Gardner-Webb returns to action from its open date, hosting Monmouth in the season finale for both teams. Kickoff is set for 1:30 pm in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium, part of Senior Day 2016 festivities in Boiling Springs. Fabian Fuentes and Alex Guest will describe the action live on The Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com). Brendan Boylan and Tyler Helms will provide the online radio call on wgwg.org.
Monmouth holds a 2-0 lead in the brief series, which started in 2014 ... Gardner-Webb and Monmouth have closed out the regular season in each of the past three seasons ... The 2016 meeting will be the second consecutive in Boiling Springs, with Monmouth's stadium undergoing scheduled construction this month ... The Runnin' Bulldogs have struggled offensively against the Hawks, allowing nine sacks and scoring only two touchdowns combined in the previous two meetings ... The two teams will play next November 11 in West Long Branch, N.J.
Gardner-Webb picked up its fifth win since 2013 over a nationally-ranked team on November 5, outlasting No. 8 Charleston Southern, 17-10, on the road. GWU had won only twice against ranked teams at the FCS level from 2000-2012. The win over the Buccaneers was Gardner-Webb's third on the road against a ranked squad, but first since September 21, 2013 at No. 8 Wofford. The Runnin' Bulldogs have beaten at least one ranked team – all in the top-15 – in three of the past four seasons.
For the first time in program history, Gardner-Webb has student-athletes on each of the three major FCS awards Watch Lists in 2016. Cornerback Jaylan Foster (6-0, 190, Fr.) was named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch list, given annually to the FCS Freshman Player of the Year, in October. The Byrnes (S.C.) High product is the first GWU freshman named to that list since joining Division I in 2000. Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell (6-2, 220, Jr.) was added to the Walter Payton Award Watch List (FCS Offensive Player of the Year), becoming the first man from Gardner-Webb on that list since Kenny Cook in 2014. Linebacker Chad Geter (6-2, 253, R-Sr.) became the latest in a long line of defensive standouts to earn a spot on the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List (FCS Defensive Player of the Year) in early November. Geter is the sixth Gardner-Webb defender to earn a spot on the list. End Shaquille Riddick finished fifth for the award in 2013 and end Brian Johnston finished seventh in 2007. Both Riddick (5th round, Cardinals) and Johnston (7th round, Chiefs) went on to be selected in the NFL Draft.
RANK AND FILE
Gardner-Webb has played a difficult schedule this season and saw the quality of opponent ramp up in mid-October. Beginning with No. 16 Coastal Carolina (11/15), Gardner-Webb played four games in a row against teams either ranked in the top-25, ranked the following week in the top-25 or ranked this week in the top-25 of at least one of the two major FCS polls. Add a September 17 loss to No. 15 Citadel (now ranked No. 5 nationally) and GWU is 1-4 in those five contests – with a win over the highest-ranked of that bunch at No. 8 Charleston Southern (11/5). GWU has been competitive in its four losses, falling by an average of only 7.0 points per game – with one overtime defeat. GWU had a fourth-quarter lead in three of those games.
THE HEAD COACHES
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray (Class of '83) returned to his alma mater in 2013 and has forged a 19-25 record so far in his time in Boiling Springs. Veteran head coach Kevin Callahan is the lone man to lead the Hawks in their 24 seasons of football. Callahan has gone 135-114 since taking over the Monmouth program.
THE LONG BALL
Gardner-Webb has recorded 43 explosive plays so far through 10 games, more than twice as many as the same point last season. GWU had just 19 explosive plays – gains of 20 yards or more – through 10 games last season and finished with only 22 explosives in 11 games. The Runnin' Bulldogs had only 10 rushing plays of 20 yards or more in 11 games last season – and have more than doubled that total with one game remaining in 2016 (23). Of those explosive plays last season, none went longer than 50 yards. This season, GWU has six plays of 50+ yards to its credit.
ZONED FOR SUCCESS
Through 10 games in 2016, Gardner-Webb has been efficient offensively inside its opponents' 20-yard line – the red zone. GWU has scored 25 times in its 29 trips (86.2%), with 18 of those trips resulting in touchdowns (62%). 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.
TIGHT LOSSES AT HOME
Gardner-Webb has gone 2-3 in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium, but has aquitted itself well in those three losses – losing by an average of just more than a touchdown per game (8.3 ppg). Those tight results came despite playing two ranked teams in those losses – a 31-24 loss to No. 15 Citadel (now ranked No. 5 and undefeated) and a 17-7 loss to No. 16 Coastal Carolina (FBS transition). GWU held a fourth-quarter lead over The Citadel and led 7-3 at the break against the high-powered Chanticleers. GWU dropped its last home game (Oct. 22) to Kennesaw State by a 47-39 margin, cutting the deficit to one score with more than 12 minutes remaining in the game. The Owls are ranked No. 22 this week.
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 106 total tackles (61 solo) and has contributed 7.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a pass break up. Geter – an All-Big South Conference choice in 2013 and 2015 – has 322 career tackles, 35.0 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 has posted at least 10 tackles in five consecutive games and was recently named to the 2016 Buck Buchanan Award Watch List – annually given to the FCS Defensive Player of the Year. Geter, who earned his undergraduate degree this past May, is currently pursuing his MBA at Gardner-Webb.
KHALIL THE THRILL
Gardner-Webb back Khalil Lewis (5-10, 215, R-So.) has made the most of his opportunities so far in 2016. In nine starts this season the speedster has carried 160 times for 861 yards and 12 rushing scores. He ranks No. 9 nationally in rushing touchdowns, No. 21 nationally in rushing yards and No. 16 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.
PRESTIGE FOR PALMETTO STATE DUO
Chad Geter (Irmo, S.C.) and Khalil Lewis (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) earned spots on a prestigious list in their home state earlier on October 25, as the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame selected both as finalists for its 2016 South Carolina Collegiate Player of the Year award. The award, presented by Hale's Jewelers, will be presetned on April 20, 2017 in Greenville, S.C. The 17 men on the list were either born in South Carolina or play collegiate football in the state currently. Geter and Lewis are two of only four student-athletes on this year's finalist list who play football outside of the state – joining Ole Miss defensive tackle D.J. Jones and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. Clemson standout and Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson won the award last season and is also a finalist for the 2017 award. Both Geter and Lewis are among NCAA Division I FCS leaders this season, with Geter ranking No. 6 nationally in total tackles per game (10.6) and Lewis third in the nation with 12 rushing scores.
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 36 receptions for 430 yards over the first 10 games and now has 128 catches for 1,416 yards and 10 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).
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 148 times for 865 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 starts – and has passed for 1,491 yards and nine 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 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 broke through again in the win at Charleston Southern, passing for 195 yards and the game-winning score – and rushing for a season-high 165 yards and another score. It marked his seventh career 100-yard rushing game (Big South record) and sixth game with at least 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing. The former Edisto (S.C.) High star was named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List in early November (STATS FCS), awarded annually to the FCS Offensive Player of the Year.
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 month. He was also recently named to the 2016 Jerry Rice Award Watch List, annually given to the FCS Freshman Player of the Year by STATS FCS. Foster has posted 38 total tackles (28 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss and six pass break ups – while also intercepting a Big South Conference freshman-record five passes. He has been a ballhawk, ranking among the national leaders in overall takeaways (7) and defensive touchdowns (2). His 185 defensive return yards lead the nation, as do his 111 fumble return yards. He scored on a 60-yard fumble return vs. Benedict (10/1) and a 42-yard interception return at Liberty (10/29). Foster posted a career-high 10 total tackles and an interception at Ohio (9/24) and moved into the starting lineup at corner one week later. His 51-yard fumble return vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina (10/15) set up Gardner-Webb's lone score that day. His interception in the end zone with 0.2 seconds left vs. No. 8 Charleston Southern (11/5) sealed a 17-10 win for Gardner-Webb. Foster was an All-State and Shrine Bowl choice at state powerhouse Byrnes (S.C.) High last season.
THE RACE FOR 1,000
For the first time since moving to NCAA Division I in 2000, Gardner-Webb has a pair of runners closing in on the 1,000-yard mark. Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell (865 yards) is only 135 yards shy of the mark entering the final game of the season and running back Khalil Lewis (861 yards) is only 139 yards away from reaching 1,000 yards. Lewis missed the Charleston Southern game on November 5 and played sparingly at Liberty on October 29 due to injury/illness. Maxwell is coming off a season-best performance of 165 yards on the ground at CSU. Juanne Blount is the last back to top the 1,000-yard mark, doing so in 12 games to end the 2013 season as an All-Big South selection. Only Kenny Little (2011) and Justin Richardson (2000) have gone for 1,000 yards since the move to Division I.
Defensive end Davis Neilands (6-3, 245, R-Fr.) – pronounced "DAH-vis" – made a splash in his first career start at Liberty (10/29) and followed that up with another stellar effort at No. 8 Charleston Southern (11/5) . The Latvian-born pass rusher totaled five tackles (four solo) and had a career-high 1.5 sacks in a strong overall defensive effort for the Runnin' Bulldogs in Lynchburg. He responded with a career-high 11 total tackles and a half sack in the win at CSU, earning Big South Conference Freshman of the Week honors (11/7), along with honorable mention FCS National Freshman of the Week plaudits. Neilands has made 37 total tackles (16 solo) to go with 4.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 quarterback sacks in 2016. He also ranks second on the team with four quarterback pressures.
@GWUFootball Returns Home To Close Out 2016 Season Against Monmouth Saturday Afternoon (1:30 PM)