CONWAY, S.C. – The No. 24/25 nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina Chanticleers scored twice in the fourth quarter, held the nation’s fourth-ranked rushing offense to just 119 rushing yards, and got three passing touchdowns from junior quarterback Fred Payton to defeat the Georgia Southern Eagles 28-14 in a Sun Belt East Division matchup on Saturday afternoon in Brooks Stadium.
Coastal is now 5-0 to start the season for the first time since 2015 and only the fourth time in program history (2013, 2014, and 2015).
The five-straight wins are the most consecutive wins for the Chants in a single season in the program’s young FBS history.
CCU’s 3-0 start in conference play is the best since joining the Sun Belt in 2017 and marks the first time the Chants' have won more than two games in Sun Belt Conference play in a single season in the program’s young tenure in the league.
Coastal outgained the Eagles 382 to 218 in total offensive yards, with 130 coming on the ground and 252 through the air.
Despite the late scratch of starting quarterback Grayson McCall due to an injury, the Chants' offense continued to move the ball as Payton was 15-of-28 for 252 yards, two interceptions, and three touchdowns via the passing game. His three touchdowns tied his career-high set last season at ULM (Nov. 23).
After being held to just two rushing yards in the first half, the Chants ran for 128 yards in the second half including 85 in the fourth quarter. Shermari Jones led the committee of backs with five carries on 44 yards, while Reese White added 23 yards on three carries and a game-sealing touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Wideout Jaivon Heiligh recorded his second-straight 100-yard receiving game, catching five passes for 107 yards, while CJ Marable, who was bottled up on the ground, had four catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt senior Sam Denmark had just one catch, but it was a 72-yard touchdown grab, the longest of his career.
The Eagles rushing attack was led by J.D. King (15 carries, 67 yards, TD) and quarterback Shai Werts (16 carries, 78 yards), while no other Eagle rushed for more than seven yards for the game.
Werts was 7-of-20 for 94 yards and two interceptions and was also sacked four times in the backfield by the Coastal defense.
The “Black Swarm” defense stifled the Eagles' running attack, holding the triple-option offense to just 119 rushing yards, well below their average of 281.3 per game on the season.
The defense also totaled 6.0 tackles-for-loss, including 4.0 sacks, and had two interceptions both by way of cornerback D’Jordan Strong.
Linebacker Teddy Gallagher led the way with 10 tackles, while both Alex Spillum and Silas Kelly finished with eight stops apiece. Linebacker Enock Makonzo had six tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2.0 tackles-for-loss, and forced a fumble, while veterans Tarron Jackson and Myles Olufemi added 0.5 sacks and 2.0 tackles-for-loss, respectively.
Georgia Southern’s defense recorded 9.0 tackles-for-loss, 3.0 sacks, and picked off two passes, and held the Coastal offense to just two rushing yards in the first half.
The Chants would get on the scoreboard first in a big way, as their second offensive series lasted just two plays when Payton connected with a wide-open Denmark down the middle of the field for a 72-yard touchdown pass and catch to put the home team on top with just over seven minutes in the first quarter.
The CCU defense put the Chants in great position to add to its lead with an interception by Strong at the Eagles' 25-yard line on the next GS possession, only to see GS pickoff Payton on the very first play of the Chants' drive to give the ball back to the Eagles with 6:15 to go in the opening quarter.
Following a GS punt, the Chants were forced to punt deep from their own territory. Charles Ouverson boomed a 51-yard punt from his own end zone, however, the Eagles' Wesley Kennedy III caught the ball at the GS 40-yard line and ran it back 60 yards to tie the game at 7-7 with 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
After the two teams traded punts to start the second quarter, the Coastal offense used another big pass play, this time a 54-yard pass from Payton to Heiligh, to set up a two-yard pass and catch from Payton to Kameron Brown four plays later to give the Chants back the lead at 14-7 on a Massimo Biscardi extra point.
The first half would not tick away fast enough for the Chanticleers, as the Eagles took advantage of a second interception, this time from Derrick Canteen, to start on their own 46-yard line with 1:31 to go in the half.
The Eagles overcame a first-down sack to get down to the Coastal five-yard line on a 32-yard pass from Werts to Malik Murray on a third-and-seven. One play later, King rushed in from five yards out to tie the game up at 14-14 going into the halftime break.
The two defenses controlled the third quarter, as neither offense reached 100 yards of total offense and each was forced to punt twice in the 15 minutes of play to keep the score at 14-14 going into the final quarter.
The Chants started the fourth quarter on the Georgia Southern 45-yard line and immediately got a 13-yard rush by Payton to get a first down and put the Chants on the GS 32-yard line.
CCU took the ball down to the Eagles' 19-yard line before a rush for no gain, an incomplete pass, a delay of game penalty, and another incomplete pass ended the drive and forced a 41-yard field goal attempt which went wide left of the uprights to keep the scored tied at 14-14.
The “Black Swarm” defense came up big once again on the next GS offensive drive, as the Chants forced a three-and-out and took advantage of a 32-yard punt to take over on their own 37-yard line.
The offense then used the legs of Jones for 28 yards on two carries and Marable for the next 11 yards on back-to-back handoffs before Payton went to the air to find a streaking Marable down the middle of the field for a 24-yard score and a 21-14 lead with 8:53 to go in the game.
After another three-and-out stop by the Coastal defense, Heiligh returned a 46-yard punt by the Eagles 40 yards to the Georgia Southern 20-yard line to set up a 20-yard touchdown run by White on the first play of the offensive series to put the Chants up by two scores at 28-14.
Coastal would allow just 17 yards over the Eagles' next two possessions and run out the clock late for the double-digit win.
The Chants held a slight 32:17 to 27:43 advantage and time of possession and held GS to 2-of-12 on third downs and 0-of-1 on fourth downs in the win.
Coastal (4-0, 3-0 Sun Belt) will continue Sun Belt East Division play next week at Georgia State on Saturday, Oct. 24, with kickoff set for noon ET in Atlanta, Ga. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
· Coastal is now 5-0 to start the season for the first time since 2015 and only the fourth time in program history (2013, 2014, and 2015).
· The five-straight wins are the most consecutive wins for the Chants in a single season in the program’s young FBS history.
· CCU’s 3-0 start in conference play is the best since joining the Sun Belt in 2017 and marks the first time the Chants' have won more than two games in Sun Belt Conference play in the program’s young tenure in the league.
· The 72-yard scoring play from Fred Payton to Sam Denmark was tied for the longest this season and the 29th-longest in program history.
· CJ Marable hauled in a pass for the 25th-straight game for the Chanticleers.
· Jaivon Heiligh has recorded at least once pass in 20-straight games now dating back to 2018.
· Fred Payton’s three touchdown passes matched his career-high set last season at ULM (Nov. 23, 2019).
· D’Jordan Strong had two interceptions in the same game, the first Chant to do that since Chandler Kryst picked off two passes last season at Kansas (Sept. 7, 2019).