Before he walked off the podium at the end of his press conference during Sun Belt Conference Football Media Days in New Orleans in late July, Coastal Carolina interim head coach Jamey Chadwell paused for a moment to make a proclamation.
“We won’t finish 12th, I promise,” Chadwell said, in reference to the Chanticleers being picked to finish last in a poll of the conference’s head football coaches in their first season in the 12-team league.
Chadwell and the Chants have one game left to prove him right.
The Chants (2-9) earned their first Sun Belt win at Idaho in their last game on Nov. 18 to snap a program-record nine-game losing streak and sit at 1-6 in the conference entering Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern (2-9).
Ten teams have at least two conference wins, so a loss Saturday against Georgia Southern would drop the Chants into a tie for last with Texas State (2-10), which has already completed its season with a 1-7 conference mark.
Though the teams would be tied for last, Texas State could argue it wins a head-to-head tiebreaker since it soundly defeated the Chants 27-7 at Brooks Stadium on Oct. 28.
“So obviously I thought we’d be a little bit better than what we are right now,” Chadwell said. “But I still think we have obviously the opportunity to finish not last. Obviously that’s not the main reason we’re trying to win the football game, more so just to continue to develop our program and have a high note going into the offseason.
“But yeah, I said it, and hopefully we’ll back it up this Saturday.”
At the top of the conference, Troy (9-2), Arkansas State (7-3) and Appalachian State (7-4) are all tied for first at 6-1. App State hosts Louisiana-Lafayette (5-6, 4-3) on Saturday while Troy travels to Arkansas State, so there will either be a two-way tie or outright conference champion. The league adopts two divisions and a conference title game next season.
Sixteen seniors will be honored on the field prior to the start of the game Saturday on Football Senior Day, and in keeping with head coach Joe Moglia’s Be A Man (BAM) program philosophy, all will be leaving Coastal Carolina with a degree.
Fourteen seniors/grad students have undergraduate degrees while kicker Masamitsu Ishibashi and quarterback Tyler Keane will graduate in December. The other players participating in their final game are Osharmar Abercrombie, Gary Bradshaw, Nicholas Clark, Eric Church, Lorenzo D’Angelo, Dalton Demos, Dontay Hears, Kerron Johnson, Shane Johnson, Chris Jones, Rodney Mitchell, Dwayne Price, Marcus Williamson and Austin Wilson.
“It’s about family,” Shane Johnson said. “You build a strong bond with the guys. I still talk to guys that were here my freshman year. … Having those relationships and bonds with guys we haven’t played with and alongside in two or three years, it’s still there like a brotherhood and we’ll have that for the rest of our lives.”
Keane, a Myrtle Beach High graduate who has started 15 games over the past two years, has missed the past two games with a sprained thumb on his throwing hand and is not likely to start. In his career, Keane has completed 167 of 275 passes (60.7 percent completion) for 2,249 yards, which is fifth all-time at CCU, with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has currently thrown 116 passes without a pick.
“He’s not 100 percent so I doubt he’ll play,” Chadwell said. “He’ll dress. If I can get him in there, if the game flow permits, then I will do that because I want to give him that opportunity, I think he deserves that. But I don’t know if he’s 100 percent where if he has to make a tight throw in a window if he has the capability to do that with his injury right now.”
Junior Kilton Anderson will likely start his third straight game and Syracuse graduate transfer Austin Wilson will be the primary backup.
Some CCU players have a chance to cement school records in the final game.
Jones is averaging 21.4 yards per reception this season which would shatter his season record of 18.3 yards in 2015. His career average of 17.9 yards per catch will also set a school record.
Junior punter Evan Rabon is averaging 43.0 yards per punt this season which would crush Austin Cain’s single-season record of 39.2 set in 2014. Rabon also holds the career punting average record of 39.9 and boomed a school-record 65-yard punt against Appalachian State.
Junior punt returner Ky’Jon Tyler is tied with Devin Brown (2014) for the most punt returns in a season with 29 and is 125 yards shy of his single-season punt return yardage record of 808.
Senior linebacker Shane Johnson missed 11 quarters with an injury earlier this season but is within 12 tackles of becoming the 12th CCU player with 100 in a season. His average of 9.7 tackles per game is second in the Sun Belt Conference.
Interim tag gone
Chad Lunsford expected Saturday afternoon’s game at Coastal to be part of his audition to be the permanent head football coach at Georgia Southern.
The 40-year-old Anderson native was appointed the interim head coach when Tyson Summers was fired six winless games into the season.
Lunsford, who had been the Eagles assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, expressed his desire to have the interim tag removed and it happened Monday afternoon. So he’ll be coaching Saturday as the leader of a college football program for the first time.
He is in his second stint at Georgia Southern. He was an assistant from 2003-05 and returned in 2013 after four years at Auburn as Director of Scouting and Director of Player Personnel, assisting with the day-to-day operations of Auburn football with an emphasis on recruiting, organizing and prospect evaluation.
“I’m very excited about this,” Lunsford said. “Georgia Southern is very special to me. I’ve been here twice. A lot of years spent. I understand the place. I understand what it’s about. I understand what it takes, and I can’t wait to lead this program to do those particular things. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and go to work, blue collar all the way.”
Lunsford received a groundswell of support on social media as interim coach through the hashtag #WeWantLunsford. “It makes me feel like I’ve touched a lot of lives, and any time you can feel that way you know you have a purpose,” Lunsford said.
His popularity with his players was evident Saturday with the celebration in the visitor locker room at Louisiana-Lafayette following the team’s second consecutive win and second win of the season. It began with Lunsford dropping a pro wrestling-style elbow on a folding chair and included him crowd surfing above his players.
The scene may be similar in the visitor locker room at Brooks Stadium if the Eagles beat the Chants.
“I think he’s got them playing hard,” said Chadwell, who is standing in this season for Joe Moglia during the head coach’s five-month medical sabbatical. “Those players were playing for him to get the job, obviously, you could tell that. Now that he’s got it they’re excited and playing with more passion and emotion. … I hope you’ll see our team play with that type of excitement. We’ll need to because if we don’t, they’re on a high right now and so we need to knock them off of it.”
Georgia Southern won six Football Championship Subdivision national championships between 1985 and 2000 before making the jump to FBS in 2014, and the Eagles were impressive in their first two years, winning nine games in both ‘14 and ‘15 under Willie Fritz, who then left to take the head job at Tulane.
Summers went 5-7 last year before starting the season 0-6, and Lunsford, who was a nominee for the 2016 Broyles Award for nation’s top assistant coach, was named interim head coach on Oct. 22 following a 55-20 loss to previously winless Massachusetts.
The Eagles lost their first three games under the 2000 Georgia College graduate, falling 38-16 at Troy, 21-17 against Georgia State and 27-6 at Appalachian State. Georgia Southern waxed South Alabama 52-0 for its first win and won 34-24 at Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. “We’re looking forward to trying to carry that on,” Lunsford said.
Because Coastal is in its first season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, it had to take non-conference games when it could get them, so it had a schedule quirk with bye weeks coming after its first game and before its final game.
So the Chants welcomed some rest prior to Saturday’s season finale. The team practiced Tuesday and Wednesday and was off Thursday through Saturday before returning for practice Sunday night and the remainder of this week.
“It was much needed for our football team, playing 10 straight games,” Chadwell said. “We had a lot of guys banged up throughout the season.”
Who: Georgia Southern (2-9, 2-5 Sun Belt) at Coastal Carolina (2-9, 1-6 Sun Belt)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Brooks Stadium, Conway
Occassion: Football Senior Day
TV: Live online on ESPN3
Live stats: Through www.goccusports.com GameTracker
Radio: WRNN 99.5-FM