Norfolk, Va. — Heading into Saturday’s game at winless Norfolk State, Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell knew that his team was facing one of the better defenses they would see all season.
Norfolk State’s defense was as advertised, limiting a CSU offense that gained 471 yards in a win last week to 267 total yards on Saturday.
But, Charleston Southern’s defense was equally impressive, forcing four turnovers and scoring the game-clinching touchdown with 3:04 remaining in the game as the Buccaneers improved to 4-0 with a 20-12 victory. The win was CSU’s third on the road this season.
“Our defense just continues to create turnovers and make big plays for us,” Chadwell said. “The game was pretty much what we expected, with both defenses really controlling the football game. I thought we did just enough on offense with two good drives, and our defense made it stand for us. Through the first four weeks, the way our defense is getting turnovers for us, that has been the key for us.”
Freshman running back Ben Robinson gained a career-high 98 yards and scored a touchdown, while CSU’s leading rusher, junior Christian Reyes, added 96 yards on the ground.
“Ben continues to gain more and more confidence with each game and he gives us a different dimension out of the backfield with his speed,” said Chadwell. “You know, every yard we got tonight was tough. I was real happy with how all of our backs ran tonight.”
Much of the Buccaneers’ offense came on two scoring drives, one in each half.
After a scoreless first quarter, Robinson got CSU on the scoreboard first with a 2-yard run. Robinson did most of the work on the drive, picking up 61 yards rushing on three carries, including a 39-yard run and a 20-yard run. Robinson gained 78 yards in the first half.
Norfolk State, which had two turnovers in the first quarter, had its best offensive possession of the half late in the second quarter. The Spartans put together an 11-play, 74-yard drive, scoring with 43 seconds left in the half on a 1-yard pass from Omari Timmons to Ryan Wade. Damian Dixon blocked the extra point kick, giving CSU a 7-6 lead heading into the break.
Charleston Southern totaled 119 yards in the first half, 74 coming on its scoring drive.
The Buccaneers found some success on one drive during the third quarter. Taking a possession on their own 6-yard line, CSU marched 94 yards on 12 plays. Reyes gained 50 yards on eight carries, while Dixon hit tight end Kirby Broome on a key 24-yard pass to midfield.
Dixon capped the drive with a 24-yard pass to the end zone to tight end Nathan Prater with 3:59 to play in the third quarter for a 14-6 lead.
Dixon was intercepted late in the third quarter and Norfolk State put together a potential game-tying drive. The Spartans had reached the CSU 23 when quarterback Tyler Clark fumbled a snap and the Buccaneers’ Matt Hardy recovered with 12:38 to play in the game.
Norfolk State forced a punt and began a drive at its own 41. A key personal foul penalty against CSU gave the Spartans a first down at the CSU 21-yard line. Three plays later, Clark hit Je’ron Stokes with a 10-yard scoring pass, cutting the lead to 14-12 with 6:19 to play in the game. A two-point conversion pass attempt fell incomplete.
After another CSU punt, the Spartans began a drive on their own 12-yard line. On third down, defensive end Dylan Black hit Clark and forced a fumble. Black fell on the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown with 3:04 to play in the game. Charleston Southern was penalized 15 yards on the extra point and Mark Deboy’s kick was wide.
CSU’s defense, however, was up to the task, forcing an incomplete pass on fourth down on Norfolk State’s final drive with 1:47 to play near midfield.
Leading the defensive effort were safety Demaris Freeman (13 tackles) and linebacker Calvin Bryant (12 tackles, two sacks).
Charleston Southern will play its third consecutive road game next week at Appalachian State.