Gardner-Webb pulls away from Charleston Southern to win Big South-OVC Championship
BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. (Gardner-Webb Athletics) - Gardner-Webb outscored Charleston Southern 21-0 and held the Bucs to just 81 yards in the second half, as the Runnin’ Bulldogs took home the 34-10 victory on Saturday, Nov. 18 to win a share of the Big South-OVC Championship and clinch the automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs.
After a 22-yard punt return by Maleek Huggins, Gardner-Webb (7-4, 5-1 Big South-OVC) drove the ball all the way to the Charleston Southern 25-yard line. A penalty knocked GWU back, but Jay Billingsley nailed a 48-yard field goal to give the Runnin’ Bulldogs a 3-0 lead early.
The Gardner-Webb defense forced another three-and-out for the Buccaneers, but a pass-break up in the endzone by Trayson Fowler stalled the drive at the five-yard line, and Billingsley connected with another field goal from 22 yards out to go ahead 6-0. The Runnin’ Bulldogs broke out the trickery on the ensuing kickoff, as Ja’Kai Young recovered an onside kick by Ian Sauter. After a 32-yard run by Jayden Brown, Brendan Jackson powered into the endzone from one-yard out to swell the lead to 13-0.
Charleston Southern (4-7, 2-4) answered with some offense of their own, rolling down the field with an eleven-play, 75-yard drive, punctuated with an eight-yard touchdown run by TJ Ruff to cut the Gardner-Webb advantage to 13-7 early in the second quarter. The Bucs shut down the Runnin’ Bulldogs on their next possession, and after a tackle by Jackson, Sam Babbush connected on a 46-yard field goal, cutting the lead down to 13-10 at halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Gino English found Hakeem Meggett on a deep strike, setting up Jackson for his second touchdown run of the day, and GWU went ahead 20-10. On the next Charleston Southern possession, Ty French sacked Isaiah Biggs on third down, getting CSU off the field and giving French the new school record for career sacks.
Early in the fourth quarter, AJ Johnson snagged a pass from Jaylen King out of the hands of his defender, and scampered into the endzone with a 43-yard receiving touchdown to put Gardner-Webb ahead 27-10. Brown iced the game on the next possession, as his 73-yard touchdown run put the Runnin’ Bulldogs ahead 34-10, and gave Gardner-Webb a share of the Big South-OVC Football Association championship and the automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs.
INSIDE THE BOX SCORE
- Gardner-Webb finishes the regular season 7-4 overall and 5-1 in conference play. The Runnin’ Bulldogs share the Big South-OVC Championship with UT Martin, but earn the automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs by virtue of a 38-34 win over the Skyhawks on Oct. 28.
- This is the first time ever that Gardner-Webb has gone to the postseason in back-to-back seasons. After qualifying for the playoffs at the NAIA level in 1987 and 1992, GWU failed to make the postseason the next year.
- Gardner-Webb finishes the regular season 5-0 at home. It is the first time GWU has gone undefeated at home since the 2003 season, when the Runnin’ Bulldogs went 6-0 at home. Oddly enough, 2003 is the last time GWU won back-to-back conference championships, taking home the Big South championship in 2002 and 2003.
- Ty French is the new program leader in career sacks with 30.5. French passes Gabe Wilkins (1990-93) who held the previous record of 29.0.
- GWU held Charleston Southern to just 81 yards of offense in the second half. The Bucs rushed for just 92 total yards, marking the third straight game the Gardner-Webb defense has held their opponents to less than 100 yards rushing.
Gardner-Webb will await its destination for the first round of the 2023 FCS Playoffs. The FCS Selection Show will begin on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 12:30 PM on ESPNU. Fans, alumni, and friends of Gardner-Webb University are welcome to join the Runnin’ Bulldogs for a watch party at the Brinkley Amphitheater at 12:00 PM on Sunday, Nov. 19.
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