CULLOWHEE, N.C. – Western Carolina scored 27 unanswered points in the second half to open up a tight game and beat Gardner-Webb, 44-14, Saturday night.
Gardner-Webb (1-1) managed only 58 yards and one first down in a decisive third quarter, as the Catamounts (1-1) out gained the 'Dogs by 127 yards during that 15-minute stretch to take control of the game.
Western Carolina finished the game with 690 yards offensively, the most allowed by Gardner-Webb since moving to the NCAA Division I level in 2000 and the first time GWU had allowed 600 yards since Pittsburgh went for 626 on September 22, 2012.
Western Carolina led 30-14 entering the fourth quarter and tacked on another score for a 37-14 with just more than 11:00 left in the game. The Catamounts added one more score for the final margin.
"We made mistakes in the first half but were able to overcome those and get back in the ball game," said head coach Carroll McCray. "We sputtered some on offense to start the second half and they got hot. Their young quarterback is outstanding and they did a very good job of mixing it up.
"There was a lack of execution in spots. That had some to do with us, but a lot to do with them. Tonight we had to overcome ourselves and also had to overcome a very talented Western Carolina team. I told those guys last week to take the time to remember what [the win] feels like. I told them tonight to make sure they remember how [this loss] feels, so we can go fight our guts out this week and move forward so it doesn't happen again."
Western Carolina got on the board first, as Detrez Newsome bounced outside after being stuffed at the line on a 4th-and-short play – and darted 52 yards to paydirt with just 1:55 into the game.
Gardner-Webb moved down the field easily as well to answer, with Lewis starting the visitor's initial drive with a 23-yard gain. Tyrell Maxwell capped the march with a 13-yard quarterback draw, dancing into the end zone with 9:44 on the first quarter clock as GWU tied the game.
The Catamounts returned the favor, going 86 yards on 11 plays to go up 14-7. Tyrie Adams capped that drive with a nicely placed fade route to Terryon Robinson in the back corner of the north end zone.
Gardner-Webb nearly countered quickly. Backup quarterback Brody Rollins returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards past midfield – coming a shoestring away from breaking the return all the way. GWU got a completion inside the 10-yard line, but Trey Brice fumbled trying to gain extra yardage and the Catamounts pounced on it.
Adams marched Western Carolina down inside the GWU red zone again, but fumbled inside the 10-yard line to keep the margin at seven points.
Gardner-Webb did not take advantage with points and – after the Catamounts moved into scoring position again – GWU caught another break when a makable field goal was wide right early in the second quarter.
Neither team could get anything more on the scoreboard until midway through the quarter, when Aaron Cook grabbed a batted ball out of mid air for a key interception in Catamounts' territory. Maxwell and Lewis each had strong runs in the drive that followed, with Lewis scoring easily on a six-yard run with 9:33 left before halftime.
Western Carolina moved back in front however, getting a a 45-yard hookup from Adams to Spearman Robinson down the left sideline. A false start penalty stalled that drive moments later, but Logan Howard was good from 38 yards to put the hosts up 17-14 with 3:49 left in the half.
Gardner-Webb moved into Western Carolina territory with some hard running from Lewis and Maxwell, but their drive stalled as the halftime clock ticked down.
Western Carolina had 348 yards on just 39 plays at the break, but saw drives stalled by turnovers and yellow flags. Gardner-Webb also had tough luck with penalty flags (four for 31 yards) in the opening 30 minutes, finishing with 221 yards (164 rushing) on 42 plays.
Both teams had drives stall and punted to begin the third quarter and a promising Gardner-Webb drive midway through the quarter was hampered by a false start at the WCU 41-yard line. That came after a Lewis run of 17 yards to get into plus territory.
Andrew Komornik pinned Western Carolina back at the five-yard line with a high punt, but the Catamounts mixed a medium range passing game with several positive runs to move down the field methodically.
Adams made the drive count this time, hitting 6-foot-4 Spearman Robinson on a fade into the right corner of the south end zone for a 17-yard touchdown and 23-14 edge with 4:35 left in the third. Gardner-Webb blocked the extra point, but the Catamounts would tack onto their lead as the third quarter ended.
Adams went to work again with the pass, moving Western Carolina down to the three-yard line with less than a minute left on the third quarter clock. He hit tight end Michael Helms from two yards out in the back of the end zone for a 29-14 lead and – after a two-point conversion passed was negated by penalty – the PAT kick was good for a 30-14 edge as the third quarter ended.
Disaster struck on the kickoff, as Western Carolina forced a fumble at the GWU 38, but Adams' pass into the end zone on first down was picked off by Spencer Havird to give Gardner-Webb the ball back without any further damage.
Western Carolina forced a quick punt and the Catamounts' offense churned down the field behind Adams and Newsmen to set up first down at the GWU five. The two hooked up on a swing pass for another touchdown and a 37-14 lead with 11:22 left in the game.
After a Gardner-Webb drive was stopped on fourth down inside Western Carolina territory, the Catamounts used Adams again to push the lead to 30 points. He hit Spearman Robinson again, this time from 15 yards away for the final margin.
Gardner-Webb ran the ball effectively from its spread option for much of the night, gaining 271 yards on the ground and 357 yards of total offense.
GWU had just four first downs after the half, however and were forced to punt as Western Carolina started to create cushion.
Lewis had his second career game with 100 yards, carrying 19 times for a career-high 121 yards and a score. Maxwell carried 17 times for 71 yards and a touchdown, but completed just 11-of-25 passes for 86 yards.
Mike Estes caught four passes for 42 yards to lead the receiving corps for the second game in a row. Rollins was electric in the return game, averaging 29.7 yards on six returns (178 yards).
Chad Geter led the defense with 13 hits. Cook had eight tackles to go with his interception.
Western Carolina averaged 8.0 yards per play Saturday night, with Adams going 36-of-43 for 427 yards and five touchdowns. The redshirt freshman quarterback added 83 yards on the ground on 13 carries. He was nearly flawless after the break, completing 22-of-25 passes for 227 yards and four scores in the final 30 minutes.
Newsmen finished with 148 yards and a score on 19 carries and caught a 10-yard touchdown pass. Spearman Robinson had 13 catches for 157 yards and two scores and Jordan Mathis had six grabs for 117 yards.
Fred Payne had 15 stops to lead the Catamounts defense.
Western Carolina finished with 34 first downs, with 21 coming after halftime.
Gardner-Webb returns home for another difficult test, hosting No. 15 The Citadel at 6:00 pm next weekend (Sept. 17) in Boiling Springs. The Citadel (2-0) knocked off Furman, 19-14, Saturday night in Charleston.