On their biggest stage, the Charleston Southern Buccaneers turned in their best performance.
CSU rolled up 323 yards rushing and shutdown the nation's No. 1 offense for half to beat No. 3 Coastal Carolina, 31-26, before a record crowd on Saturday afternoon at Buccaneer Field.
The win set a number of records, including wins in a season as the Bucs move to 10-1. CSU moves to 3-0 in Big South play and remains the lone unbeaten in conference play. Coastal Carolina falls from the ranks of the unbeaten to 9-1 and 3-1 in conference play.
The monumental turnaround of the CSU program under first-year head coach Jamey Chadwell continues as the Bucs move into position to grab their first Big South title since 2005 and are within reach of the first playoff berth in school history.
"We've put ourselves in position to control our destiny in the conference, which is huge," Chadwell said. "We also beat a team with prestige that will help us get an at-large bid if we don't qualify [for the playoffs]. Our goal is to win out and be the Big South Conference champions."
CSU controlled the game from the opening snap, forcing a three-and-out on Coastal's opening possession of the football game and pounding its way to a 24-3 lead late in the second quarter. CSU held CCU, which came in averaging 47.7 points per game, to just six points in the opening half.
"To hold them to only six points in the first half was huge," Chadwell said. "We were able to put them in a position they aren't used to. They usually blow teams out in the second half. But we were able to put them on their heels to begin the second half today.
CSU dug its heels in by holding Coastal to 2-of-8 on third down conversions in the opening half and built a lead behind over 40 minutes in time of possession. In short, it was the type of game Chadwell and his staff wanted.
CSU got its typical workhorse effort from running back Christian Reyes. He had 117 yards on 24 caries and two touchdowns, while freshman Mike Holloway reeled off 79 yards on seven carries. Freshman quarterback Kyle Copeland added 79 yards and helped the Bucs drain the clock in the second half.
The Bucs' passing game was just as efficient as their vaunted running attack. The two QBs combined to go 16-of-24 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Danny Croghan III was 14-of-21 for 166 yards and a 20-yard score to Colton Korn.
Coastal Carolina rallied to score three second-half touchdowns and cut he Bucs lead to five with 6:07 left to play, but the Buccaneers, as they have done all season, converted in the clutch to hold the ball over the final 6:07 to run out the clock.
CSU frustrated Coastal quarterback Alex Ross into 17-of-29 passing for 242 yards and a touchdown. Only 60 of those yards came in the first half as the Bucs built their lead.
Coastal running back D'Angelo Henderson had 86 yards on eight carries and a touchdown to lead the CCU running game. The Bucs' held Lorenzo Taliaferro – one of the nation's top rushing leaders – to 83 yards on 14 carries.
The Bucs wasted little time in going ahead early, taking their first drive of the game up the field on six plays, moving the ball 51 yards as Charleston Southern found the end zone to take the early 7-0 lead. Michael Holloway moved the chains with 24 yards on two carries, before Croghan connected with Colton Korn in the flat and Korn turned the corner, beating the Coastal defense to the pylon for the 20 yard pass-and-catch to put the Bucs ahead with 10:59 remaining in the first quarter.
Charleston Southern's defense was on fire early, shutting down the Coastal Carolina passing attack with three pass breakups on the first four Chanticleers' attempts as the Bucs held Coastal to one first down over their first three possessions.
The Bucs built on their lead on their second drive of the game, marching the ball up the field on six plays, moving the ball 44 yards before reigning Big South Special Teams Player of the Week Mark DeBoy connected on the 37 yard field goal attempt to put CSU ahead 10-0 in the first quarter. DeBoy's attempt capped off a drive highlighted by a 34 yard reception by Larry Jones III to push the Bucs lead to double-digits with 7:35 remaining in the first quarter.
After a 37-yard Truett Burns' punt pinned Coastal Carolina deep on their side of the field after being downed at the CCU 3 yard line. However, the Chants rode the back of Big South rushing leader Lorenzo Taliaferro as the senior running back carried the ball six times for 57 yards on the drive in their first foray into CSU territory. The drive stalled inside the CSU 10 yard line, but Coastal came away with the 21 yard field goal by Alex Catron to narrow the CSU lead to 10-3 with 1:47 remaining in the first half.
Kyle Copeland marched the Buccaneers down the field on the following possession, carrying the ball three times before the freshman quarterback connected on the 20-yard touchdown pass to Holloway in the flat to give the Bucs the 17-3 lead on their first drive in the second quarter.
The Buccaneers continued to score after the defense forced another Coastal Carolina punt, taking over on their own 34 yard line. CSU used the speed of Holloway on the edges for a 13 yard yard pickup on 3rd-and-3 at the Coastal 49 yard line, before two punishing runs by Christian Reyes capped off the drive, with the final one coming from 10 yards out to increase the Bucs lead to 24-6 with 5:32 remaining in the half.
The Chants answered on their following possession with a Coastal Carolina school record 50 yard field goal off the food of Catron at the 2:11 mark in the half. The 10 play, 31 yard drive included a 26 yard completion from Ross to Matt Hazel on 3rd-and-12 as CCU moved the ball into the red zone. Facing 4th-and-1 at the Bucs 12 yard line, back-to-back penalties led to Catron's attempt, which clanged off the left upright and through the goal to put the score at 24-6.
Charleston Southern threatened to tack on more just before the half as the Bucs marched the ball to the CCU 33 yard line, but Croghan's pass attempt on 4th-and-7 was picked off by Pernell Williams to end the half with the Bucs holding the 24-6 lead.
Similar to how the first half started, Croghan moved the Bucs down the field through the air, going 3-for-3 for 52 yards on the opening drive of the half. Passes of 10 and seven to Jones were followed by a 35 yard pitch-and-catch to Kevin Glears, before Reyes again pounded the ball up the middle, this time from three yards out to give CSU the 31-6 advantage.
Faced with the 25-point deficit, Coastal Carolina came rallying back, scoring 20 unanswered points to threaten the Charleston Southern lead.
The Chants comeback started on their first possession of the second half with a 27 yard completion from Ross to DeMario Bennett on the opening play. A CSU personal foul moved the ball to the Buccaneers 34 yard line, and five plays later Ross took the quarterback draw up the middle for the 10 yard touchdown run to cut the Bucs lead to 31-13.
The margin remained the same heading into the fourth quarter before a 42 yard carry down the right sideline by De'Angelo Henderson ended in the end zone to put the score at 31-19. The carry ended a five play, 91 yard drive which took the Chants a little over a minute to complete as Coastal Carolina cut the deficit to within two touchdowns. The ensuing two-point conversion failed though, when Ross' pass sailed out of bounds.
Charleston Southern was forced to punt on their following drive, before Coastal Carolina went back to work through the air. Ross aired the ball out nine times on the drive and carried it twice before capping off the 12 play, 72 yard drive with a nine-yard strike to Thomas Pauciello in front of the right hash mark to pull the Chanticleers within five points at 31-26 with 6:07 remaining in the game.
Needing to bleed time off the clock, the Buccaneers opened the drive with a 14 yard pass from Croghan to Glears for 14 yards. The Buccaneers carried the ball five times on the drive, picking up 31 yards and three first downs on the ground in killing the clock. With Coastal Carolina forced to call their final timeout with 1:45 remaining following a Croghan six-yard first down run, the Buccaneers kneeled three times to run out the clock, setting off the celebration in front of a record crowd at Buccaneer Field.