GWU eyes work in last week of season
There's no playoff berth at stake. Nor is there a conference title.
For some football coaches, that could spell difficulty in preparing their team for the final regular season game.
But not for Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray as he prepares the Runnin' Bulldogs (6-5, 1-3 Big South) for the final game of the season at Presbyterian (3-7, 1-3 Big South).
"I think there is plenty for us to play for," McCray said. "In growing our team, we have things we are trying to achieve and it takes some focus and maturity to play on the road."
It's been those road woes that may have kept GWU out of the Big South title hunt and a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs.
The Runnin' Bulldogs have just one win away from Spangler Stadium this year. Granted, it was a 3-0 win over then-No. 8 Wofford. However, it wasn't that far from home — Spartanburg, S.C.
Regardless, McCray said Gardner-Webb is trying to close out the season as strong as it was started. GWU opened the season with a pair of back-to-back wins over nationally-ranked teams and was 4-1 before dropping four of its next five games.
A big bright spot came last week in a 27-10 win over No. 12 Charleston Southern. Not only was it their third win over a nationally-ranked program this season — the first Big South team to accomplish that feat — but it created a logjam atop the Big South standings with the Buccaneers and Liberty squaring off for a shot at a share of the league title this Saturday.
"We are trying to build on the positives from this week and the things that were problems and held us back we are trying to work on those," McCray said.
For Presbyterian head coach Harold Nichols, the challenge of preparing the Blue Hose for the last game of the season may be a little greater.
"For us, it's Senior Day and that's a special week and special day," Nichols said. "This is a special group and every coach has a special place in their hearts for those guys."
Presbyterian will honor its 12 seniors prior to the 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday against Gardner-Webb.
Along with the emotions surrounding Senior Day, Nichols also has to consider the pride factor of playing the last game of the regular season in an attempt to make sure the Blue Hose are ready for GWU.
"Our players, from within, have banter about Senior Day but it's not a distraction from that point," Nichols said. "As far as I'm concerned, it is more of a motivation and an emotional pull for those guys knowing they are going to be playing their last college football game."
Also at stake is fourth place in the Big South as Coastal Carolina has clinched a share of the title and Liberty along with Charleston Southern will round out the top three. Virginia Military Institute has already closed out its tenure in the Big South with a 1-4 mark.
So, the winner of Saturday's game in Clinton, S.C. will find itself in fourth overall and in position heading into next season.
"If you have to find a way to get your guys motivated for a game like this, you are doing something wrong," Nichols said.
Monday was an off-day for Gardner-Webb after spending Sunday breaking down film of last Saturday's win over the Buccaneers.
Even early in the week, McCray felt like the Runnin' Bulldogs were ready for their pride game against Presbyterian.
"We had a good Sunday and they seem to be back to preparation," McCray said. "They saw we had a few things we have to get done but they had a good look in their eye."