TROY, Ala. — One might call it a sloppy win, but the bottom line is simple: No. 13 Coastal Carolina found a way to get the heck out of dodge with a victory.
The Chanticleers found themselves down 38-35 after a Grayson McCall interception led to a Troy touchdown with 1:20 to go.
Many probably thought the Chants were down for the count, a potential New Year’s Six bowl game out the window. A Cinderella season busted.
Atoning for his miscue on the previous drive, McCall looked calm, cool and collected on the Chants’ game-winning drive, completing all four of his passes, three of them to junior wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh, as the Chants marched down the field and scored a touchdown — a 23-yard pass from McCall to, you guessed it, Heiligh — with just 35 seconds remaining to go up 42-38.
The drive: 5 plays. 45 seconds.
“He was as cool as the other side of the pillow,” Chants head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “That’s how he is. Nothing really fazed him. He obviously made a terrible, terrible play on the drive before, and most people would’ve hung their hat. He just went out there and was just like, ‘Hey, we’re going to make it happen.’ There was never any doubt in his eyes; he just had a look like, ‘Hey, I’m ready to go.’”
Although the Chants defense gave up the most points it had — by far — all season, it came through when it mattered.
On Troy’s final offensive play of the game, quarterback Jacob Free — who was filling in for an injured Gunnar Watson after CCU senior linebacker Teddy Gallagher had a big hit on him that ended his night — CCU junior defensive end Jeffrey Gunter strip-sacked Free, and senior defensive end Tarron Jackson recovered the fumble with 17 seconds left to seal the win.
“I was fired up, we were all fired up,” CCU junior safety Alex Spillum said of the final play. “That’s a game-winner.”
Spillum had a big interception in the fourth quarter that he returned 55 yards to the Troy 4-yard-line, which set up a 2-yard touchdown run from McCall to put the Chants up 35-23 with 5:03 remaining.
McCall passed for 338 yards on 24-of-29 passing with three touchdowns against one pick, and he also ran for 40 yards on 10 carries and a score. Senior running back CJ Marable was a bell cow for the Chants all night, rushing for 120 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 47 yards and a score.
Heiligh hauled in 11 catches for 138 yards and two scores. The receptions are the second-most in a game by a Chants receiver, behind his school-record 12 last year against Troy.
“It’s great; it’s always a great thing when you get a win for your team,” Heiligh said. “(I was) continuing to compete after the week I had last week. I didn’t think I played to the best of my capability, so just coming out (and) coming back to show my face again on offense to just get my confidence back to where it is (was great).”
Coastal Carolina (11-0, 8-0 Sun Belt) finished an undefeated regular season for the first time in school history, and its 11 wins are the most by the program since joining the FBS in 2017.
The Chants turn their attention to a showdown with No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette (9-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) next week in the Sun Belt Championship at noon at Brooks Stadium on either ESPN or ESPN2.
"Proud of the win and just glad that we're through it here and ready to get back into Conway and get ready for a championship game," said Chadwell.
The win on Saturday was costly for the Chants, who lost offensive lineman Antwine Loper and linebacker Kendricks Gladney, Jr. to serious injuries.
"Thank you, commish," said Chadwell, referring to Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill insisting that Coastal play Troy despite pushback on whether the game was relevant, while ULL got a bye ahead of the conference championship game.