The Coastal Carolina football team was about 350 miles from campus Saturday, but a significant traveling contingent of Chanticleer fans nonetheless made themselves right at home in the pre-game tailgating area outside Old Dominion’s Ballard Stadium.
Milling around a large Coastal tent, students, alumni and other supporters expressed their excitement for the Chants’ late-season surge and first-ever playoff victory last week and, well, their surprise that this has all happened in coach Joe Moglia’s first season with the program.
Two buses of traveling students arrived about an hour and a half before Coastal’s second-round NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff game with the Monarchs, and others made their own trek here to witness what they hoped would be more Chants history. That wasn’t the end result as No. 3-ranked Old Dominion pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 63-35 win, but the general sentiment nonetheless was that the team and its new head coach had exceeded expectations this fall.
“It’s really exciting,” said Shannon Gammel, a 2007 Coastal graduate who lives in Richmond, Va. “We definitely had to come see them because when I started going to Coastal is when the football team was first coming to school, so it’s really great to see them come this far.”
She said she hasn’t been back to campus in several years, and she was looking forward to reconnecting with some sorority sisters who were also coming out to support the team. Gammel, who made the short drive with her husband Tim, has been following the football team online this season and acknowledged she had some doubts after Moglia was hired to replace longtime head coach David Bennett.
“I was really nervous about it because it just seemed like a weird decision, but it seems like it’s really paid off,” she said.
For that matter, Gammel wasn’t the only one who said the team had surpassed many fans’ cautious expectations with eight wins this season following the much-debated coaching change.
“It’s been great. I know there was a lot behind it,” said Derek Doss, a 2008 CCU graduate who now works for the university. “People weren’t sure how it was going to go, but I jumped on the wagon early and I’m really excited to see us continue to make a name for ourselves at the FCS level [and] become more well recognized across the east coast.”
CCU athletic director Hunter Yurachek had said earlier in the week Coastal was allotted 1,000 tickets – including those for the band and coaches’ and players’ families – and the Chants indeed had their patch of teal in the corner of the stadium Saturday.
Doss had also made the trip to Daytona Beach, Fla., last weekend to watch the Chants roll past No. 22-ranked Bethune-Cookman for their breakthrough first playoff win. He said he was in Norfolk to hopefully see more program history made while enjoying watching Coastal’s late-season push turn some heads within the fan base – if not beyond.
“I didn’t expect [them going] this far. I told everybody I’d be happy with a .500 [record]. So I’m beyond happy,” Doss said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, he’ll be lucky to get three wins.’ I was like, if we hit .500, I’ll be happy. I’m good with that. That’s a good start to build on and move forward. The only thing is he’s made the road after this a little tougher on him.”
Ashlee Case, a 2009 graduate decked in a teal Coastal jersey, and her husband John Case, wearing a black Chants jersey, overheard Doss talking and chimed in with their own thoughts on Moglia and this team.
“Like him, we thought there was no way,” John Case said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it wouldn’t be this. And I was wrong.”
Said Ashlee: “Thank goodness you were wrong. We’ve been blown away at the accomplishments our team’s made and how disciplined they look and how they’re representing our school.”