After losing in its regular-season finale, the Coastal Carolina football team had to wait with a bit of added suspense to learn its postseason fate Sunday.
Nonetheless, the Chanticleers will be home for the start of the NCAA FCS playoffs for the third straight season as they host The Citadel on Saturday at Brooks Stadium.
But they have a tough road ahead as the Bulldogs are coming off a stunning 23-22 upset of South Carolina this weekend, and No. 8-seeded Charleston Southern – which beat the Chants 33-25 back on Oct. 31– awaits the winner.
“I think because we didn’t take care of business on Thursday, I was hoping we may still have a shot at the 8th seed, but I can appreciate why we didn’t,” Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia said. “I’m happy we’re in the playoffs, and The Citadel has had a great season, of course. To upset South Carolina, we know that had to be an incredible effort on their part. We know they’re euphoric entering the playoffs and having beaten South Carolina. Everyone we are playing in the playoffs is a big deal.”
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This will mark the fourth ever FCS home playoff game for Coastal Carolina and the sixth overall appearance.
The Chants are looking to build on the postseason success they’ve enjoyed while reaching the third round of the playoffs the last two years, ending both seasons with a loss at eventual FCS national champion North Dakota State.
The Bison aren’t on their side of the bracket this year, though. Instead, the Chants have two teams that employ a version of the triple-option awaiting them.
The Citadel, in its second year under head coach Mike Houston, ranks second in the FCS in rushing at 344.2 yards per game. The Bulldogs rushed for 350 yards and passed for just 37 in their upset win over the Gamecocks on Saturday. Tyler Renew had the decisive score on a 56-yard touchdown run with 6:07 remaining.
They were also co-champions of the Southern Conference this season.
“They’re going to be euphoric. No. 1, they’re in the playoffs, No. 2 they’ve had a great season, No. 3 they upset a storied program in South Carolina. I have no doubt they’re going to be ready to go,” Moglia said.
Coastal Carolina played The Citadel in the teams’ 2014 season opener, winning 31-16 despite giving up 358 rushing yards to the Bulldogs.
In general, triple-option attacks have posed a problem for the Chants. While Charleston Southern employs a hybrid version of the option, operating out of the shotgun, Moglia said it might actually be an advantage to potentially face two option-oriented attacks in consecutive weeks.
“We had to play Charleston Southern and a couple weeks after that we had to play Kennesaw State. They’re a tough attack to defend, but one helps you for the other other,” Moglia said.
After that loss to Charleston Southern, the Chants did rebound impressively with two dominant wins over Gardner-Webb and Kennesaw State – by a combined 91-13 margin – before stumbling Thursday night at Liberty in a dramatic 24-21 loss.
The Flames converted on fourth-and-8 in their game-winning drive and capped it with a 40-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:27 remaining. It marked the second straight season Liberty had dealt the Chants a tough loss in the final game of the regular season.
Listening to Moglia talk Sunday, it was clear the sting of that defeat – which as he noted likely cost the team a top-eight seed and first-round bye – still remains.
“I think [the players] are certainly very, very disappointed in that loss, especially to lose in the last minute of the game,” he said. “It was similar a year ago. I think our guys played hard. Some plays we had the opportunity to make, we didn’t make them. You think about the last few minutes of the game, third-and-15, Tyrell [Blanks] makes the catch and the defensive back is not in position to tackle him and he falls down; our tight end had a ball go through his hands there in the last couple minutes; Frankie Richardson had a ball goes through his hands; Bruce [Mapp] had a ball go through his hands. That’s all in the last five minutes.”
But the Chants will get their opportunity to move forward Saturday.
Their overall goals remain within reach – the path just might be a little more difficult now.
NCAA FCS Playoffs
Who | The Citadel at Coastal Carolina
Where | Brooks Stadium, Conway
When | 2 p.m. Saturday
Tickets | Tickets for the playoff game Saturday are $20 for upper seats and $15 for the lower level and are available online or by calling the school’s ticket office at 843-347-8499.