Gardner-Webb will play its first of four consecutive home dates in a busy October when it hosts NCAA Division II Benedict (S.C.) at 6:00 pm in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium. The game will air live on The Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com) with Fabian Fuentes and Alex Guest on the call. Live audio will be available on wgwg.org, courtesy of Brendan Boylan and Tyler Helms.
First meeting ... Gardner-Webb is 2-1 in its 46-year senior college history against teams from the NCAA Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), splitting a home-and-home series with Fort Valley State in 1995 and 1996 – when GWU played as a member of Division II itself. GWU beat Fort Valley State 42-0 on the road in 1995 and dropped a 17-14 decision in Spangler Stadium in 1996. GWU's other win against a SIAC opponent came in 2003, when the 'Dogs blanked Clark-Atlanta by a 45-0 score. Gardner-Webb went on to win its second Big South Conference title in 2003.
THE HEAD COACHES
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray (Class of '83) returned to his alma mater in 2013 and has forged a 16-22 record so far in his time in Boiling Springs. Five-time SIAC Coach of the Year Mike White is in his third season as head coach at Benedict, going 7-17 so far in Columbia, S.C. White forged an impressive 112-51 mark as head coach at Division II power Albany State during a 15-year career. White spent more than 30 combined years at Albany State.
Gardner-Webb will play four of its five games at home during the month of October, its longest home stretch since moving to NCAA Division I in 2000. The Runnin' Bulldogs played three consecutive home games in 2005, 2009 and 2011. After Saturday's date with Benedict (10/1), Gardner-Webb will host Presbyterian (10/8), #14 Coastal Carolina (10/15) and Kennesaw State in order. Both the Presbyterian (ESPN3) and Kennesaw State (ASN) games will be televised.
ZONED FOR SUCCESS
Through four games in 2016, Gardner-Webb has gone 10-of-11 in the red zone – scoring touchdowns on eight of those trips. Gardner-Webb opened the season by going 5-for-5 on drives that ventured inside the plus-20, scoring four rushing touchdowns to whip Elon in the second half of a 31-6 win. By contrast, Gardner-Webb has limited its opponents to a 15-for-21 effort in the red zone (71 percent), with just 13 of those resulting in touchdowns (62 percent).
TOUGH EARLY STRETCH
Gardner-Webb had one of its toughest stretches ever to begin the 2016 season, playing three of its first four on the road. That trio of road dates included a game at SoCon contender Western Carolina (9/10) and Mid-American Conference contender Ohio (9/24). The lone road game during that first month came against 15th-ranked The Citadel (9/17), which moved into the top-10 in both national polls on September 19. Gardner-Webb's 31-6 win over Elon (9/3) was impressive, with the Phoenix receiving top-25 votes this past week after beating No. 8 William & Mary on the road.
TURF THE REST OF THE WAY
Gardner-Webb will play each of its final nine games in 2016 on artificial surfaces, four on the road and six at home in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium. The 10 games on artificial turf mark a single-season high for the Runnin' Bulldogs. GWU played its opener on natural grass at Elon (9/3).
THE GETER METER
Gardner-Webb linebacker Chad Geter (6-2, 253, R-Sr.) returns for his final season in the Scarlet & Black and sits atop the Big South Conference stat sheet for linebackers with 40 total tackles (23 solo) through three games. The Irmo, S.C., standout was named preseason third-team All-America by STATS FCS and was a first-team All-Big South Conference selection in July. Geter was a close runner up to the league's preseason Defensive Player of the Year award and was recently one of only 34 FCS seniors named to the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl Watch List. Geter, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds during offseason testing, led Gardner-Webb and ranked among the best in the Big South with 92 total tackles last season. He also led the squad with 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks.
Gardner-Webb back Khalil Lewis (5-10, 215, R-So.) has made the most of his opportunities so far in 2016. The Hilton Head, S.C., native missed most of the 2015 season with an injury and had just one career start heading into September. In four starts this season the speedster has carried 77 times for 410 yards and a Big South-leading six touchdowns. He ranks in the top-20 nationally in both rushing yards per game and touchdowns on the ground, churning out 102.5 yards per contest. He is the first GWU back to score a rushing touchdown in four consecutive games since Juanne Blount did so in 2013. Lewis worked hard this offseason, packing on more than 15 pounds of muscle and lowering his 40-yard dash time to a quick 4.42 seconds. The former Hilton Head (S.C.) High star was recruited at the FBS level as a prep senior (Buffalo, Florida Atlantic) after rushing for 3,082 yards and 32 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons.
Gardner-Webb returned four starters on its offensive line for 2016 – right tackle Charlie Eudy (6-2, 280, R-So.), left tackle Will Millikan (6-3, 301, So.), center Caleb Smith (6-3, 330, R-Sr.) and left guard David Sutton (6-3, 303, R-Sr.). That quartet, along with right guard Brayden Briggs (6-3, 300, R-Fr.) has helped Gardner-Webb top the 200-yard mark rushing in four of five games so far. GWU ranks No. 12 nationally in rushing yards per game (251.8) and has scored 10 times on the ground in four games. Both Khalil Lewis and Tyrell Maxwell rank among the league's leaders in rushing yardage..
THE 200 TRAIN
Gardner-Webb topped 200 yards rushing in its first three games, its best streak since 2002. That season, GWU spun off six-straight games with at least 200 yards on the ground en route to a 9-1 record, final top-20 ranking and the 2002 Big South Conference title. GWU saw its streak snapped with 196 yards at FBS Ohio on September 24, with four sacks lowering that total under the 200-yard mark.
Gardner-Webb has been blessed with a wealth of talent at the tight end position of late, with a GWU man earning a spot on the All-Big South Conference team consecutively since 2012 – Seth Cranfill (2012, 2014) and current starter Mike Estes (2013, 2015). Cranfill earned All-America honors from the Associated Press in 2014 and Estes enters his final season on track to duplicate that feat. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Estes has paced GWU with 13 receptions over the first four games and now has 94 catches for 1,174 yards and eight scores for his career. With his first of four catches at Ohio (9/24), Estes broke the Big South Conference's career receptions mark for a tight end. He now has records for receptions, yardage and touchdowns under his belt.
DON'T OVERLOOK THE COOK
With Chad Geter garnering a truckload of preseason accolades, one could easily overlook another All-America caliber linebacker at Gardner-Webb. Aaron Cook (6-1, 235, Sr.) roams the BANDIT position opposite Geter in GWU's 3-4 scheme and has more than earned the right to call himself one of the nation's best. A two-time All-Big South Conference selection (2014, 2015), Cook led the team in tackles as a sophomore and totaled 77 more stops last season for a unit that ranked No. 13 nationally in total defense. The Edgefield, S.C., native was also a preseason All-Big South Conference choice by the league's head coaches in July. He had eight hits and an interception at Western Carolina (9/10) and ranks third on the team with 23 total hits so far in 2016.
THIS WEEK AROUND THE BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE
Saturday, October 1
Fordham at Monmouth, 1:00 pm (ESPN3)
Kennesaw State at Furman, 3:00 pm (ESPN3)
#8 Charleston Southern at #14 Coastal Carolina, 6:00 pm
Benedict at Gardner-Webb, 6:00 pm (BSN)
Robert Morris at Liberty, 7:00 pm (BSN)
BENEDICT BRINGS DEFENSIVE CLOUT
Benedict has gotten off to its 3-1 start on the shoulders of a very stout defense, with the Division II Tigers allowing only 64.0 yards per game on the ground. Benedict has picked off nine passes, returning three for touchdowns, and has sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times in four games. The Tigers also have 29.0 tackles for loss (7.25 per game) and boasts a physically imposing front seven. The defensive line averages a sturdy 6'3 3/4"/ 339 pounds per man. The four-man linebacker corps averages 6'2"/ 237.5 pounds per man. Teams are averaging just 2.0 yards per rushing attempt for the season.
TO THE MAX
Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell (6-2, 220, Jr.) enjoyed another standout performance in the season opener at Elon (9/3), becoming the first quarterback in Big South Conference history to post a third game with at least 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing. The Edisto, S.C., native ran for 154 yards and a score on 21 carries and completed 12-of-19 passes for 102 yards vs. the Phoenix. He also broke the GWU rushing record for quarterbacks, passing former starter Nick Roberts on that list. He now has 1,369 yards on the ground for his career – which ranks No. 5 in Big South Conference history for a career. The performance at Elon was his fourth 100-yard game, which is also a record for Gardner-Webb quarterbacks. Maxwell completed his first six passes and finished 13-for-20 at Ohio through the air, passing for a season-high 156 yards and a score against the Bobcats. Maxwell now has 1,556 yards and nine touchdowns passing for his career
ROOKIES IN THE BACK
Gardner-Webb was without two starters in the secondary at Ohio (9/24) and lost a third early in the game with another injury. True freshmen Jaylan Foster (6-0, 190, Fr.) and Devin Mines (5-9, 185, Fr.) stepped up with solid games, with Foster coming off the bench to break up two passes and collect his first interception. Mines started the game and finished with a team-high nine total tackles (seven solo). Both played against each other on the prep level, with Foster's Byrnes (S.C.) High Rebels edging Mines' Mallard Creek (N.C.) High Mavricks in an early-season matchup in 2015. Both rookies are expected to start on Saturday vs. Benedict.
Gardner-Webb opens up Big South Conference play against its oldest rival in the league, Presbyterian College. The two teams started playing in 1970 and were both members of the South Atlantic Conference on the NAIA and NCAA Division II level for many years. Kickoff is set for 6:00 pm in Spangler Stadium (ESPN3). Legendary play-by-play man Mike Hogewood and former NFL defensive end Renaldo Wynn will call the action. †
GAME NOTES: Gardner-Webb (1-3) Hosts Benedict (3-1) Saturday Night In Spangler Stadium