Gardner-Webb remains on the road to open conference play, trekking to Lynchburg, Va., to battle Liberty at 3:30 pm in Williams Stadium. Saturday’s game will air live on WGWG-FM (88.3 / wgwg.org), with Fabian Fuentes and Matt Clark providing the call. The game will also be televised by the Flames Sports Network, with ESPN3 set to pick up that broadcast.
Liberty holds a slight, 9-8-1 edge in the all-time series with Gardner-Webb, but the Flames have won five in a row ... Gardner-Webb’s last win in the series came on October 21, 2006 in Lynchburg ... Hunter Smith booted home a 40-yard field goal with five seconds left for the win ... GWU is 2-3 in Lynchburg since Big South play started in 2002.
Gardner-Webb head coach Ron Dickerson, Jr., is in his second season in charge of the Runnin’ Bulldogs and holds a 4-11 career record with the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Turner Gill is in his first season at Liberty’s helm and is off to an 0-4 start. Gill is 25-53 in his career overall as a head coach, including a MAC title at Buffalo in 2008.
A LESSON IN HISTORY
A decade ago, on Saturday, October 5, 2002, Gardner-Webb and Liberty made history on the same spot they will play this weekend. The two squared off in the first football game in Big South Conference history that afternoon, with Gardner-Webb rallying for a 31-21 win en route to its first of two league championship trophies. Running back Chris Foster ran for 116 yards on 18 carries and scored the last of his two touchdowns with 1:47 left to play to ice the game. The two teams combined for 903 total offensive yards in the game, with Gardner-Webb posting 483. Each team ran for more than 200 yards and passed for at least 200 yards on the afternoon, which was played in front of a Homecoming crowd of 9,739. Dre Barnes led Liberty with 126 yards rushing on 16 attempts and caught three passes for 34 yards.
Gardner-Webb endured one of the toughest statistical games of the Division I era at Pittsburgh on September 22. The ‘Dogs were held to 127 yards of total offense in the game, the lowest total for a GWU team since the move up to Division I in 2000. On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh posted 626 yards of total offense, the most allowed by a GWU defense in the past 12 seasons. The last time at team topped 600 yards offensively came at No. 12 Georgia Southern on Sept. 7, 2002 (606 yards). The good news? GWU won eight games in a row after that night in Statesboro.
THE RED ZONE BLUES
Gardner-Webb ranks 117th of 121 teams nationally in red zone offensive production through four games, scoring just five times in 11 trips (three touchdowns). Gardner-Webb’s defense ranks No. 99 nationally in red zone effectiveness, allowing teams to score 18 times in 20 trips (90 percent). Liberty ranks No. 91 nationally in red zone defense (89 percent), but the Flames’ offense has been more effective, scoring seven times in eight trips (88 percent).
Gardner-Webb had little luck offensively in the season’s first two games, with wet weather and delays not helping the unit’s development. Against Samford, Gardner-Webb darted its way to a season-high 442 yards and ran 84 plays – its best offensive output since November 3 against Virginia State (443 yards) last season. GWU had its first 300-yard passing performance since midway through the 2009 season as well, helping churn out 27 first downs (16 passing).
OFFENSIVE LINE A STRONG GROUP
Gardner-Webb returns six players with starting experience on the offensive line for the 2012 season. Five of those men are seniors: Right tackle Steve Demilio (6-5, 293, RSr.-3L); right guard Aaron Huck (6-3, 296, RSr.-1L); center Austin Sargent (6-3, 302, Sr.-3L); left guard Jamie Dunaway (6-3, 290, Sr.-3L) and left tackle Harrison Martin (6-6, 285, Gr.-3L). Right guard Jeff Harris (6-2, 292, RJr.-2L) is entering his fourth season in the program. David McConnell (6-5, 304, RSo.) and Dylan Hopper (6-4, 295, Fr.) each started the season’s first four games, with Harris and Martin each coming off the bench.
D-LINE DEEPLY SEASONED
The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a wealth of experienced depth in the defensive trenches in 2012. Five players have starting experience and seven have played extensively during their time in Boiling Springs to date. Tackle Matt Goods (6-2, 275, RJr.-2L) and end Preston Pemasa (6-2, 257, Jr.-2L) have earned All-Big South honors in each of their two seasons so far and both were named Big South Freshman of the Year in their respective rookie seasons. Versatile dual-threat linemen Tyler Hough-Jenkins (6-4, 281, RSo.-1L) and Maurice Dickson (6-4, 265, Jr.-2L) have experience at both tackle and end. Tackles Dylan Taylor (6-0, 255, Gr.-3L) and Maurice Bryan (6-2, 271, Gr.-3L) are both graduate students with three years experience, with Taylor earning multiple starts over the past two seasons. Youngsters Shaquille Riddick (6-7, 235, So.-1L) and O.J. Le’iauta Mau (6-2, 275, Fr.-HS) will also continue to log snaps.
BEATTY STRONG AGAINST SAMFORD
Redshirt sophomore Lucas Beatty (6-2, 220) found his groove against Samford, hitting 30-of-43 passes for 320 yards and moving the Gardner-Webb offense as well as any quarterback in the past three seasons. Beatty’s effort earned him Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors from CollegeSportsMadness.com, and his statistics marked new career-high totals in completions, attempts and yardage. His 761 yards passing so far in 2012 is already more than he totaled in 2011 as a part-time starter.
Redshirt freshman Carlton Heard (6-0, 178) continued to impress in the season’s third week, catching a career-high seven passes for 107 yards against Samford. The Athens, Ga., native saw five of his catches go for first downs – despite absorbing several big hits across the middle. Heard entered the Gardner-Webb program in August 2011 as a walk-on, but was so impressive during preseason camp that he earned a scholarship before the 2011 season started. The former Clarke Central (Ga.) High standout has caught 15 passes for 170 yards (11.3 yards per catch) in 2012.
SCOOP AND SCORE
Senior Kamar Morrison (Inglewood, Calif.) changed momentum right before the half at Heinz Field on September 22, scooping up a Ray Graham fumble in stride and darting 65 yards to the end zone for a score with just over a minute to play before intermission. That score cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 24-10 and was the first fumble return for a touchdown for a Gardner-Webb player since Billy Luther darted 35 yards to paydirt vs. VMI in 2008 to seal a Homecoming victory in Spangler Stadium.
Gardner-Webb has developed a nice pipeline to the west coast in recent years, dating back to 2007 NFL Draft selection Brian Johnston (San Diego, Calif.). This season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have 12 players who call California their home state, the most from the Golden State since the program made the jump to NCAA Division I in 2000. Of that dozen, nine were listed on the 2012 preseason two-deep.
Linebacker Tanner Burch (6-3, 242, So.) has continued to impress in his first season as a starter at middle linebacker. The Savannah, Ga., native ranks No. 8 nationally and leads the Big South with 11.5 tackles per game (46 total stops) and has hit double figures in tackles three times in his first four career starts – including 15 vs. No. 10 Wofford (9/1), 10 at Richmond (10/8) and 16 vs. Samford (9/15). He made five stops at Pittsburgh. Burch made just 17 tackles a year ago as a true freshman reserve. He was Georgia Class 1A State Defensive Player of the Year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a senior at Savannah Christian (Ga.) School, and earned MaxPreps/US Air Force Small School All-America honors that same season.
MEET DREW WHITE
With All-Big South cornerback Ivan Toomer slated to redshirt in 2012, Gardner-Webb had a starting position up for grabs when August camp started. Enter junior college transfer Drew White (5-9, 172, Jr.), who took that opportunity and earned a job with an outstanding August. White stepped up with an interception in the season opener against No. 10 Wofford, and was a ball hawk during Gardner-Webb’s preseason practice – picking off double figure passes during that stretch. He has registered 15 total tackles, an interception and two pass break ups so far in 2012.
TURNOVER BATTLE IS KEY
In Gardner-Webb’s four wins last season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs committed only one turnover – owning an impressive plus-7 edge in turnover margin during those games. In its last 10 losses, Gardner-Webb has coughed up 28 turnovers (2.8 per game).
EVERY 10 YEARS
Gardner-Webb football has been excellent each of the past 10 years, dating back to a seven-win season in 1982. In 1992, Gardner-Webb posted a 12-2 mark, won the South Atlantic Conference championship and advanced to the NAIA National Championship Bowl. In 2002, Gardner-Webb went 9-1, won the inaugural Big South Conference championship and finished ranked in the top-20 in both major national polls at season’s end.
PRESEASON NATIONAL HONORS
Gardner-Webb players collected several preseason honors, with kicker Trever Austin the most widely noted. Austin (5-10, 194, So.-1L) was named to the Fred Mitchell Award Watch List, the College Football Performance Awards Watch List and was an honorable mention All-America selection by Beyond Sports Network. Jamie Dunaway earned second-team All-America honors from Beyond Sports Network, and Preston Pemasa was named to the College Football Performance Awards Watch list at defensive end for the second preseason in a row. Gardner-Webb has had at least one preseason All-America since 2002.
STARTING TO COOK
Receiver Kenny Cook (6-4, 216, RSo.) earned tremendous respect during an outstanding spring with the Runnin’ Bulldogs after transferring in from Garden City (Kan.) Community College in January. The Cross Hill, S.C., native has been a top target already in 2012, catching 16 passes for 167 yards and a score – including five catches for 56 yards in the loss at Richmond and seven catches for 71 yards vs. Samford. Cook earned All-KJCCC honors last season at Garden City, and was an All-State selection at Clinton (S.C.) High on the prep level.
ON THE AIR
Gardner-Webb’s football games this season can be heard live on WGWG-FM (88.3), the school’s 50,000-watt flagship station. Fabian Fuentes will provide the play-by-play call all season, with David Allen providing color at home and Matt Clark serving in that role on the road. Log onto to wgwg.org for a live audio stream via the internet as well.
THE RON DICKERSON, JR., RADIO SHOW
Every Monday night at 7:00 pm, Fabian Fuentes and Ron Dickerson, Jr., will host the Ron Dickerson, Jr., Coaches Show on WGWG-FM (88.3 / wgwg.org). The show will broadcast live from the Bulldog Quik Snak in Boiling Springs, N.C., and is open to the public.
Gardner-Webb will return home to host NAIA member MidAmerica Nazarene at 6:00 pm on Saturday, October 13, in Spangler Stadium. †