BOILING SPRINGS – Monmouth's two-point conversion try in overtime was incomplete at the goal line and Gardner-Webb celebrated a 34-33 win over the Hawks to close out the 2016 season.
Gardner-Webb (5-6, 3-2 Big South) finished above .500 in Big South Conference play for the first time since winning its second league title in 2003.
"This was a gutsy win by our young men today," said head coach Carroll McCray. "I thought we had a look of confidence when we started overtime on offense. We got behind the chains on first down, but Tyrell [Maxwell] gathered the offense and made several key plays to get us down close. Jayln Cagle played a big part in that drive, picking up tough yards and then scoring the go-ahead touchdown. The defense forced a quick throw on the two-pointer and it was just outside the end zone even if it was complete.
"With the way things broke here in November, we were a play away at Liberty in overtime [23-20 loss on October 29) from the automatic bid and getting ready to break down film for the playoffs tomorrow. This month provides us with a lot to build on this offseason. I thought our guys fought hard and matured greatly over the last month or so. That bodes well for the future."
The Runnin' Bulldogs scored to take the lead in overtime on Jayln Cagle's five-yard run up the middle and Paul Schumacher's extra point made it 34-27. Tyrell Maxwell's 15-yard strike to Mike Estes on a 3rd-and-14 play kept the initial overtime drive alive – and Cagle darted for the final 14 yards on four carries for the eventual game winner.
Monmouth (4-7, 0-5 Big South) faced a 4th-and-1 at the five on its overtime possession, but quarterback Kenji Bahar improvised under pressure to avoid a sack – and shoveled an underhand throw down to the one that tight end Jake Powell hauled in to keep the game alive.
Lavon Chaney bulled in on the next play to pull the Hawks within one point and the decision was made to play for the win and go for two. Bahar whipped a quick throw to the right flat, but the fastball was low and Darren Ambush could not hang on with linebacker Corey Horne covering him up near the goal line.
A replay review confirmed the incompletion, sending the Gardner-Webb sideline into celebration mode.
Schumacher connected on a 29-yard field goal to give Gardner-Webb a 3-0 lead with 2:12 left in the first quarter and Khalil Lewis barreled in from three yards out to put the 'Dogs up 10-0 with 12:37 to play before halftime.
Bahar hooked up with Reggie White, Jr., on a 30-yard touchdown to get the Hawks back into the game, with that 10-7 score holding until the break.
Gardner-Webb took its second double figures lead of the game in the third quarter, with Maxwell capping a 75-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run. That made the score 17-7 with 8:45 to play in the quarter – but Monmouth used a big play to get back on the board very soon.
Chaney broke free on a 67-yard run down to the Gardner-Webb one, and Zach Welch punched in from there to trim the lead to 17-13. Matt White's PAT was off the mark, however, leaving the margin at four points.
Gardner-Webb answered with a 34-yard field goal from Schumacher late in the third for a 20-13 lead, but Monmouth seized momentum early in the fourth frame.
The Hawks drove 72 yards on 10 plays to tie the game, getting a seven-yard scramble from Bahar with 12:57 to play in the game. A special teams miscue backed Gardner-Webb up inside its 10-yard line on the ensuing kickoff and the Runnin' Bulldogs punted it back to Monmouth.
Chaney capped another long drive, this one covering 62 yards and chewing up 5:01 from the clock. His six-yard touchdown run with 4:32 left gave Monmouth a 27-20 lead and little time for Gardner-Webb to rally.
Maxwell did just that, however, calmly marching Gardner-Webb 61 yards in 10 plays to tie the game.
The Cordova, S.C., junior had completions of 12 yards and 14 yards to move the chains inside the Monmouth 30-yard line, then hit Willie Jackson IV on a nine-yard pass to convert a critical third down to the Hawks' 16. He connected with Kyle Horton for another nine-yard gain to the seven – then handed to Lewis for a seven-yard touchdown run that knotted the score with 1:03 remaining on the clock.
Monmouth went three-and-out and punted the ball back to Gardner-Webb, but the Runnin' Bulldogs were also forced to punt after two incompletions and a sack with less than 30 seconds on the clock. The Hawks took a knee to take the game into overtime.
Gardner-Webb finished with 401 yards of total offense Saturday, led by another fine game from Maxwell. The junior quarterback completed 17-of-23 passes for 166 yards and carried the football 20 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. It was Maxwell's fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season – and fourth in five league games. It was also the fifth time he has passed and rushed for 100+ yards in game this season.
Lewis added 94 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, breaking Gardner-Webb's single-season mark for rushing touchdowns that was established 20 years ago by Shed Harris (13, 1996). Lewis finished with 14 scores on the ground in 10 games.
Cagle added 49 yards and a score on 10 carries in his second solid game in the backfield.
Chad Geter finished with 12 tackles (six solo) and a half tackle for loss in his final college game. Senior linebacker Justin Miller had a career-high 10 stops in his first career start and classmate Aaron Cook finished with nine stops. Horne had a solid game again at linebacker, collecting seven hits, 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack.
Monmouth rolled up 441 yards offensively, with Bahar going 27-of-38 for 241 yards and a touchdown – and rushing for another score – in a solid day executing the Hawks' short passing attack. Chaney rambled for 150 yards and a pair of scores on 21 carries and White, Jr., caught 10 passes for 149 yards and a score through the air.
Mike Basile led the Hawks' defense with 16 stops, Darnell Leslie had 14 hits and Brendan Wharton finished with 13 stops. Cornerback Kamau Dumas came up to support the run well with seven hits and 3.0 tackles for loss.
Gardner-Webb will take the field again next season, opening play at home on September 2 against North Carolina A&T.