Coastal Carolina knew its move to the Sun Belt Conference this season would come with increased travel, and no trip will be longer than this week’s jaunt to Moscow, Idaho.
It is the farthest road trip in the program’s history.
According to Google Maps, the distance from Conway to Moscow is 2,737 miles. Prior to this trip, Coastal’s farthest trip was 2,488 miles to face Montana in Missoula, Mont.
Coastal won that 2013 NCAA FCS second-round contest 42-35 in minus-5 degrees with wind chills reaching minus-30, making it what is believed to be the coldest FCS playoff game ever. The Chants will have the benefit of controlled conditions in the Kibbie Dome on Saturday.
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“Typically when you’re doing something like this it’s a playoff game or bowl game or something,” CCU interim head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “We’re going to have a lot of time to spend together.”
This will be Coastal’s fourth trip across the Mississippi River this year, having previously played at Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State and Arkansas.
Prior to this year, Coastal had only crossed the Mississippi River four times – the 2013 trip to Montana for the FCS playoffs, twice (2013 and 2014) to play eventual national champion North Dakota State in the NCAA FCS quarterfinals, and the 2016 season opener at Lamar.
The team is leaving Thursday rather than the typical Friday, and will arrive in Moscow late Thursday night after landing in Lewiston, Idaho and taking about a 90-minute bus ride.
Coastal will use a conference room at its hotel to stretch and do some exercises after arriving Thursday and will spend time burning some energy in the Kibbie Dome on Friday morning.
“The thing we’re most concerned about is the jet lag and the five-hour trip,” Chadwell said. “We’ll have to make sure we get there and run around in the dome Friday. We may have airplane legs or whatever that might be. Hopefully we won’t have any jet lag and some of those things. If we don’t win it’s not going to be because we had jet lag. We’re going to get all of that out of us. If we don’t win it will be because we didn’t play well.”
The logistics of CCU’s game preparation are quite encompassing. Overseen by CCU Football Chief of Staff and Director of Football Operations George Glenn, the school had to pack a truck and trailer through FedEx Custom Critical with team supplies early this week. The truck is traveling three days to Moscow with a husband and wife tandem driving team for a planned arrival at 1 p.m. Friday. It will take another three days for it to return to Conway following the game.
The contents had to be packed on pallets, weighed and shrink-wrapped for the trip. Other equipment will be loaded on the team’s private charter plane, along with a total of about 130 players, coaches and support staff.
Several CCU seniors were on the team in 2014 for the playoff trip to North Dakota State, and running back Osharmar Abercrombie recalls being tired when the team arrived. But it’s also an opportunity for the players to bond, with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but hang around their teammates.
Abercrombie said teammates will bring video games and cards for entertainment, and senior defensive end Dwayne Price said teammates will likely get into longer and deeper conversations on a myriad of topics.
“You’re around someone every day for a specific amount of time, then the next thing you know you’re all like a band of brothers just in the house without your parents, so to speak,” Price said. “You have more fun. It’s more energetic. I think the reason some people get tired is because they’re not used to being in planes for that long and taking long journeys.”
The team is expected to return to the Myrtle Beach area about 5 a.m. Sunday.
The Chants (1-9, 0-6 Sun Belt) are crossing the country to face an Idaho team that is 3-6 overall and 2-3 in the conference.
“I think the significance is, are we going to continue to play out when there’s nothing to play for, when you’re playing teams that have struggled as well?” Chadwell said. “What’s the purpose, what team is going to show up? That’s what makes the trip in my mind very important for this program.”
In addition to Coastal having the disadvantage of essentially a short week of preparation because of the duration of the long trip, the Vandals have the added benefit of coming off a bye week.
Having less time to prepare than an opponent is nothing new this season for Coastal.
With their bye weeks coming after the first game and before the final game, the Chants are playing 10 consecutive Saturdays through this weekend, a stretch that includes seven of their eight Sun Belt Conference games.
So the Chants have had just six days between each of those games. Conversely, their seven conference opponents have had an average of 10.3 days between games. Three have had bye weeks prior to their meeting with CCU, Arkansas State played on a Wednesday the prior week and Troy played on a Thursday. Only Louisiana-Monroe and Appalachian State had the same six days between games.
Idaho last played on Thursday, Nov. 2, giving it 15 days between games. While CCU may have to battle fatigue in its 10th consecutive game, the Vandals may have to battle being rusty.
Key parts missing
Senior quarterback Tyler Keane is not expected to play again this week with a thumb injury on his throwing hand, so junior and former Fresno State starting QB Kilton Anderson will get his second consecutive start on Saturday.
Anderson was 13 of 25 for 157 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in last week’s 42-17 loss to Troy, and on the season he is 29 of 69 for 463 yards with five TDs and two interceptions, with 22 yards rushing on 30 carries.
Redshirt sophomore Chance Thrasher, who battled shoulder injuries his first two seasons at CCU and injured an ankle in his first play this season on Sept. 30 at Louisiana-Monroe, may be cleared to play as Anderson’s backup, though Chadwell is wary of getting the Suwannee, Ga., native injured again with just two games left.
“The thing with Chance is you could give him some reps but one play and something might happen again, so you have that always in the back of your mind,” Chadwell said. “It’s an interesting predicament right now, but we’ll work through it.”
Syracuse transfer graduate student Austin Wilson, who became the sixth player to see action at QB this season when he spelled Anderson for three plays last week, and grad student and running specialist Dalton Demos are also available at the position.
The QBs may be without some key weapons as receiver Omar Black is likely out for the second straight game and Ky’Jon Tyler is questionable to doubtful with an ankle injury. Black has led the Chants in receiving in two games this year and has 20 receptions for 271 and two touchdowns.
Tyler would be more of a loss. In addition to 21 receptions for 276 yards and two scores as a receiver, and 73 yards rushing, Tyler has tied a CCU kickoff return record. By returning five kickoffs against Tory, Tyler has returned 29 for the season, tying Devin Brown for the CCU single-season record.
He gained 152 yards on the five returns, with a long of 50, and his 683 kick return yards rank second on the CCU single-season list behind Brown’s 808. Tyler has 1,096 all-purpose yards this season.
Sophomore linebacker Laqavious Paul is also questionable to doubtful with an injury.
“You might have some guys that have not played a lot, play a lot more in this game,” Chadwell said.
Tip-Off at HTC
The Puerto Rico Tip-Off basketball tournament, which was relocated to Myrtle Beach from the U.S. territory because of the island’s ongoing recovery from Hurricane Maria, is being played at CCU’s HTC Center on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
South Carolina, a 2017 Final Four team, is a headliner of the eight-team field. The Gamecocks (2-0) take on Illinois State (0-1) in the opener at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN2. That game will be followed Thursday by Boise State vs. Texas-El Paso at 2 p.m., Iowa State vs. Appalachian State at 5:30 p.m. and Tulsa vs. Western Michigan at 8 p.m.
All but one of the 12 games in the tournament bracket – there are two additional games – will be broadcast on either ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPNews, with the championship game scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.
Tickets to all games are $99 plus tax and tickets to individual two-game sessions are $35 each and may be limited, and all tickets are available at www.primesport.com.
Parking near the HTC Center is extremely limited, especially with Coastal classes in session Thursday and Friday, so organizers recommend parking in lots on U.S. 501 and S.C. 544 and taking shuttles that leave every 15 minutes to the arena and back.