(5-2) Kennesaw State 47, (3-5) Gardner-Webb 37
After coming up short at home last week against Liberty, Kennesaw State went up to Gardner-Webb last weekend intent on getting back on the right track. In their short residence within the Big South conference, KSU had to date beaten only two Big South teams with one of those being the aforementioned Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. Last year’s game came down to the wire in a defensive standoff. KSU was never able to solve the G-W defense that day and were forced to settle for four field goals. Fortunately, the Owl defense was strong as well; strong enough, in fact, to hold Gardner-Webb to a single touchdown and sack GWU QB Tyrell Maxwell on 4th down in the closing seconds of the game to seal a 12-7 home win for KSU.
This game would not be similar.
Gardner-Webb jumped out to an early lead when Maxwell found Bulldog WR Jacob Henderson running uncovered up the home sideline for a 38-yard touchdown. The play was made possible because Henderson sold his run block perfectly and ran right by the KSU safety looking to make a play in the backfield. With 4:20 gone in the first quarter, G-W was up by seven.
The rest of the quarter, however, would belong to KSU and, specifically, Chaston Bennett. Over the course of seven plays, KSU worked their way to the Gardner-Webb 25-yard line. That’s where QB Chandler Burks pitched the ball to Bennett on the outside and he took it untouched to the end zone. After sacking Maxwell on 3rd down, the Owls would get quickly get the ball back and Bennett supplied the juice for his offense once again. This time, Burks found Bennett on a deep pass play down the seam that set KSU up at the Gardner-Webb 8-yard line. They would punch it in one play later to go up 12-7.
It didn’t get any better for the home team on the next drive. Maxwell’s 3rd down pass was tipped and, eventually, landed in the hands of KSU’s Dante Blackmon for his league-leading 6th INT of the season. Moments later, Bennett would take a pitch on the outside again and once more find the end zone from 25 yards out. After a two-point conversion, that put Kennesaw up 20-7 at the end of the first quarter.
For the third straight possession, Gardner-Webb managed to do nothing on offense and punted the ball back. Kennesaw, in turn, marched right up the field again – without a big play from Bennett this time. FB Sam Outlaw bulled his way into the end from eight yards out and the Owls pushed their lead out to 26-7 with over eleven minutes remaining until halftime.
Gardner-Webb, however, would not go quietly on their home field. Maxwell and RB Khalil Lewis chipped away at the yardage, managing to stay out of 3rd down entirely and got to the KSU 33. On the next play, KSU blitzed and Lewis ran right up the hashes through a gaping hole left in the defense. KSU responded, however, in methodical fashion. Ten plays, 65 yards and nearly five full minutes of game clock later, QB Trey White dove into the end zone for the Owls. This was White’s first game action since injuring his adductor muscle in the season opener back on September 3rd.
Gardner-Webb was, at that point, down 36-14 with just 2:50 left to close the gap before halftime. They would only need about a quarter of it. KSU held on first and second down but chose to blitz hard again on third. This time, Maxwell lofted a pass down the sideline to WR Adonus Lee that was badly underthrown, however, the KSU defender in single coverage never turned around to find the ball. The result was that he tripped over Lee coming back to catch the ball and fell down. Having caught the pass, Lee simply stepped around the defender on the ground and ran the remaining 35 yards for the touchdown. With 2:06 remaining in the half, it was now 36-21 but that was still too much time to leave whatever offense happened to be on the field at the time.
Burks and the rest of the Owls offense worked their way back down the field, getting a key pass interference call that set them up in business in the Gardner-Webb red zone. Eventually, they found themselves with 4th-and-3 on the GW 19-yard line with a mere seven seconds left. Most teams would probably consider that to be field goal territory but Kennesaw’s kicking woes – they had already missed two PAT’s at this point – pretty much precluded that. Instead, Burks took the snap, scrambled long enough to burn the remaining time and threw a lob into a crowd in the end zone. Freshman WR Jordan Walker out-leaped everyone and came down with the ball in the very back corner of the end zone for his first career touchdown and a 40-21 KSU halftime lead.
Kennesaw wasted no time extending that lead after the break either and, again, it was Chaston Bennett that provided the fireworks. On play-action, Bennett slipped into a route running up the far sideline and was five yards beyond his man when he caught the ball and 61 yards downfield when he finally stopped running in the end zone. KSU was up 47-21 and, for all intents and purposes, the game was in hand. Right? Right?
Three weeks ago, KSU built a similar lead (49-14) on the road at Furman only to see it nearly slip away and Gardner-Webb came close to taking the ‘nearly’ out of it. Keeping the ball almost entirely in the hands of Maxwell and Lewis, the Bulldogs began to chip away at the lead. Kennesaw’s score was followed by a Paul Schumacher field goal to make the game 47-24. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on KSU killed their next drive and Gardner-Webb continued to pick up positive yardage on the ground. Lewis carried for their last 22 yards of the next drive and it was 47-31. Kennesaw’s next possession took four minutes off of the clock but ended on an incomplete 4th down pass at the GWU 30-yard line. On the next play, the KSU safeties completely lost track of Bulldog receiver Willie Jackson IV as Maxwell simply heaved the ball down the middle of the field and Jackson ran under it for a 70-yard bomb of a touchdown. G-W’s Kyle Horton took a short pass and dove for the far pylon to get the two-point conversion and, all of a sudden, the Bulldogs were within a single touchdown at 47-39 with more than twelve minutes remaining in the game.
KSU got the ball and, as they had for most of the second half by then, did nearly nothing with it punting the ball back to Gardner-Webb. Fortunately for the Owls, the Bulldogs did only somewhat better. G-W drove the ball out nearly to midfield but took four minutes off the clock only to throw an incompletion on 4th down at their own 44-yard line. KSU took over but went three-and-out themselves, leaving Gardner-Webb more than three minutes of clock left to work with. However, Maxwell, Lewis and the rest of the offense fared no better again, driving the ball to their own 46 before failing to convert on 4th down again. KSU burned the last 30 seconds in victory formation and two clearly exhausted teams shook hands at midfield.
What does this win mean for Kennesaw? – Kennesaw needed to bounce back after losing to Liberty and they did. This was an opponent that came out ahead on last year so the confidence had to be there. Still, this is the second time in four weeks that KSU has posted a massive halftime lead only to see it nearly frittered away as the second-half offense went stale. The “pucker factor” had to have been high on the KSU sideline. Their hyper-aggressive defense was key to their success in early season wins against sub-D1 and limited- or non-scholarship teams but all the blitzing has hurt them the last few weeks against more solid FCS opponents.
What does this loss mean for Gardner-Webb? – Gardner-Webb has certainly improved, especially on offense, from a year ago but this loss knocks them from the ranks of the conference unbeatens. Further, it’s not a good look for a program that heavily recruits the state of Georgia to have now lost two times to a second-year conference rival in that state.
(4-3) Liberty 52, (4-4) Monmouth 28
Liberty came into this game hoping to fire up the homecoming crowd and keep the forward momentum generated by last week’s road win over Kennesaw State. Monmouth needed a little redemption after their vaunted pass defense was shredded last Thursday by Presbyterian of all teams. But, Liberty nearly “pulled a Fordham”.
The homecoming crowd – and the small contingent of Monmouth fans on hand – got to see lots of fireworks on this blustery day in central Virginia. Liberty got the ball first and promptly went to work. Freshman QB Buckshot Calvert hit three different receivers and handed to three different running backs en route to a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dante Shells that put the home team up 7-0 less than five minutes into the game and beginning a slightly bizarre sequence of events.
On the ensuing kickoff, the wind caught the Liberty kickoff and steered it left toward the sideline and the Monmouth cheering section. MU returner Darren Ambush let it roll but, at the last moment, the ball took a crazy hop over Ambush’s head and back into the field of play. Liberty fell on the ball at Monmouth’s 8 and it looked the Flames were about to bury Monmouth early. However, another Calvert touchdown pass to Shells was called back due to offensive pass interference and Liberty tried to pound the ball into the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Carrington Mosely’s attempt ended up about four inches shy of the line and Monmouth, having dodged a bullet, took over standing in their own end zone. On the first Monmouth play from scrimmage, Ambush flew past his defender and raced downfield as QB Cody Williams simply heaved the ball downfield as far as he could. Ambush caught it on the fly and was well on his way to what would have been a conference, school and stadium record 99-yard touchdown reception. But, Liberty’s Chris Turner came flying up on Ambush’s blind side, ran him down and stripped the ball out at the Liberty 22-yard line. The Flames recovered and Calvert and Company went back to work. Facing a 1st-and-20 after a penalty, Monmouth blitzed hard bringing pretty much everyone hard off the left edge. Calvert dumped a little screen pass over the top to RB Todd Macon and he was off to the races himself with no one between him and the goal line. After 10 minutes, Liberty was up 14-0.
Monmouth got the ball back and, without fanfare this time, promptly went three-and-out. The wind, however, played a factor in the kicking game yet again. Monmouth’s punt drifted left and died directly in front of the Liberty returner, dropping in front of his outstretched arms and ricocheting off his leg. Monmouth fell on it but, given a third life, went three-and-out on three straight incompletions. Liberty drove the field yet again, largely on the legs of RB Frankie Hickson. Calvert hit Shells in the end zone one more time but that pass was eventually ruled incomplete and LU was forced to settle for short field goal attempt. That attempt got up in the wind and veered – you guessed it – wide left. At the end of the first quarter, the Flames had 225 yards of offense but were 1-of-3 in the red zone and had only 14 points to show for it.
The second quarter started off no better for Monmouth. The Hawks made a concerted effort to get the ball to RB Lavon Chaney but an illegal block penalty set them behind the chains and it was another quick-and-out, giving the ball back to LU in plus-territory. The Flames made short work of it and Macon trotted into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day. Down 21-0, it looked like Monmouth might be fading early but Chaney and Ambush would not let them go out that quickly. On the second play of the next drive, Chaney broke off a run out to midfield and, hurrying to the line, the Hawks caught Liberty napping on a fake screen as Ambush caught a pass over the top for a 45-yard touchdown.
But, Liberty was undaunted. Monmouth squibbed the next kickoff and left Calvert and the Flames excellent field position. The freshman hit three different receivers to the get ball down to the Monmouth 6-yard line whereupon Mosely – who would not be stopped this time – dragged the ball and most of the Monmouth front seven into the end zone for the score.
Monmouth went nowhere once more and punted. Liberty took over with six minutes remaining before the half and engineered their longest drive of the day, 12 plays, 81 yards and over 5 minutes gone off the clock that culminated in a 26-yard field goal – no wind this time – and carried a 31-7 lead into the break.
Three weeks ago, — the same day that Kennesaw played Furman, in fact – Fordham took a multi-touchdown lead into halftime against Monmouth on a day where it looked like Monmouth could get nothing going. I said at the time that it looked Fordham had flipped off a switch in the second half that allowed Monmouth to come back and upset the Rams in overtime. Saturday, Liberty seemed to become familiar with that switch.
Monmouth got the ball first in the second half and immediately went three-and-out while, given the ball back, Liberty’s Todd Macon got the ball down to the goal line which Calvert converted into a touchdown with a neat little pass to WR Antonio Gandy-Golden. That put LU up 38-7, Monmouth’s Cody Williams was benched after the next Hawk drive stalled at mid-field and the non-diehard fans started filing for the exits. But, Liberty’s next possession ended on a Calvert 4th-down interception and William’s replacement, Kenji Bahar, hit Ambush up the seam for a big play that allowed Monmouth to cash in a few plays later to cut the lead to 38-14.
No big deal, right? Well, Calvert’s next pass was also intercepted, this time at the LU 27. Another quick hit to Ambush and a short run by Zach Welch and the Flames’ lead was now 38-21. Liberty got great field position on another short kickoff but, subsequently, went three-and-out on offense for the first time that day. An LU punt pinned Monmouth deep but the Hawks eventually worked their way out to mid-field. Faced with a do-or-die situation on 4th-and-1, Lavon Chaney broke through the line on the right side and outraced the Liberty defenders to the house. The deficit was now just ten points and the Liberty faithful still in attendance began to share sidelong looks with each other.
But, whatever switch Liberty had turned off, they eventually turned right back on again. Calvert, Macon, Mosely and the LU offensive line went on ‘god mode’ marching right through, over, around but mostly through the Monmouth defense on their way to another short touchdown run for Macon. To top it off, the Flames finally got the defensive stop they needed when Tyrin Holloway picked Bahar off over the middle and returned it into Hawks territory. What followed was a drive where only Calvert and the running backs – well, also the center – touched the ball as Liberty’s next possession went only 46 yards but took 13 plays and more than six minutes of clock time to get there. It ended with Mosely’s second touchdown run of the day.
What does this win mean for Liberty? – It’s certainly a confidence builder for the offense, especially with the knowledge that a 31-7 lead at halftime included another 10 points left on the field. Aside from two throws in the 3rd quarter, freshman Buckshot Calvert performed like a veteran in the face of repeated blitzing from the Monmouth defense. Calvert had 275 yards passing at the half and, by the end, Macon had 193 yards rushing while the offense as a whole came up just shy of the 700-yard mark. Still, the consistency wasn’t great and LU has some things to work on. Liberty failed to convert in the red zone very early twice and largely failed to capitalize on the momentum shifts allowed by getting three turnovers. Monmouth’s offense is not typically driven by big plays but they were what the Hawks’ relied on Saturday. That was partially by necessity of the score but, still, it needs to be fixed. On special teams, a missed field goal and another poorly-fielded punt that resulted in a turnover will also probably be addressed this week.
What does this loss mean for Monmouth? – Having played six away games in eight weeks, the Hawks are road-weary and it shows. The loss at Presbyterian seemed to suck the life out of what was, coming off the Howard win just two weeks ago, still a promising season. Monmouth badly needs an open date to rest and recoup but they won’t get it until November 12th, the next to last week of the season.
(4-2) Charleston Southern 38, (2-5) Presbyterian 3
A lot was made last week – including by me – about CSU’s extended layoff before facing an opponent that has had the Bucs’ number in recent years. And, for one drive, it looked like we might have been right. After that? Not so much.
After lighting up Monmouth a week ago, the Presbyterian Blue Hose came out firing and aggressive, ready to paint the town and Buccaneer Field a lighter shade of blue. Third-team QB John Walker hit tight end Joseph Purter for 23 yards to push the ball out to mid-field and it looked like PC was going to be very unfriendly to the host team. The drive stalled and Presby punted it away. But their defense stood CSU up on the first drive, forcing a three-and-out and it looked for all the world like this might be a knockdown drag-out fight.
Then, PC crashed. (I’m making that joke. You can’t stop me.)
Walker threw an ill-advised deep pass – it wasn’t so much that the pass itself was ill-advised, just that he tried to throw it with zero feet on the ground – that CSU picked off at their own 3-yard line. CSU’s offense, after going three-and-out on their first drive, bled out the remaining six minutes of the first quarter on a 12-play, 97-yard drive that ended with RB Ben Robinson galloping in from 25 yards out. Presby went three-and-out again – this would be a theme – and allowed CSU to take over the ball again.
This, however, would be Presbyterian’s lone bright spot. On first down, CSU QB Shane Bucenell tried to pitch the ball to RB Mike Holloway but the ball was swatted out of the air by PC’s Ryan Burgess who fell on the fumble at the CSU 19. Still, Presby managed only three yards toward pay dirt and settled for a 33-yard Brett Norton field goal.
This was the extent of the Blue Hose highlights. Their next drive was also a three-and-out while CSU marched down the field and Holloway punched the ball in from a yard out for a 14-3 lead. Presby’s next possession? Three-and-out. Meanwhile, CSU took over on their own 27 with their other quarterback – you really can’t call him the backup, I guess – Robert Mitchell who kept the ball and raced 70+ yards to the end zone to put CSU up 21-3 with a minute and change before halftime. That was just enough time left for Presbyterian to go three-and-out one more time. Which they did.
At the half, CSU led Presbyterian in offense 236-79 and it only got worse from there.
CSU took second half kickoff and, with Bucenell back under center, marched 76 yards in 10 plays for another touchdown from Bucenell himself. Presby went three-and-out.
Mitchell came back into the game for the Bucs and they rattled off another touchdown drive, this one 68 yards on five plays with Mitchell carrying the ball across the goal line again. Presby went three-and-out (I’m copying and pasting here).
The Blue Hose defense stood tall for a second and picked Mitchell off at midfield. But…Presby went three-and-out.
CSU started emptying the bench, putting emergency quarterback Lonnie Johnson in the game, who drove the Buccaneers into the PC red zone before turning the ball over on downs. Presby went three-and-out.
Johnson and CSU got the ball back and drove into the red zone again, this time converting with 26-yard field goal. Presby went, well, four-and-out but only because there was 70 seconds left in the game and they went for it on 4th down. Which they didn’t get.
All told, while the score doesn’t necessarily reflect it, the offensive and defensive disparity in this game is striking.
- CSU outgained PC 507-102
- CSU held the ball for 10 minutes longer than PC
- CSU had 24 first downs, PC had 4
- PC had more yards in kickoff returns (112) than they did total offense
- Presbyterian ran just 43 plays
- Presbyterian had 12 possessions; all but two of those possessions were four plays or less
- Presbyterian did not crack 100 yards of offense until 1:33 remaining in the 4th quarter
What does this win mean for CSU? – It’s something of a monkey off their backs. They actually got to play in a meaningful game for the first time in a month and to play at home for the first time since September 3rd. That they played well and utterly dominated a team that’s given them fits the last few years is more than just icing on the cake, it’s actually more like a second cake.
What does this loss mean for Presbyterian? – (long sigh)
Biggest surprise of the week: CSU’s dominance coming off an unprecedented layoff.
Biggest disappointment of the week: Mine. I wanted to see Presbyterian give CSU as a good game as they’ve shown they were capable of the last two years.
Big South Standings:
Charleston Southern 2-0 1.000 4-2 overall
Liberty 2-0 1.000 4-3 overall
Kennesaw State 1-1 0.000 5-2 overall
Gardner-Webb 1-1 1.000 3-5 overall
Presbyterian 1-2 0.500 2-5 overall
Monmouth 0-3 0.000 4-4 overall
- Getting past Presbyterian is big for CSU. The Bucs are one of only two undefeated teams in-conference.
- Dominating Monmouth was a good boost given that the Flames lost this game a year ago. Also one of the only two undefeated teams in-conference, the Flames and Bucs have the inside track to the FCS playoff autobid.
- Kennesaw remains in the hunt for the conference title but needs help. The Owls victory over Gardner-Webb was as significant to the rest of the conference as it was to KSU.
- Gardner-Webb’s title hopes haven’t actually changed much with the loss to KSU. They still need to beat Liberty this weekend and CSU the week after but, now, they need someone to knock off KSU for them as well.
- It’s going to be really really hard for PC to come back from that level of terrible on both sides of the ball.
- Monmouth is done. The only thing they can play for is next season and play the spoiler to either the hopes of Kennesaw or Gardner-Webb.