Coastal Carolina became the first team in FBS this year to become bowl eligible, picking up their sixth win with a 52-20 rout of Arkansas State Thursday night.
The Chants are now 6-0 on the year and extended their conference win streak to 11 games.
“I thought we played really well in the first half, really clamped them down,” head coach Jamey Chadwell said in a post-game news conference. “In the second half we had some issues. But the way we scored and the way our defense got stops towards the end helped.”
Coastal‘s offense came flying out of the gate, scoring on their second play of the game with a 99-yard pass from Grayson McCall to tight end Isaiah Likely to put the Chants ahead early.
“We barely got out of the end zone on the first play and said ‘Hey, what the heck, let’s get it out there,’” Chadwell said.
The 99-yard touchdown reception was one of four on the night for Likely. The four touchdowns are a school record for most touchdown receptions in a single game. Likely caught eight balls for 232 yards, the second-most in a single-game for a Coastal player.
“He stepped up,” Chadwell said. “He was physical. He showed his speed. He showed his athleticism. He’s a weapon for us.”
The road trip saw the return of running back Shermari Jones and kicker Massimo Biscardi. Jones had missed the last two games after dealing with turf toe throughout Coastal’s Sept. 18 matchup on the road in Buffalo. Biscardi had missed the previous three games due to a lower body injury.
Biscardi nailed a 19-yard field goal late in the first quarter and Jones scored from eight yards out midway through the second in their returns to the field.
“Shermari had over 100 yards rushing so that was good,” Chadwell said. “He’s got an injury that he’s got to play through from a pain standpoint. I thought he played well. He ran hard and got some nice runs for us. And then Massimo went in and kicked off one for us right before halftime, made the field goal obviously, but he was in and he was focused and that was good to see.”
Likely’s second touchdown of the night gave the Chants a 24-0 lead going into the halftime break.
It was points-a-palooza in the third quarter as the offenses were firing on all cylinders. Likely opened the scoring to make it 31-0 Chants, but the Red Wolves responded with a passing touchdown of their own, the first passing touchdown the Chanticleer defense had allowed all season long.
“Our goal is to go out and not let anybody score, but obviously it’s football and anything can happen,” senior defensive lineman C.J. Brewer said. “Of course I’m pissed off about it, but you just got to play the next down. We’re going to get back in the film room, get back in the lab and do what we got to do.”
It took three plays for the Chants to respond, once again Likely finding the end zone to make it 38-7. The Red Wolves did make it closer early in the fourth quarter after back-to-back touchdowns made it 38-20.
However, the Chants kept their cool and were able to rattle off two 60-plus yard touchdown runs to finish off the Red Wolves.
Jones finished with 113 yards rushing on 10 carries in the victory. Teammates Reese White and Bryce Carpenter both eclipsed 80 yards, with Carpenter throwing for 18 yards as well. Overall, the Chants had 294 yards on the ground, and once again McCall was lights out throwing a career-high 365 yards on 18 of 23 passing.
Still, the mistakes that were made from penalties to missed tackles are things that need to be corrected should the Chants want the winning streak to remain alive.
“We had way too many penalties,” Chadwell said. “We had holding. We had some stupid penalties that are going to beat us down the line, so we got to correct that. We won by however many we won by tonight but we’ve got to do a better job on penalties.”
With the win, the Chanticleers are now the first team to reach 6-0 this year and the first team to become bowl eligible. While Chadwell isn’t a big goal person, he did recognize the significance of Thursday’s win in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
“It’s a big deal,” Chadwell said. “We’ve been bowl eligible one time in our entire life. We got shirts that say bowl eligible. We celebrate in the locker room with that, so I think that’s a big deal for us. When you’re a young program and you’re getting bowl eligible for the second time in a row and you’re doing it right out of the gate, that’s a big deal for us.”
The win comes as a bit of poetic justice seeing that two years ago in Jonesboro the Red Wolves scored a game-winning touchdown with 32 seconds left to defeat the Chants 28-27. The loss ultimately ended the Chanticleers’ chance of becoming bowl eligible.
“It’s crazy the way things work and how God do everything,” Brewer said. “It’s a blessing to come in here and to become bowl-eligible, especially how our last trip here ended. We’re happy we could come here and get a victory as a team and come in and take over and become bowl eligible.”
While Brewer is glad the team has achieved bowl eligibility status, that’s not the main goal for 2021.
“Our goal is to win them all,” Brewer said. “Our goal, our focus is not just being bowl-eligible, but winning the Sun Belt Championship and that’s the goal we are working towards.”
Coastal Carolina’s next game is a pivotal one in the team's quest to return to the Sun Belt title game. It will essentially decide the East Division when the Chants travel north to play Appalachian State.
The Chants have almost two full weeks off before arguably their biggest game of the season in Boone, North Carolina. And while the matchup on Oct. 20 is one that fans are eager to witness, Chadwell is more focused on getting healthy.
“We need some time off,” he said. “We got some guys that are banged up. It’s good to have a break, but we still got six more games to go. We know the next game but we’re not really focused on that to be honest with you. More than anything for us, we need the break from a body standpoint so we can get our guys healthy for the stretch run. We know how good they are, but we’ll worry about that when we start practicing for them.”
The Chanticleers and the Mountaineers are scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina. The game will be televised on ESPN2.