Gardner-Webb opens Big South Conference play at home for the second season in a row when it hosts longtime foe Presbyterian at 6:00 pm on October 8. The game will air live on ESPN3 (WatchESPN.com), with legendary play-by-play man Mike Hogewood and former Notre Dame and NFL defensive standout Renaldo Wynn calling the action. The game will also be broadcast live on wgwg.org, with Brendan Boylan and Tyler Helms handing the call.
SERIES NOTES | HISTORY
Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian will meet for the 39th time on the gridiron ... The series is the longest running rivalry among Big South Conference football membership, with the first meeting coming as senior colleges in 1970 ... GWU holds a slight 20-18 edge in the all-time series ... The last four meetings have been decided by a miniscule 6.0 points per outing ... Gardner-Webb held on for a 14-10 win last season in Clinton, S.C. ... Presbyterian won 11 of the first 15 meetings (1970-1985), before Gardner-Webb responded with a five-game series win streak from 1986-1990 ... Each team has won more often of late on the road ... The Blue Hose have won six of the last 10 in Boiling Springs, including a 14-7 win in 2014 ... Gardner-Webb has won 10 of its last 12 games played in Clinton, S.C. ... GWU is 5-2 in the series since both programs moved to the NCAA Division I level.
THE HEAD COACHES
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray (Class of '83) returned to his alma mater in 2013 and has forged a 17-22 record so far in his time in Boiling Springs. Presbyterian alum Harold Nichols (Class of '90) is in his eighth season in charge of the program for which he played quarterback.
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. That quartet includes last week's win over Benedict (10/1). Gardner-Webb will now host Presbyterian (10/8), #14 Coastal Carolina (10/15) and Kennesaw State (10/22) to close out the stand.
ZONED FOR SUCCESS
Through five games in 2016, Gardner-Webb has gone 16-of-17 in the red zone – scoring touchdowns on 13 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). GWU went 6-of-6 in the zone vs. Benedict (10/1).
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 home 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 beating No. 8 William & Mary on the road on September 24.
TURF THE REST OF THE WAY
Gardner-Webb will play each of its final six games in 2016 – and 10 in a row – on artificial surfaces. 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). Spangler Stadium switched to artificial turf prior to the 2014 season.
THE GETER METER
Outside linebacker Chad Geter (6-2, 253, R-Sr.) has garnered high praise already in 2016, building on his truckload of preseason accolades with solid performance in his final college season. The graduate student ranks No. 2 in the conference and leads Gardner-Webb with 48 total tackles (25 solo) and has contributed 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a pass break up. Geter – an All-Big South Conference choice in 2013 and 2015 – has 275 career tackles, 31.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks to his credit in Boiling Springs. Geter was named to the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl Watch List in August and is a 2016 preseason FCS All-America choice.
KHALIL'S GOT THE WILL
Gardner-Webb back Khalil Lewis (5-10, 215, R-So.) has made the most of his opportunities so far in 2016. In five starts this season the speedster has carried 92 times for 522 yards and a NCAA Division I-FCS nine rushing touchdowns. He ranks No. 6 nationally in rushing yards and No. 14 in yards per game. Lewis has scored a rushing touchdown in five consecutive games, the longest streak since Gardner-Webb's move to the Big South and the fifth-best in Big South history. Lewis is on track to shatter the GWU single-season rushing touchdowns mark (13), set by Shed Harris in 1996. 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. He added more than 15 pounds of muscle and lowered his 40-yard dash time to an impressive 4.42 seconds this past offseason.
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. 13 nationally in rushing yards per game (249.4) and has scored 14 times on the ground in five 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 ran for 240 yards vs. Benedict (10/1). The school's single-game record for rushing yardage is 473 yards on October 11, 1986 vs. Lenoir-Rhyne. The single-season record for team rushing yards is 2,864 yards in 1977 (256.1 yards per game).
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 15 receptions over the first four games and now has 96 catches for 1,189 yards and nine scores for his career. With his touchdown catch vs. Benedict (10/1), Estes became the Big South's tight triple crown leader for his career in catches, yardage and touchdowns.
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 29 total hits so far in 2016.
THIS WEEK AROUND THE BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE
Saturday, October 1
Missouri S&T at Kennesaw State, 1:00 pm (BSN)
Monmouth at Howard, 1:00 pm
Presbyterian at Gardner-Webb *, 6:00 pm (ESPN3)
Albany State at #8 Charleston Southern, Cancelled/Weather
Liberty is idle
FIRST START? NO PROBLEM
Cornerback Jaylan Foster (6-0, 190, Fr.) made his first career start vs. Benedict (10/1) and emerged as a defensive star in a 45-0 shutout. He finished with five total hits, broke up two passes, returned an interception 32 yards to set up a field goal – and applied icing to the cake with a 60-yard fumble return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Since garnering more snaps at Ohio (9/24), Foster has posted eight hits, two interceptions, three pass break ups and his fumble return touchdown in two games. He was a Shrine Bowl selection and earned All-State honors last season at Byrnes (S.C.) High.
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 1,399 yards on the ground for his career – which ranks No. 4 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 1,688 yards and 10 touchdowns passing for his career.
THE FOOT FROM FORT MILL
Punter Andrew Komornik (6-5, 264, R-Jr.) has emerged as an All-Big South Conference candidate at the position with a consistent performance through five games. The University of South Carolina transfer ranks No. 11 nationally and first in the Big South Conference with an average of 43.3 yards per attempt and has pinned 11 of his 24 attempts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Against Benedict (S.C.) College he was exceptional, averaging 40.8 yards per punt with directional accuracy. He pinned all five of his attempts inside the 20-yard line and put four punts inside the 10 during that 45-0 win. His efforts limited the Tigers to an average starting field position at the minus-16 yard line.
Gardner-Webb will host an old foe on Saturday, October 15, as No. 17 Coastal Carolina comes to town for a 1:30 pm kickoff. The Chanticleers are playing as an FCS Independent this season during their transition to 85-scholarship FBS football and the Sun Belt Conference. The game will air live on The Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com), with Fabian Fuentes and Alex Guest describing the moving pictures from Spangler Stadium. Brendan Boylan and Tyler Helms will provide the audio courtesy of wgwg.org. †
GAME NOTES: Gardner-Webb (2-3) Opens Big South Conference Play At Home Saturday Night vs. Presbyterian (1-3)