As a first-time head coach, Charleston Southern’s rookie head man Autry Denson dreamed of gaining his first victory and feeling the water bucket shower for the first time.
It took a little longer than Denson anticipated, but it all came to fruition on Saturday night as Denson’s Buccaneers rallied from a 12-point deficit to defeat visiting Savannah State 24-19 before a homecoming crowd of 3,608.
Senior running back Ronnie Harris rushed for 120 yards and redshirt sophomore quarterback Jack Chambers overcame four turnovers to throw for 231 yards and two touchdowns in bringing the Buccaneers back from a 19-7 third quarter deficit.
“I can’t brag about these guys enough,” said Denson, who came to CSU after four years as the running back coach at Notre Dame. “If you have seen these guys play through four weeks, you know they have a ton of heart. That’s all that was in the second half. They were who they are in the second half. We kind of slept-walk through the first three quarters, but when they had to, they picked each other up and found ways to make plays and get a win.”
CSU put up 415 total yards in offense, running 20 more offensive plays than the Tigers. The offense suffered through self-inflicted wounds with four turnovers and two missed field goals, but the defense had its best outing of the season.
Savannah State managed only 240 total yards, 49 of those coming on Savannah State’s first touchdown of the game when quarterback D’vonn Gibbons put the Tigers up less than five minutes into the game.
Linebacker Garrett Sayegh had eight tackles, including three for loss and a forced fumble. Linebacker J.D. Sosebee and safety Darin Smalls added even tackles each with Smalls, a Summerville High graduate, sealing the win with an interception near midfield in the final minute.
CSU racked up 13 tackles for loss in the win.
“This is definitely a confidence booster,” said Sayegh of the win. “It feels great. A comeback win, especially at home, is a great feeling.”
After Savannah State’s initial score, the Buccaneers tied the game when Chambers tossed a 13-yard pass to Jaquan Williams with 5:12 left in the first quarter.
D’Angela Durham’s 9-yard run capped a short drive after a CSU turnover, and the Tigers added a 49-yard field goal to take a 16-7 halftime lead.
Another Giovanni Lugo field goal pushed the lead to 19-7 with 5:02 left in the third. Chambers found Kameron Brown on a 4-yard pass near the end of the third quarter. Chambers’ 1-yard run with 10:07 left in the fourth gave CSU its first lead at 21-19.
Alex Usry added a 35-yard field goal with 2:19 remaining to seal the victory.
“The offensive line was great and allowed me to spring a few runs,” Harris said. “In football, you are going to run into adversity. We did tonight, but we just hung in there and kept fighting. It feels good to get this first one.”
After opening the season with three losses to FCS ranked schools and to South Carolina, Denson was relieved to be able to experience the joy of victory.
“Yeah, it’s a weight off my shoulders. I can’t even lie to you,” Denson said. “Not from the standpoint of thinking you will never get it done, you just want to get it done. Now we can move on to what’s in store for us. I am looking forward to having more Gatorade baths the next seven weeks of the season.”
CSU hits the road to two-time defending Big South champion Kennesaw State next Saturday.