Gardner-Webb held Charleston Southern to three offensive points and held the Buccaneers to 203 total yards to hand the Bucs their first Big South loss of the year, 27-10, on Saturday afternoon at Spangler Stadium.
The Bucs fall to 10-2 overall and 3-1 in Big South play, while Gardner-Webb moves to 6-5 and 1-3. CSU hosts Liberty next Saturday at 11 a.m. with a chance to clinch a share of the Big South title and the first FCS playoff berth in school history with a win.
Gardner-Webb built a 20-0 lead, capitalizing on CSU special teams miscues and an early turnover to build an early lead. The Bucs struggled to find an answer offensively for Gardner-Webb's defensive front seven, which set the tone from the outset.
"I think you have to give them credit for coming after us," CSU head coach Jamey Chadwell said. "Physically, they played us well. We turned the ball over early, and that's just something you can't do against a good opponent. We gave them some easy points and just made some special teams mistakes that we haven't been making, and gave them some short field situations of which they took advantage."
The Bucs had a few opportunities to get even in the passing game and were penalized nine times. The plays they had been making to get to 10-1 didn't come and the Bucs looked a little out of sync in their eighth road game of the season.
"When we had opportunities to make plays," Chadwell added. "We were just a little off, either with penalties or something and we just could never get any momentum. Whenever we felt like we had a chance to get back into it, we couldn't make a play and it kept snowballing."
A disappointing loss aside, the Bucs are still in a position the program has never been in before. A win next week means a Big South title and the school's first berth in the FCS Playoffs.
"We still have a chance to play for a championship," Chadwell pointed out.
The Bucs' defense forced a quick 3-and-out to open the game, but a long roll on a short punt backed the Bucs up at their own 15. CSU quarterback Danny Croghan's third down pass was deflected and intercepted at the Bucs' 15, setting up a short touchdown run by Juanne Blount to give G-W a 7-0 lead.
CSU had its best opportunity of the day on offense on the ensuing possession as Kevin Glears slipped free behind the G-W, but Croghan overshot his intended receiver.
A short CSU punt led to a G-W field goal on the Bulldogs next possession as Jordan Day connected on a 34-yard kick to extend the lead to 10-0.
The Bulldogs would build their lead to 20-0 at the half before CSU would strike with a defensive score. Senior Elijah Lee stepped in front of a Lucas Beatty pass and dashed 17 yards across the field to the endzone to cut the G-W lead to 20-7 with 10:39 to play in the third.
G-W scored on the ensuing kickoff as J.J. Hubbard raced back up the right hash mark 87 yards for a G-W touchdown.
CSU cut the lead to 20-7 on a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown by Elijah Lee, but Gardner-Webb's J.J. Hubbard returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown to get the points right back.
Gardner-Webb outgained the Bucs 246-203 on offense and held CSU to 6-of-18 on third-down conversions. The Buccaneers managed only 16 rushing yards due in large part to 13 tackles for loss by the G-W defense. CSU hurt its own rushing total with a dropped snap on a punt and a pair of mishandled snaps offensively.
Croghan finished 13-of-25 for 154 yards, while Beatty was 20-33 with a touchdown for 134 yards. He did throw two interceptions.
CSU's Colton Korn had five catches for 37 yards, while Larry Jones III had four for 82.
Linebacker Game Middlebrook led a stout defensive effort for the Bucs with nine tackles.
Defensive end Shaquille Riddick had eight tackles and four tackles for loss to lead G-W. Linebacker Tanner Burch added 10 tackles, while O.J. Mau had 3.5 tackles for loss.
The Bucs kickoff next Saturday at 11 a.m. with Liberty in their regular season finale. The game will be available on ESPN3.