Using two quarterbacks to give opposing defenses different looks over the course of a game has become fairly common in college football.
Coastal Carolina took it a step further on Saturday, rotating three quarterbacks into the game to defeat Massachusetts 24-13 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst, Mass.
At one point in the third quarter, Coastal, which improved to 4-3 in its final nonconference game of the season, used all three quarterbacks over six plays during the same drive.
The most unlikely of the three led Coastal to its game-winning points.
True freshman Fred Payton, who had attempted just three passes in the opening six games – all last week late in a lopsided loss to Louisiana-Monroe – threw two touchdowns in the second half to lead the Chants to a comeback win.
“I felt like I did well. Really and truly, I trusted in my teammates, and they trusted in me and everything worked itself out,” Payton said during a postgame television interview. “We all could have done it, every one of our quarterbacks, but I had the hot hand tonight.”
Senior Kilton Anderson started after missing the past two-plus games with an ankle injury. He tweaked the injury late in the first half and his mobility was limited. He did not play in the final 20 minutes.
Anderson completed 4 of 10 passes for 112 yards and gained 11 yards on three carries, and true freshmen Bryce Carpenter, who started the previous two games in Anderson’s absence, gained 53 yards on nine carries and threw an incompletion on his lone pass attempt.
Payton, of Suwanee, Ga., played the most meaningful minutes and completed 5 of 7 passes for 107 yards with the two TDs and an interception, and he also gained 44 yards on five carries.
“Our first guy was hurt, and the other two guys are freshmen and each have their respective skill sets,” CCU head coach Joe Moglia said on television. “So we try to do everything we can not to ask anyone to do something they can’t do, and that was what we did.”
Malcolm Williams was the QB trio’s most effective target with four receptions for 153 yards and a TD.
Running backs Marcus Outlow and Torrance “C.J.” Marable combined to gain 171 yards on 30 carries, with Outlow scoring a touchdown rushing and Marable one receiving.
The game promised to be a shootout as the teams combined to average more than 68 points scored per game and more than 80 points allowed per game on the season entering the contest.
But the Chants trailed 6-3 at halftime, and turnovers, unfinished drives and missed field goals were largely to blame for Coastal’s inability to score in the opening two quarters.
Both of CCU’s turnovers came in the first half, as Payton threw his interception and Carpenter fumbled.
Freshman Massimo Biscardi kicked a 28-yard FG for CCU in the first quarter to improve to 8-for-8 to start his college career, but he missed field goal attempts of 48 and 34 yards later in the first half – the first to the left and second to the right.
“It’s ridiculous. We’re driving all the way down the field then we can’t get the ball in (the end zone),” center Trey Carter told WRNN-FM 99.5. “That’s on the offensive line. We had to pick it up and I think we did in the second half.”
The Coastal defense forced a pair of first-half fumbles to help limit the Minutemen (2-6) to a pair of field goals in the sloppy opening two quarters. Neither team committed a turnover in the second half, when CCU held a UMass offense averaging 36.3 points per game to a touchdown.
Coastal recorded 10 tackles for losses, including 2.5 by defensive end Tarron Jackson, two by defensive end Jeffrey Gunter and 1.5 by defensive lineman Sterling Johnson. The Chants also got sacks on blitzes by safeties Jave Brown and Fitz Wattley.
“UMass has a very potent offense. I’m really incredibly proud of the job the defense did,” CCU head coach Joe Moglia said on television. “On defense, that was probably our best performance [this season].”
Coastal had 498 yards of offense, including 279 on the ground against the third worst rushing defense in FBS, while UMass had 453 yards of offense, including 390 passing. The Chants had possession of the ball for nearly 36 minutes, which was almost 12 minutes more than the Minutemen.
Coastal’s Alex Spillum caused a fumble on a kickoff in the first quarter that was recovered by T’Qele Holmes at the UMass 33 to set up a scoring opportunity that resulted in a missed field goal, and a Brown hit forced a fumble by receiver Andy Isabella at the CCU 7 to thwart a UMass scoring opportunity in the second quarter.
Scoring picked up in the second half, with the teams combining to score three TDs in 4:08 in the third quarter.
Outlow gave Coastal a 10-6 lead with a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal. He was stopped shy of the end zone but reached the ball across the goal line for the score.
The run capped a 15-play drive that took the opening 8:10 of the second half to account for the Chants’ longest drive in terms of game time this season. The 15 plays matched their longest drive of the season in terms of plays.
UMass answered with a 22-yard TD reception by Sadiq Palmer, who was well covered in the middle of the end zone but caught Andrew Ford’s pass through the arms of defensive back Mallory Claybourne.
A 61-yard TD reception by Williams reestablished a four-point lead for Coastal. Payton rolled to his left and threw across his body to find an open Williams about 40 yards down the left sideline.
Payton threw his second TD three minutes into the fourth quarter to give the Chants a 24-13 lead, hitting Marable on a 21-yard wheel route. Marable was one of three running backs in the backfield and reached over the head of safety Brice McAllister to haul in the TD pass in the end zone.
“Just to have my teammates behind me and trusting in me and believing in me, it made it a lot easier to just go out there and play and freewheel,” Payton told WRNN.
He said he was surprised when he was called upon in the second quarter after Anderson tweaked his ankle on a touchdown pass that was negated by a holding call, one of just three penalties for 20 yards in the game for CCU.
“Honestly, I was caught off-guard. I took off the head set and had to go in and get ready,” Payton told WRNN. “. . . My father always told me if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. So when my number was called, I was like, ‘It’s nothing I’ve never done before,’ so I just went out there and executed.”
UMass reached the CCU 17 following Payton’s second TD pass and opted to eschew a 34-yard field goal attempt that would have pulled it within eight points with eight minutes remaining. Brown sacked Ford at the 27 on fourth down to give CCU possession.
Ford injured his right leg on the sack, was helped off the field and did not return to the game.
UMass was unable to score in its final two possessions with senior Ross Comis at QB, and CCU wrapped up the win when linebacker Teddy Gallagher tackled Bilal Ally at midfield on fourth down, 6 yards shy of a first down in the final two minutes.
Coastal ended a two-game losing streak, Sun Belt Conference losses to Troy and Louisiana-Monroe.
“We knew we didn’t play up to our standards the past two weeks, so this week we really wanted to prove what we could do, and that’s what we did,” Gunter told WRNN.