Charleston Southern Victims of Coastal Comeback; Falls 31-17November 18, 2006
By CSU Sports Information
CONWAY, S.C. – As they have done all season, Coastal Carolina (9-2, 4-0) mounted a second half comeback to overcome Charleston Southern (9-2, 2-2) in the Big South Championship game, Saturday, at Brooks Stadium.
Red, tear-filled eyes filled the locker room for Charleston Southern as their season ends at 9-2. Despite the sadness, the 14 seniors that Charleston Southern will graduate has plenty to be proud of, leaving CSU as the most successful class ever. The last two seasons have seen the first two winning seasons in school history, and have each set new school records for wins in a season. The Buccaneers also set Conference and school records with a 14-game winning streak, and set many team and individual records along the way.
“This team has established once and for all that we are a quality team,” said CSU Head Coach Jay Mills. “I am so proud of this team, the coaches, as the effort that they all put into this season. They say a man’s grasp should never exceed his reach, and we were reaching for the top this season, and we came very close.
Senior quarterback Collin Drafts ended the game 22-43 for 262 yards, but did not throw a touchdown for the second-straight game. In the game, Drafts recorded the third-longest run by a quarterback in school history, became just the second quarterback ever to run for more than 500 yards in a season, and set a record for completions, finishing with 223. Drafts was also the leading rusher with 69 yards, as the Buccaneers totaled 364 yards of total offense. Jada Ross led the defense with 11 stops, giving him 127 stops for the season, one short of the school record 128 that he established a year ago. Junior wideout Maurice Price caught six balls for 61 yards, giving him 103 catches for the season and making him just the seventh player in Division I-AA history to catch more than 100 passes for a season.
On the first play from scrimmage, Collin Drafts made his case for player of the year, as he dashed 59-yards down the field, the Buccaneers up inside the Coastal 15-yardline. The rush by Drafts was the third-longest in Big South history by a quarterback, and also put him over the 500-yard mark for the season, just the second quarterback ever to rush for that many yards. The Bucs would punch the ball in on a one-yard run by Kenny Harper, taking a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game, after a Nick Ellis extra point.
Appearing to have a couple of stops on the defensive side, but being unsuccessful, Coastal Carolina continued to drive the field, getting down to the 30-yardline. It was there that Thigpen looked to the endzone and his pass was tipped by Josh Warrior and picked off by freshman Phillip Ashley, holding the potent CCU offense scoreless for the time being. The interception was Charleston Southern’s 17th of the season, setting the school record for interceptions in a season.
The two teams would trade punts, with Charleston Southern getting the ball back on the 10-yard line. Drafts would find Price for a first down on the first play from scrimmage, Price’s first catch of the game. The Buccaneers would move it no further, trying a fake punt, rolling Nick Ellis out to the left side in an attempt to run for the first down. CCU sniffed it out though, and Ellis lost six yards on the play, giving the ball to the Chanticleers inside the red-zone, bringing the first 15 minutes to a close. In what looked to be an offensive battle going into the game, the score was just 7-0 in favor of the Buccaneers after one quarter of play.
With their backs against the wall, the CSU defense held, forcing CCU senior Josh Hoke to attempt a 28-yard field goal, keeping the lead for CSU, but allowing the first points for the Chanticleers, as the field goal made it 7-3.
Two huge third-down conversions, one to Markus Murry and one to Drew Rucks, kept the CSU drive alive as they looked to answer quickly. A 26-yard pass to redshirt-freshman Ryan Ard set up a first-and-goal at the seven for CSU. Coastal’s defense held on three downs, forcing a 19-yard field goal by Nick Ellis, as he put the Buccaneers back up by a touchdown at 10-3, four minutes into the second quarter.
Keeping momentum, Ashley would pick off a jump ball by Thigpen, tying the school record for interceptions in a game with his second. Ashley is the sixth player to pick two passes off in one game, joining current Buccaneer C.J. Hirschman as the most recent additions to the list.
A terrific catch by senior Bryant Burch set CSU up to put more points on the board, as they got inside the red-zone for the third time. Backed up fourth-and-goal on the four-yardline, Charleston Southern opted for a field goal, but a personal foul on Coastal would allow Charleston Southern new life with an automatic first and goal on the two-yardline. This time, there would be no stopping the Bucs as two rushes by senior Robert Adams punched it in, putting CSU up 17-3 after the Ellis extra point.
Coastal Carolina’s response would come in the form of a 57-yard touchdown strike from Thigpen to Jerome Simpson down the right sideline, bringing the score to 17-10, with the Buccaneers still holding on to the lead.
As CCU’s attempt for a late drive fell short, Josh Hoke was forced to attempt a 47-yard field goal just before halftime. Hoke’s foot slipped as he approached the ball, keeping the score 17-10 at the break.
The second half would start off the opposite of the first, as this time it was Thigpen that went on a long run, going 36-yards to start things off. The Chanticleers would continue to move the ball down the field, putting it in with a one-yard run by Aundres Perkins, tying the game at 17-17.
“This was really the tale of two halves,” said Mills. “I thought we were excellent in the first half, in all three aspects of the game. In the second half, we played just as hard, but Coastal Carolina made the plays, and we came up short a couple of times, and we turned the ball over too many times.”
Coastal’s offense would continue to roll as they got the ball back and drove 56 yards, completing a four-yard pass to Jerome Simpson to take their first lead of the game at 24-17 with 6:05 to go in the third quarter.
Coastal threatened again, as they took advantage of a roughing the kicker call after being backed up to fourth-and-20, using it to move the ball into CSU territory once again. The Buccaneer defense had an answer as junior Jada Ross stripped Thigpen on the next play, picking up the fumble and giving it back to Charleston Southern as the third quarter came to a close.
Pulling out the trickery, Drafts ran the option to Kenny Harper, who launched one down the field for Maurice Price. The ball never got there, though, as it was picked off by Mario Norman, the Bucs’ first turnover of the game, setting up another CCU touchdown, their 28th-straight point, taking a 31-17 lead with 12:59 to go.
It was a familiar position, though, for the Buccaneers, as a year ago the two teams met under similar circumstances and Charleston Southern found themselves trailing 24-10 with only 2:49 on the clock. A miracle comeback lifted Charleston Southern to a double-overtime victory, capturing the first Big South Championship for Charleston Southern in school history.
Another miracle looked necessary for Charleston Southern as Drafts was picked off deep in CCU territory for the second time in as many possessions. The defense would respond as they stopped Coastal, forcing them to punt it away from their own endzone setting up good CSU field position. The Bucs couldn’t use it, though, as Travis Williamson picked Drafts off on the first play, fighting off Price for the ball on the right sideline.
As “We Believe!” chants rained down from the visiting stands, the Buccaneer defense forced another punt, giving the ball to the offense on the 37-yardline with 7:00 to go to determine the Big South Champion. A fourth-down pass to Markus Murry came up two-inches short of the chains, giving the ball back to the Chanticleers.
With the clock continuing to wind down, the miracle comeback seemed to slip further away. It would come down to a fourth-and-8 for Charleston Southern, and an incomplete pass to Rucks would all but end the game, and the season for the Buccaneers, falling 31-17 to the Chanticleers, who likely wrapped up the school’s and Conference’s first-ever I-AA playoff bid.
“The challenge that we made to our team at the start of this season was to see how they would handle the prosperity that we had (after last year’s Conference Championship),” said Mills. “I think we handled it very well. It was important to us to establish that we were not a one-time story, but that a tradition of football excellence is being established at this University.”Related Item: Box Score