MidAmerica Nazarene is ranked No. 10 in the latest NAIA National Top 25, holding steady after a 63-3 drubbing of Culver-Stockton (Mo.) this past Saturday ... The Pioneers are averaging just under 400 yards of total offense per game, and have rushed for 250-plus yards in each of their last three games ... In their lone loss of the season to No. 9 Missouri Valley, MNU was held to 213 yards offensively (136 rushing) ... Speedy running back Greg Gates has been the star of the rushing attack, pacing the Pioneers with 123.2 yards per game and eight touchdowns ... Quarterback Sean Ransburg is a dual threat under center, passing for 135.8 yards per game and rushing for 54.0 yards per game ... Linebacker Joey Oxley paces the defense with 32 total tackles and fellow ‘back Mike McJunkins has registered 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks through five games.
Gardner-Webb will host the 10th-ranked team in NAIA Saturday evening, as MidAmerica Nazarene rolls into town for a 6:00 pm kickoff. Fabian Fuentes and David Allen will provide the call from Spangler Stadium on WGWG-FM (88.3 / wgwg.org). The game will also air live on the Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com).
First meeting ... Gardner-Webb was a member of the NAIA from 1970 until moving to NCAA Division II in 1993 ... GWU played in the NAIA National Championship Bowl 20 seasons ago in Boiling Springs, falling to Central State (Ohio) in that contest ... Gardner-Webb has never played a team from Kansas in football ... Both Gardner-Webb head coach Ron Dickerson, Jr., and MidAmerica Nazarene head coach Jonathan Quinn saw action with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs during their playing days.
Gardner-Webb head coach Ron Dickerson, Jr., is in his second season in charge of the Runnin’ Bulldogs and holds a 4-12 career record with the Runnin’ Bulldogs. MidAmerica Nazarene head coach Jonathan Quinn is 36-6 in his fourth season leading the Pioneers program – including a 4-1 start to the 2012 season.
ESPN3 IN 2K12
Gardner-Webb will make four appearances on ESPN3 in 2012, having already played on the network’s broadband video channel twice (at Pittsburgh, at Liberty). GWU will play on ESPN3 again on November 3 against Coastal Carolina as the Big South Game of the Week and again on November 10 at Charleston Southern. Both games are set for 1:30 pm starts.
Quarterback Lucas Beatty (6-2, 220, RSo.) is perhaps the Big South’s most improved player in 2012, completing 106-of-159 pases for 1,144 yards and a pair of touchdowns in five starts. Beatty has nearly doubled his yardage from last season and became the first quarterback since Devin Campbell in 2008 to post more than one 300-yard passing game in the same season when he went for a career-high 383 yards at Liberty. Beatty passed for 320 yards earlier this season vs. Samford (9/22) and ranks among the Big South leaders with 228.8 yards per game through the air.
RED HOT HALF
Speaking of Beatty, the Charlotte, N.C., native was sizzling in the first half against Liberty. He completed 6-of-6 passes for 119 yards and a score in the first quarter alone and finished the first half by going 16-of-17 for 301 yards. Beatty connected on his first three passes in the second half to push Gardner-Webb’s lead to 28-10 and commanded a 71-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter to help GWU regain a 35-28 lead after Liberty pulled even. By game’s end, he had a Big South single-game record for completion percentage (84.4%) that included one stretch of 13-straight completions.
Over the past two games, Gardner-Webb has seen a total of six true freshmen start on offense and defense. Offensively, right guard Dylan Hopper (6-4, 295) and receiver Carlton Heard (6-0, 178) have been regulars in the lineup this season. Defensively, cornerback Tiko Thompson (5-8, 148), safety Brandon Swayze (6-2, 190), tackle O.J. Mau (6-2, 275) and linebacker Azziz Higgins (6-2, 225) have made starts – with Thompson, Swayze and Higgins each in the lineup at Liberty (10/6).
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.
Redshirt sophomore Kenny Cook (6-4, 216) has been a bright spot for Gardner-Webb in the passing game so far in 2012, hauling in a team-high 23 passes for 313 yards and a touchdown. Against Liberty, Cook caught seven balls for a career-high 147 yards, including a 46-yard grab that set up Gardner-Webb’s third touchdown of the game. Cook is averaging 13.6 yards per catch, and ranks No. 4 in the league in receptions per game.
TOUGH EARLY SLATE
Three of Gardner-Webb’s first four FCS opponents are among the top-30 nationally this week, with Wofford (No. 5) and Samford (No. 25) each earning spots in the Sports Network/Fathead top-25 media poll. A third, Richmond, is on the cusp of entering the top-25 with more than 100 votes this week. Gardner-Webb’s next opponent, Stony Brook, is ranked No. 11 by the Sports Network. The poll is the most extensively voted on in the nation, with media members from each of the subdivision’s conferences participating weekly.
HAVE YOU HEARD?
Gardner-Webb redshirt freshman Carlton Heard (6-0, 178) was named Big South Conference Freshman of the Week following a stellar performance at Liberty in last weekend’s league opener. Heard caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, taking the Bulldogs’ opening snap 54 yards to paydirt for an early lead. He had five catches for 115 yards by halftime, and hauled in a 15-yarder to start the second half and set up another touchdown that pushed GWU to a 28-10 lead. Heard ranks second in the Big South with 5.5 catches per game so far in 2012.
Linebacker Tanner Burch (6-3, 242, So.) has continued to make major news at middle linebacker, collecting at least 10 tackles in four of his first five career starts. The sophomore had 13 hits at Liberty – including nine in the first quarter, and 10 in the first half. His lone sub-double figures performance came at Big East member Pittsburg (five tackels). Burch leads the Big South with 11.8 tackles per game and ranks No. 7 nationally in the FCS (59 total hits). His top tackling performance of 16 tackles vs. Samford came on September 22. Burch spent much of 2011 as a reserve behind All-Big South ‘backer Marty Patterson, but was highly sought after as a prep senior at Savannah Christian (Ga.) School. Burch was named 2010 Georgia Class 1A State Defensive Player of the Year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and earned MaxPreps/US Air Force Small School All-America honors that same season..
CRAN-FILLING THE STAT SHEET
Gardner-Webb has seen its share of pass-catching tight ends over the years, and Seth Cranfill (6-4, 230, RSo.) is off to a strong start in the passing game in 2012. The Sherrill’s Ford, N.C., native established a new Big South single-game mark for a tight end with nine catches against Samford and leads the league’s tight ends with 20 receptions this season – his first on the field with GWU. Cranfill is on pace to catch 44 balls this season, which would break the previous school record by 12 receptions. All-America tight end Jason Bright hauled in 32 catches for 387 yards in 2001, averaging 15.2 yards per catch. Bright (1999-2002) is the career leader with 80 tight end receptions for 1,050 yards and eight scores. He was a first-team All-Big South selection as a senior 10 seasons ago.
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 11 losses, Gardner-Webb has coughed up 30 turnovers (2.7 per game).
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.
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.
THIS WEEK’S BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE GAMES
Saturday, October 13
VMI at Charleston Southern *, 1:30 (Big South Network)
Liberty at Presbyterian *, 2:00 (Big South Network)
#11 Stony Brook at Coastal Carolina, 3:30 (Big South Conference Game of the Week, ESPN3 / WatchESPN.com)
MidAmerica Nazarene at Gardner-Webb, 6:00 (Big South Network)
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 Tucker Student Center on campus and is open to the public.
Gardner-Webb returns to Big South Conference play on Saturday, October 20, hitting the skies to travel to Stony Brook, N.Y., to do battle with 11th-ranked Stony Brook in La Valle Stadium. The Seawolves are off to a 5-1 start that includes a 23-3 blowout win over Army and a narrow loss at Syracuse. †