Hubbard sparks GWU to upset
It may have been two years ago, but J.J. Hubbard still has it in the back of his mind.
In 2011, the kick-off return specialist ran a kick-off 78 yards for a touchdown against Virginia Military Academy.
"I remember that like it was yesterday," Hubbard said.
Now, the junior has another memory.
Following a 17-yard interception return for a Charleston Southern touchdown in the third quarter, Hubbard took the ensuing kick-off 87 yards, virtually untouched, for his first kick-off return for a touchdown in the Runnin' Bulldogs' 27-10 win over the No. 12 Buccaneers Saturday at Spangler Stadium.
On Monday, College Sports Performance Awards honored Hubbard with its FCS National Kickoff Performer of the Week award.
For Hubbard, it felt good to finally have a kick-off go his way.
"I was a little surprised with how big the hole really was," Hubbard said.
Since the 2011 return to now, Hubbard averaged just under 20 yards per kick-off return and while that average is nothing to scoff at, it is easily replaced by bringing one back for a touchdown. Especially in a game against a nationally ranked team when the expectation of winning wasn't with everyone.
"It just felt good to have things go our way," Hubbard said.
Since October, the Runnin' Bulldogs (6-5, 1-3 Big South) struggled by winning just one game in the last five before Saturday.
During that span, GWU had been hampered with turnovers and penalties.
Essentially, everything that could go wrong did.
However, Saturday, just about everything went right.
No fumbles, just four penalties and Gardner-Webb getting points on four of their first five drives of the game.
"It felt good to not have those mistakes," said defensive end Shaquille Riddick. "We won't accept turnovers."
And, just when the Buccaneers gained some momentum following Elijah Lee's 17-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, GWU found a response in the way of Hubbard's kick-off return.
"It was a big confidence-builder, especially for that part of the game," Hubbard said.
From that point on, the Gardner-Webb defense allowed just 20 plays and forced three punts and a turnover on downs.
On their last drive of the game, Charleston Southern appeared poised to close the gap, however the Runnin' Bulldog defense held on 4th and goal at the 2 and halted a 13-play, 71-yard drive.
"Offensively, we went to the drawing board and changed some things," said GWU head coach Carroll McCray. "We went under center and did some different things.
"They (CSU) got a few plays but when they weren't consistent, they had to go to other things."
Defensively, the Buccaneers attempted to challenge the Gardner-Webb offensive line with a variety of blitz packages, including a safety blitz off the side to attempt to disrupt the running game and quarterback Lucas Beatty.
However, the Buccaneers managed no sacks and just five quarterback hurries.
"I think the kids were very attentive," McCray said. "We had some things we needed to cover and the kids really responded."
But, at the end of the day, with all of the positives, Hubbard said the kick-off return will be one he won't soon forget.
"I'll remember that one for the rest of my life," Hubbard said.