Gardner-Webb stuns No. 12 Charleston Southern, 27-10
For the first time in a matter of months, the breaks finally went Gardner-Webb's way.
A pair of special teams mistakes, strong defense against the triple option and an 87-yard kick-off return by J.J. Hubbard led the Runnin' Bulldogs to a 27-10 win over No. 12 Charleston Southern Saturday at Spangler Stadium.
For GWU (6-5, 1-3 Big South) it marks the third win over a nationally ranked team this season and secures them of, at least, a .500 season since 2009 when they went 6-5.
"This one was a real important game for us," said defensive end Shaquille Riddick. "We needed to make up for the Ls we had earlier."
Riddick helped lead the Gardner-Webb defense with eight tackles and a pair of sacks while holding Charleston Southern (10-2, 3-1 Big South) to just 16 yards rushing. The Buccaneers came into the game averaging 256 yards on the ground.
"We faced Wofford which is an option-based team and we went back to a lot of what we did against them," Riddick said.
Meanwhile, the Runnin' Bulldogs took advantage of early mistakes to jump out to a 20-0 halftime lead.
Running back Juanne Blount skirted in from the right side to give Gardner-Webb their first points of the game after linebacker Chad Geter intercepted a pass from Charleston Southern quarterback Daniel Croghan on the Buccanneers' first possession of the game. Preston Pemasa tipped the pass attempt right into the hands of Geter.
The Runnin' Bulldogs had another opportunity after a miscue by Charleston Southern punter Truett Burns' punt hit a Buccaneer defender in the helmet and netted 6 yards, giving GWU the ball at their own 44.
Quarterback Lucas Beatty started slow, throwing two incomplete passes in a row in the drive before hitting Kenny Cook in double-coverage for a first down.
After sputtering, kicker Jordan Day bounced in a 34-yard field goal that hit off the left crossbar to put the Runnin' Bulldogs up 10-0 with 3 minutes, 2 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Buccaneers continued to struggle on their third drive after Croghan fumbled a pitch to Zac Frazier. Frazier was able to fall on the ball for a 3-yard loss.
Croghan recovered by hitting Larry Jones III on a slant pattern for a 28-yard pick up and a first down on the next play.
However, the GWU defense contained the option attack and forced Charleston Southern to punt for the second time in the game.
"Our game plan wasn't terribly complex," said GWU head coach Carroll McCray. "In option football, you have to be where you are supposed to be."
Wide receiver Kenny Cook pulled down a 31-yard reception over the middle then, the Runnin' Bulldogs got creative when Blount took a hand-off and flicked the ball back to Beatty who found tight end Seth Cranfill down at the Buccaneer 11. Two plays later, Beatty found Cook on a 4-yard touchdown pass, pushing the GWU lead to 17-0.
Gardner-Webb, which had success on offense in the first half, made their first mistake three plays later when Beatty was picked off by Elijah Lee who scampered in from 17 yards out to put the Buccaneers on the board for their first score of the game.
Cook, who had 75 yards on six receptions, went down with an injury on the interception return.
Charleston Southern's jubilation didn't last long.
On the ensuring kick-off, J.J. Hubbard ran virtually untouched 87 yards for a touchdown, pushing the GWU lead to 27-7. It was Hubbard's first kick-off return since getting a 78-yard return against VMI in 2011.
"I knew it would be short and the hole opened up perfectly," Hubbard said. "All I had to do was get around the kicker and I knew I could do that."
Both teams struggled in the third with the Runnin' Bulldogs amassing just 22 yards of total offense to 60 for Charleston Southern.
For the game, Gardner-Webb had no fumbles and just four penalties for 44 yards which was a stark contrast to the five fumbles last week against VMI.
The defense forced 79 yards lost from scrimmage with sacks and tackles for loss.
"I did not think we relaxed and they stayed focused," McCray said.
The Runnin' Bulldogs will conclude the regular season next Saturday with a trip to Presbyterian for a 1 p.m. kickoff.