With the biggest game in the program’s history since 2005 looming next Saturday, it was imperative the Charleston Southern football team take care of business in their Big South Conference game at Presbyterian College.
It wasn’t pretty at times, but the Buccaneers managed to improve to 9-1 with a 27-16 win, a Big South record sixth road victory. CSU tied a school record with its ninth win, tying the 2006 squad.
CSU, ranked 18th nationally in the FCS coaches poll, will host 9-0 and third-ranked Coastal Carolina (9-0) next Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We’re excited to be 9-1 and we overcame some things early and got a win, that was the goal coming in here,” said CSU coach Jamey Chadwell. “This was the next step in our process and we did what we had to do to keep moving forward.
“Certainly there will be a lot of excitement around campus this week, but as a football team, we have to make sure we don’t make it bigger than it is. It’s our next game and it happens to be against a very good football team.”
Christian Reyes rushed for 114 yards to become the first running back in school history to top 1,000 yards in season. Reyes gained 104 yards after halftime and the Buccaneers gained 288 yards on the ground as part of a 396-yard effort in total offense. Freshman Mike Holloway added 63 yards while quarterback Danny Croghan passed for 108 yards and rushed for 46 yards.
“We had some frustrating moments early in the game, but I thought we really set the tone with the running game in the third quarter,” said Chadwell. “We had to establish ourselves in the third quarter and our kids responded.”
CSU’s defense did not have one of their better halves of the season, allowing the Blue Hose 256 yards in the second half, but the Bucs allowed only 16 points, 47 yards rushing and picked off two passes. The Blue Hose had scored 49 points in each of the last two games.
CSU started sluggishly, picking up four penalties on its first two possessions, including two delay of game flags. After falling behind, 3-0, the CSU offense got untracked later in the period as Croghan combined with Larry Jones III, who made a nice one-handed grab of a high throw and went untouched for a 51-yard score to give the Bucs a 7-3 lead with 2:53 left in the first.
Neither team mustered very much offense through the rest of the first half, but the Bucs got a late score after Reyes made a play on special teams, recovering a muffed punt deep in PC territory. CSU capitalized with a two-yard run by Zac Frazier with 33 seconds left in the half, sending the Bucs into the half with a 14-3 lead.
Both teams made up for the lack of offense in the first half with an explosive third quarter. The Blue Hose opened the second half with a touchdown drive, covering 70 yards on seven plays with McMath hitting Blake Roberts with a five-yard touchdown pass less than four minutes into the third quarter, trimming the lead to 14-10.
Reyes and the offense answered, however, with a 68-yard drive. Reyes picked up 10 yards on a key third-and-10 run from midfield, and followed with a 37-yard touchdown jaunt with 8:42 remaining in the third, pushing the lead to 21-10. The scoring run brought Reyes’ season total over 1,000 yards.
McMath continued to pick apart the CSU secondary on the next drive, completing passes of 14, 25 and 32 yards to Jeremiah McKie, the last connection for a touchdown, cutting the lead back to five after a missed extra point with 6:15 left in the third quarter. McMath finished the day with 298 yards passing.
“We hit a lull defensively in the third quarter for whatever reason, but we came up some good plays when the game was still a one-score game,” Chadwell said. “Certainly there are things on both sides of the ball that we need to clean up. We’ll get to work this week.”
Mark Deboy made it an eight-point lead, at 24-16, with a 35-yard field goal with 1:49 to play in the third.
Presbyterian again threatened to score, reaching the red zone for a third consecutive possession, but D.J. Curl ended the drive with an interception in the end zone at the end of the third quarter.
Ashley Ridge product Tre DeLoach picked off a McMath pass at midfield with under nine minutes to play. A 38-yard completion from Croghan to Donte Sumpter put the ball at the 3-yard line, and Deboy’s 23-yard field goal wrapped up the scoring with 4:20 remaining.