Charleston Southern held Gardner-Webb to 207 total yards and posted 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat the visiting Bulldogs, 28-10.
The win moves CSU to 5-5 and 3-2 in Big South Conference play, while GWU falls to 2-8 and 1-4 in league play.
The win gives the Bucs a 4-1 home record for 2012 and sends the CSU seniors out with a four-game home winning streak.
The seniors played a big part in the win. Safety Austin Wald had a fourth quarter interception to set up the Bucs for a two-possession lead, and senior Charles James intercepted his 12th career pass to set the CSU all-time for career interceptions.
CSU head coach Jay Mills praised his defenses performance, which kept the Bucs close until a late offensive explosion.
"Fantastic performance (by the defense)," said Mills. "We came off a game last week where we allowed a lot of yards to Liberty, which was uncharacteristic of how we had been playing. Our defense just kept hanging in there and they kept us in the game. I can't say enough about our staff and the way our players took ownership of this game."
The Bucs held Gardner-Webb to three yards per play and physically controlled the game, eventually wearing down the Bulldogs.
"We persevered through a very difficult three quarters and our guys were resilient," said CSU head coach Jay Mills. "We showed a lot of maturity in the fourth quarter and I'm really proud of this team."
The defense continued to give the Bucs' offense opportunities, then things all came together at once in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Malcolm Dixon ripped off touchdown runs of 69 and 15 yards, while Teddy Allen added a 31-yard touchdown run as the Bucs blew the game open.
Wald interception and return set up Dixon's second run as the Bucs piled up 212 yards of offense in the final quarter after just 121 through three quarters.
"With our offense, it can be two yards, three yards, four yards and we self-inflicted a few times but we know at any point and time we can break one," said Mills.
Before the explosive final quarter, the game was a little lethargic and dominated by both defenses.
Gardner-Webb put together the first potential scoring drive of the game but Trevor Austin's 38 yard field goal attempt from the left hashmark was pushed wide right with 3:21 left in the quarter to keep the game scoreless. GWU quarterback Lucas Beatty kept the drive alive with a 14 yard completion to Seth Cranfill on third-and-4 to move the ball into Buccaneers territory, but CSU's defense forced the field goal attempt following a Beatty incompletion in the end zone.
Charleston Southern broke the seal on the end zone in their first drive of the second quarter as Elijah Lee took the reverse pitch from Mike Davis, shrugged off a defender in the backfield and out-raced the defense to the left pylon for the touchdown from 10 yards out. CSU kept the drive alive on fourth-and-6 from the Gardner-Webb 25 yard line as Malcolm Dixon connected with Will Hunt up the left seam for a 15 yard gain, setting up Lee's first rushing touchdown of the season. Larry Jones III added a 20 yard reception while Teddy Allen had a 29 yard carry on the drive as CSU went up 7-0 following T.J. Higgins' extra point attempt with 9:08 left in the first half.
The Runnin' Bulldogs put their first points on the board late in the second quarter as Beatty connected with Kenny Cook in the left corner of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 10 yard line as GWU took advantage of a CSU fumble on the punt return. Set with the short field, the Runnin' Bulldogs took advantage of two fourth down conversions with Juanne Blount connecting with Demetrius Fairley for 14 yards on fourth-and-10 and Beatty found Cook four plays later in the end zone. Austin's extra point evened the score with 1:36 remaining in the half.
Austin gave the Runnin' Bulldogs their first lead of the game with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter, connecting from 22 yards out following a 10 play, 47 yard drive as GWU started their drive on their own 48 yard line. Beatty connected on an 11 yard pass to Deonte Swinton on the first play of the drive and Blount added a 12 yard carry in the mix, but CSU's defense held strong at the goal line as the James knocked down a pass in the front left corner of the end zone, forcing the field goal attempt.
Dixon responded at the beginning of the fourth quarter, faking the handoff up the middle in the read-option offense and the senior quarterback broke through the defense, carrying the ball up the right sideline and shedding two tackles along the way before crossing the goal line for the 69 yard touchdown run. The carry was the longest scoring play of the season for the Buccaneers and Dixon's longest carry in his collegiate career as the Buccaneers went up 14-10 following Higgins' extra point with 14:04 left in the game.
On the following drive, Austin Wald stepped in front of a Beatty pass at the 40 yard line and weaved his way back to the GWU 15, setting the Buccaneers up in prime scoring position. Dixon called his own number on the following play, faking the pitch to set up the defense and carried the ball across the goal line with 12:09 on the clock in the fourth quarter and Higgins converted the extra point putting the score at 21-10 in favor of the home team.
James added his 12th career interception late in the fourth quarter taking over sole possession on top of the CSU career interception leaderboard after stepping in front of a Beatty pass at the GWU 43 yard line, returning it to the 39. Three plays later, Allen found a hole up the middle and sprinted pass the defense, scoring the fourth rushing touchdown of the day for the Buccaneers from 31 yards out and Higgins converted the extra point to put the Buccaneers up 28-10 with 2:47 remaining in the game.
Allen finished the game with 16 carries and 107 rushing yards, his third 100+ rushing performance on the season in the victory, while Dixon had 56 yards and two scores on the ground, in addition to 90 yards through the air of 7-for-10 passing.
Larry Jones III had 55 yards on four receptions, while James put the Buccaneers offense in prime position all afternoon with 74 punt return yards in his final game at Buccaneer Field.
The Buccaneers defense held the Gardner-Webb offense to 207 total offensive yards, keeping the Runnin' Bulldogs to 98 yards in the second half with Matt Hardy and Calvin Bryant leading defensive coordinator Shawn Quinn's defense with six tackles apiece.
Beatty was 11-for-33 through the air for Gardner-Webb, throwing for 101 yards and a touchdown, but his two interceptions led to a pair of Charleston Southern scores in the loss. Kenny Little led the Runnin' Bulldogs offensive attack with 55 yards on 18 carries to pace the offensive attack.
Gardner-Webb's Lonnie Johnson led all players with 12 tackles, including two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Linebacker Matt Hardy led the Bucs defense with six tackles and two tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Isaac McKenzie added four tackles and a sack.
The CSU defensive line was relentless in pressuring Beatty, forcing 22 incompletions and intercepting him twice.
The Bucs travel to Coastal Carolina next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. CSU, with a win, would finish with a winning season for the first time since 2009.