Gardner-Webb gets back into Big South Conference play on Saturday, hosting Kennesaw State at high noon in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium. The game will air live on the American Sports Network (ASN), with legendary play-by-play voice Mike Hogewood and former Notre Dame and NFL standout Renaldo Wynn calling the action from the booth.
Kennesaw State leads the series, which is in its early stages, 1-0 ... The Owls used four field goals and controlled the clock to perfection in a 12-7 win over Gardner-Webb last October 17 in Kennesaw, Ga. ... Nick Perrotta picked off a fourth-down pass near the goal line with seven seconds left to seal the win ... The Owls ran for 239 yards and held the football for more than 38 minutes in the game ... Gardner-Webb and the Owls were both members of the Atlantic Sun Conference prior to GWU's move as a full member to the Big South for the 2008-2009 season.
THE HEAD COACHES
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray (Class of '83) returned to his alma mater in 2013 and has forged an 18-23 record so far in his time in Boiling Springs. Former University of Georgia receiver Brian Bohannon started the program at Kennesaw State and has forged a strong 10-7 mark during his first two seasons. Bohannon spent one season (1996) in Boiling Springs as Gardner-Webb's receivers coach. He moved onto Paul Johnson's staff at Georgia Southern prior to spring practice in 1997.
Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell (6-2, 220, Jr.) is in the midst of a career-best season under center, pacing the Big South in total offense and providing a dual threat for an improved GWU offense. Maxwell has rushed 93 times for 529 yards and five touchdowns in seven starts – and has passed for 960 yards and five touchdowns. He showed a great deal of explosiveness in the win over Presbyterian (10/8), posting a career-best 377 total yards himself, including 222 through the air. Maxwell ran 11 times for a season-high 155 yards and an 87-yard touchdown that made its mark in the league and school record books. It is the longest run ever for a quarterback in Big South history and is the third-longest run in Gardner-Webb history – regardless of position. Maxwell also had a 74-yard bomb on GWU's opening offensive play for a score to Kyle Horton, making him the first quarterback in Big South or Gardner-Webb history to run for a score of 80+ yards and pass for a score of 70+ yards in the same game. He is only the second quarterback in Big South history to pass for 200+ yards and run for 150+ yards in the same game. Maxwell's performance earned him Big South Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season – in addition to honorable mention FCS National Offensive Player of the Week honors from STATS for the second time in 2016. Maxwell has helped Gardner-Webb's overall offensive attack improve, bumping its scoring average from last season to 23.7 points per game and its total offense numbers to 374.4 yards per game (234.1 yards per game rushing).
TOUGH ONE AT HOME
Gardner-Webb dropped a tough, 17-7, decision to No. 16 Coastal Carolina on October 15 in front of a Homecoming crowd of 6,850 in Spangler Stadium. It was just the second home loss of the season for the Runnin' Bulldogs, with both coming in tight fashion at the hands of a team ranked in the top-20. The average margin of defeat for Gardner-Webb in losses to No. 16 Coastal Carolina and No. 15 Citadel – currently ranked No. 5 nationally – is a small 8.5 points per game.
Gardner-Webb is playing 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 wins over Benedict (10/1) and Presbyterian (10/8) already. Gardner-Webb will now host Kennesaw State (10/22) to close out the stand.
ZONED FOR SUCCESS
Through seven games in 2016, Gardner-Webb has been efficient offensively inside its opponents' 20-yard line – the red zone. GWU has scored 19 times in its 22 trips (86%), with 15 of those trips resulting in touchdowns (68%). Gardner-Webb started the season in style, scoring five times – with four touchdowns – in five trips to take a 31-6 win at CAA member Elon (9/3). GWU had its best effort against Benedict (10/1), going a perfect 6-for-6 in the red zone.
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 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 10 games in 2016 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 leads the Big South Conference with 71 total tackles (38 solo) and has contributed 5.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a pass break up. Geter – an All-Big South Conference choice in 2013 and 2015 – has 298 career tackles, 33.0 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. He had 10 hits in the win over Presbyterian (10/8), earning Big South Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for the first time in 2016 and for the third time in the past two seasons. Geter followed that effort with 13 total tackles (eight solo), 2.0 tackles for loss and a key forced fumble to set up a touchdown vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina (10/15).
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 seven starts this season the speedster has carried 129 times for 679 yards and 10 rushing scores. He ranks No. 3 nationally in rushing touchdowns, No. 9 nationally in rushing yards and No. 23 in yards per game. Lewis had a stretch of six games scoring a rushing touchdowns snapped vs. Coastal Carolina. His was 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. He is the first GWU back to reach double figures in rushing TD since Patrick Hall had 12 in 2009. 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.
Cornerback Jaylan Foster (6-0, 190, Fr.) has burst onto the scene for the Runnin' Bulldogs of late, earning Big South Conference/Come Ready Nutrition Freshman of the Week honors twice in the past two games. Against No. 16 Coastal Carolina (10/15), Foster collected five stops (four solo), picked off his third pass of the season and returned a fumble 51 yards to set up Gardner-Webb's only touchdown of the game. His return was his second of 50+ yards this season and the short drive that followed gave GWU a 7-3 lead it held until early in the fourth quarter. Foster contributed seven solo stops and 2.0 tackles for loss in a 24-3 win over Presbyterian (10/8), earning Big South Conference Freshman of the Week and STATS honorable mention national FCS Freshman of the Week honors. Since moving into the thick of the rotation at Ohio and starting the past three games, Foster has made 27 total tackles, picked off three passes and broken up five passes. He has added 2.5 tackles for loss and a half sack, along with a 143 defensive return yards and a touchdown. He had a career-high 10 total hits (seven solo), broke up three passes and picked off a pass at Ohio (9/24) and now has 30 total hits (22 solo) this season.
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 23 receptions for 274 yards over the first seven games and now has 104 catches for 1,313 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. He had a career-long catch of 64 yards to set up a field goal vs. Presbyterian (10/8).
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 second on the team with 43 total hits so far in 2016.
THIS WEEK AROUND THE BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE
Saturday, October 22
Kennesaw State at Gardner-Webb, Noon (ASN)
Monmouth at Liberty, 3:30 pm (BSN)
Presbyterian at #9 Charleston Southern, 6:00 pm (ESPN3)
Strong safety Devin Mines (5-9, 185, Fr.) is another young standout in the secondary that has emerged as a starter midway through the 2016 season. The hard-hitting rookie was a standout at state powerhouse Mallard Creek (N.C.) High and has been excellent so far in the collegiate ranks – starting four consecutive games. He posted nine total hits at Ohio (9/24) in his first start and continued to shine. Against No. 16 Coastal Carolina (10/15), Mines stepped in with a game-high 15 total tackles (eight solo) and is as comfortable playing close to the line of scrimmage as he is in coverage. So far in 2016, Mines has totaled 37 tackles (25 solo) to rank third on the team overall and first among defensive backs.
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 five of seven games so far. GWU ranks No. 14 nationally in rushing yards per game (257.3) and has scored 16 times on the ground in seven games. With the experienced Sutton sidelined for the Coastal Carolina game, GWU was held to less than 100 yards rushing for the first time since October 24, 2015. Both Khalil Lewis and Tyrell Maxwell rank among the league's leaders in rushing yardage.
Receiver Kyle Horton (5-11, 170, So.) provides Gardner-Webb with a tremendous burst of speed on the outside and was at his best in the 24-3 win over Presbyterian (10/8). Horton broke free for a 74-yard touchdown on GWU's first play from scrimmage and later caught a 46-yarder to set up another score. He finished with three catches for a career-best 130 yards in that game, showcasing his 4.34-second speed in the 40-yard dash. Horton, who was part of Mallard Creek (N.C.) High's 4x100m relay team that once posted the fastest time in the nation, missed the latter half of the 2015 season after breaking his leg against Kennesaw State. He came back at full speed in the offseason and lowered his 40-yard dash time in the process. He is the son of 1984 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and former North Carolina Tar Heel Ethan Horton (NFL All-Pro).
Gardner-Webb gets back on the road for a difficult test, traveling to face perennial Big South power Liberty on Saturday, October 29 in Lynchburg, Va. The Flames and Runnin' Bulldogs will kick off at 3:30 pm in Williams Stadium. The game will air live on the Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN) as a Big South Network exclusive. †
GAME NOTES: Gardner-Webb (3-4, 1-0) Hosts Kennesaw State (4-2, 0-1) Saturday In Key Big South Battle