For all of Coastal Carolina’s struggles this season, the Chanticleers will take a two-game winning streak into the 2018 season.
Coastal ended its first season in the Sun Belt Conference and at the Football Bowl Subdivision level with a 28-17 win over Georgia Southern on Saturday afternoon at Brooks Stadium.
The Chants (3-9) won their opening game at home against Massachusetts and its final two games, and endured a program-record nine-game losing streak in between.
“I’m very thankful for this team and the way they kept fighting and laying us a great foundation as we go into this offseason,” Coastal Carolina interim head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “We had a young team this year and went through some growing pains, but we weathered a lot of the storms and can build off what we’ve done now and I like the direction we’re headed.”
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Paired with their first Sun Belt win in their most recent game two weeks ago, 13-7 at Idaho, the Chants avoided the Sun Belt basement at 2-6 in the conference. Texas State (2-10) finished 1-7 in the conference, with its lone win against the Chants, and CCU tied Georgia Southern (2-10, 2-6) for 10th in the 12-team league.
Coastal was picked to finish last by Sun Belt coaches in a preseason poll, and Chadwell guaranteed the Chants wouldn’t be at the bottom of the 12-team league at Sun Belt media days in late July.
“I promised we wouldn’t finish last,” said Chadwell, who was reportedly a finalist for the Georgia Southern head job in 2016 before joining the CCU coaching staff this past offseason. “I’m a lot of things but I’m not a liar. So we wanted to make sure I wasn’t a liar. So all you Georgia Southern people, there you go.”
It was very gratifying to go out with a victory for these seniors and everything they’ve done for this program over the last four years, five years. To have the type of season they’ve had, be so close in some things and be able to turn around and win the last two Sun Belt games, I couldn’t be more satisfied for them.
CCU interim head coach Jamey Chadwell
Junior quarterback Kilton Anderson completed 9 of 17 passes for a season-high 180 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the first half.
He connected on 67- and 37-yard touchdown passes to junior Malcolm Williams, who had 120 yards on four receptions, and senior running back Osharmar Abercrombie gained 133 yards and scored two touchdowns on 19 carries.
Abercrombie and Williams gave the Chants their first 100-yard rusher and receiver in the same game since a 2015 game against The Citadel.
Coastal hit a big play early, as Anderson found Williams down the middle for the 67-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage to give CCU a 7-0 lead just 43 seconds into the game.
It was a rare early strike for the Chants, who have played from behind most of the season. It was just the third time CCU opened the scoring in a game this year and broke a streak of eight consecutive games when the opponent scored first.
“That’s an awesome feeling,” Anderson said. “Plays like that give the defense momentum, and when they make big plays, they get fumbles and they get interceptions, that sets the tone for us. So I think it gets both sides of the ball going and brings energy to the team.”
Georgia Southern started its first drive at its 1-yard line after the kick returner slipped after fielding the kickoff, and the Eagles had to punt from their own end zone. Coastal parlayed the good field position into a 48-yard Evan Rabon field goal attempt that was wide left.
Georgia Southern kicker Tyler Bass made a 48-yarder before the Chants drove 75 yards in nine plays, including a 28-yard reception by Ky’Jon Tyler to the GSU 3, for a 1-yard Abercrombie touchdown run early in the second quarter that gave the Chants a 14-3 lead.
Coastal had an opportunity to add to its lead after C.J. Brewer forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow defensive lineman Myles White at the GSU 28. But the Chants opted to eschew a field goal try to attempt a fourth-and-2 conversion at the 20 and Anderson was sacked to turn the ball over on downs.
Georgia Southern then drove 74 yards in 6 minutes and 16 plays, which was one shy of the Eagles season-high in a drive, for a 1-yard scoring run by L.A. Ramsby that cut CCU’s lead to 14-10 with 1:53 left in the first half.
The Chants led GSU in total offense in the first half, 204-135, and finished with a 365-284 advantage. Coastal gained 185 yards on the ground on 42 carries.
A 47-yard kickoff return by GSU’s Myles Campbell to open the second half set up a nine-play, 48-yard drive that was capped by an 8-yard TD reception by tight end Ellis Richardson that gave the Eagles a 17-14 lead.
The Chants regained the lead on Williams’s second TD reception over the middle to give CCU a 21-17 lead midway through the third quarter.
The touchdown was set up by a 19-yard run on a momentum-changing fake punt by Abercrombie on fourth-and-4 at the CCU 43.
“They got momentum, and we have them on two third-and-longs and they convert and get the touchdown,” Chadwell said. “I felt like if we gave the ball back right there, our defense was tired and they had momentum and they could have started pounding on us a little bit. I thought we had to do that. … It felt like that was the right time to call it.”
Abercrombie accounted for all of CCU’s yards on its next drive, gaining 14, 12 and 41 yards in three carries to set up a 1-yard scoring run that gave the Chants a 28-17 lead late in the third quarter.
“I thought Osh ran possessed,” Chadwell said. “What a game he had on his senior day. That one drive was on him. He was running through everybody.”
The drive put Abercrombie over 100 yards rushing for the third time this year and fourth time in his career.
An interception by Preston Cary on the Coastal 24 with 5:43 to play helped the Chants run off some of the clock and salt away the win.
“Of course it feels better [to win the last game],” Abercrombie said. “But I feel good regardless because I know the whole season the team fought. We gave it everything we had the whole season.”
Abercrombie, who played behind former All-American and current Denver Broncos running back De’Angelo Henderson for three years, went over 1,900 career rushing yards in the game to move into fifth place on the all-time CCU rushing list.
Anderson’s 180 passing yards came within 13 yards of his career high accomplished at Fresno State, and he hopes his efforts over the past three games will earn him more consideration for the starting job as a senior next season. The Chants suffered injuries to multiple quarterbacks this season and Anderson started the final three games in place of senior Tyler Keane.
“I just need to find my role, whether that’s being a starter or doing the best I can being a backup,” Anderson said. “It is what it is. This is a business, it’s a tough situation. But I think I’ve set a good foundation. The seniors set a good foundation. I think we got the ball rolling and going into next year we’re going to have a great team.”
Though both teams were concluding difficult seasons, there was some back-and-forth between the programs leading up to the game.
Georgia Southern obviously being relatively close to us is probably going to become a natural rival. They were riding a lot of momentum coming in here and it was good for us to play well off an open week. We really could have probably beaten them a little worse.
CCU interim head coach Jamey Chadwell
Georgia Southern (2-10, 2-6) was coming off consecutive wins over South Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette by a combined 62 points after starting the season 0-9, and the Eagles named five-game interim coach Chad Lunsford the permanent head coach on Monday.
Coastal Carolina promoted a “blackout” for the game, wore black uniforms and encouraged spectators to wear black clothing, and Georgia Southern countered on social media, encouraging its fans to travel en masse and wear white clothing for a “whiteout.”
“They were riding high on their coach being hired emotionally and all that, and beat some people and dominated really, and they were talking about how they were going to make it a whiteout and all these things,” Chadwell said. “Our guys have a lot of pride. They’ve won a lot of games here and I don’t think they wanted anybody coming in here and taking over or trying to take it to us here. I think there was a lot of motivation going on.”