD pass of 40 or more yards to Demontez Terry in the game.
A Henderson 4-yard TD run, which extended his NCAA Division I record for consecutive games with a TD to 29, pulled Coastal within two points with 4:49 left in the third quarter.
A sack by Laqavious Paul and Ja’ree Tolbert on a fourth-and-4 gave CCU possession at its 43 and Keane completions of 16 yards to Mapp and 27 yards to Devin Brown led to sophomore tight end Laquay Brown’s 9-yard TD catch in tight coverage over the middle. Keane’s two-point conversion pass to Jones gave CCU a 26-20 lead with 13:15 left.
“When Tyler Keane came in the game, a veteran guy, he knows the offense and we picked back up where we left off,” said Mapp, who had four receptions for 140 yards. “We just left some plays out there.”