Many on the Coastal Carolina football team took the field for the final time in their collegiate careers Saturday as the team took on the Hampton Pirates.
They didn’t take it for granted, either.
Chanticleers star running back and NFL hopeful De’Angelo Henderson had a touchdown in the first half to extend his NCAA Division I record for most consecutive games with a touchdown to 35, and senior kicker Ryan Granger tied a program record for most field goals in a game with four as Coastal Carolina downed Hampton 26-7 at Brooks Stadium.
“This was going to be the last game for the guys that came in with us. You look at where we were five or six years ago and look at where we’ve come from since then – they take tremendous pride in that,” said Chants head coach Joe Moglia, who is in his fifth year since taking over for the program’s first coach David Bennett during the 2012 season. “So, a couple of them may have an opportunity to play at the next level but most of them won’t have that opportunity. So today was the last college football game as well as the last football game that many of them will have played. They worked so hard to make sure we were a nationally elite team at the FCS level and we wanted to make sure they were going out in a blaze of glory, kind of, with everything we had.”
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Henderson walked on the teal turf at Brooks Stadium as a player for the final time Saturday and, although it’s expected he will return to the school to visit from time to time, realized the enormity of the moment.
He took it all in, put on his helmet and got in his zone. The senior caught two passes for 40 yards while rushing for 135 and one score on 22 carries, which was the 25th game in his career that he surpassed the 100-yard mark.
And while the honors such as being named an FCS All-American and holding just about every rushing record at Coastal Carolina, Henderson will take something more with him as he will try to make a career out of football.
“Man, it’s still surreal right now,” Henderson said. “I still feel like its Friday and we’re about to go to the hotel. I don’t want to believe its over with, but my time here has been amazing. It has been a blessing just to know where I come from and just to be able to do the things I’ve been able to accomplish. I wasn’t able to do it by myself, but, man, it’s just been a blessing. It’s still surreal. It still hasn’t [sunk] in yet. Probably sometime later today, but, I don’t know. It’s crazy to believe.”
Especially with how the team has done with what it had this season. The Chanticleers lost projected backup quarterback Chance Thrasher for the season during the preseason, while starting quarterback Josh Stilley and freshman signal caller Avery McCall both suffered injuries in the third game of the year – a tough 27-26 loss to FCS powerhouse Jacksonville State – to limit the team’s quarterback supply.
Then, junior Tyler Keane – who hadn’t seen much playing time before this season – stepped up and answered the call, rolling to four wins in the next five games before suffering an injury in a win over Monmouth and limiting him to just one incompletion in limited playing time last week.
The team has dealt with several other injuries at key positions – including one to Henderson, an AC Joint sprain – that held him out for a few weeks. But whenever someone went down, another player stepped up.
“We ended 10-2 with our seventh-string quarterback [in the last game],” Henderson said. “These guys are something special and I’ll forever remember them.”
The Coastal Carolina defense, led by first-year defensive coordinator Mickey Matthews, has stepped up all season.
Saturday was no different as the Chants held the Pirates to just 243 yards of total offense and one score – which came on special teams as Hampton faked a field goal in the fourth quarter for its only score of the contest.
“Their fake field goal on 4th and 11 – I don’t expect them to do that,” Moglia said, “but that was my call so that score is on me. That’s my fault.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the way the defense played. I think the defense has had one hell of season as they’ve proven over the span of the season. I think we’ve had great special teams all season, and the bottom line is that we made a very big deal about our seniors – the guys playing for us for the very last time. They’re the guys that came in with me and the leadership they’ve been able to provide to help us frankly where we have gotten to is something we’re always going to be grateful for. Today was their last game and we made it very, very clear to them that they’re very much responsible for where we are today.”
Linebacker Alex Scearce, who finished his career with a team-high in tackles each of his final two seasons and set a program record for sacks in season with eight, played a huge part in it all – but doesn’t take all the credit.
“I know when I first got here everyone [told me] that you have to take advantage of your time because it goes by pretty quick. Each year [it gets closer] and you never really think about it until it hits you like tonight,” Scearce said. “I think this past year I’ve felt more of a team bond and a cohesiveness of the team I never felt as much before and being a leader this year helps out with that.”
The 20 seniors that have now played their final game in a Coastal Carolina uniform will, later down the road, reflect on what they believe is one of the best seasons so far in the Chanticleers’ history as the team finished 10-2 in a year that didn’t include postseason eligibility due to the fact the program will move to the FBS Sun Belt Conference next season.
“We can’t play in the postseason but I think it’s one of the best seasons we’ve had in the 14 seasons the program has been here,” Scearce said. “I wish we did have some postseason [eligibility] because it would’ve been nice to see what would happen this year. But, you know, unfortunately we can’t do that. I feel like this year even though we had injuries and a lot of stuff like that going on and we’ve been able to adapt and adjust and guys have stepped up this year that has made a big difference.”
While they’d have liked to play potentially a few more games, the seniors are grateful for their times spent at Coastal Carolina.
“At the end of the day, everyone just gave it all they had regardless of what happened, and the mentality was next man up no matter who went down,” Henderson said. “The defense was out of their minds this year; they bailed out the offense so many times this year that I wouldn’t even want to list them. The defense played great, special teams did great and on offense we came along and did what we had to do to put some points on the board this year. But I don’t see why it wouldn’t rank as one of the best teams that ever came here.”