CCU Troy ILB 01

Coastal Carolina defensive end Jeffrey Gunter celebrates a fumble recovery that sealed the Chanticleers' 35-28 win over Troy Thursday night at Brooks Stadium. Photo by Ian Livingston Brooking

Coastal Carolina and Troy battled the elements Thursday night in what was yet another classic between the two sides as the Chanticleers prevailed 35-28 at Brooks Stadium.

“I don’t know what it is between us and them," Coastal coach Jamey Chadwell said. "But it seems to always come down to the last play every time."

Following a tough loss to Appalachian State the week before, the Chants were looking to rebound against Troy, a squad that arguably has one of the best defenses in the Sun Belt Conference.

The Chanticleers got off to a rough start and ultimately had to play from behind.

While both teams went three and out on their opening drives, it was the Trojans who struck first just three minutes into the opening quarter. Following another three and out, it looked as if Troy was going to double their lead, but a holding penalty and a delay of game penalty on fourth down ultimately forced the Trojans to punt.

“We didn’t get off to a great start,” Chadwell said. “And our defense gives up a huge run and it’s probably the worst start you can have.”

The Chants were able to slow things down and take control of the game on their third possession of the night as quarterback Grayson McCall tied it up late in the first quarter with a two-yard TD run of his own, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive that took over four-and-a-half minutes off the clock.

From there, the Chanticleers slowly took control. They forced a three and out and on the ensuing drive, and McCall connected with wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh for a 66-yard touchdown to take the lead early in the second quarter. Later in that quarter, McCall found redshirt freshman running back Brayden Bennett for a 71-yard touchdown to put the Chants up 21-7.

McCall finished with 294 yards on 14 of 26 passing to go with two touchdowns and an interception. Heiligh finished the night with five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. The 116 yards puts Heiligh at 2,489 career receiving yards as he surpassed Bruce Mapp for third all-time in Coastal history.

“He’s great, man. He’s elite,” McCall said. “He’s an elite receiver and he’s going to be playing on Sundays. Whenever we are in a rough situation, he’s going to find a way to get open and catch the ball in traffic. He does great things for us. Even when he’s not getting the ball, he does things for us, pulling defenders his way because they know when 6 is on the field, he’s a huge target.”

A week after the run game was simply non-existent in Boone, the Chanticleers exploded Thursday night, going for 216 yards on the ground against a Trojans defense that averaged 94.4 rushing yards per game.

“For us to be able to do that, that was big,” Chadwell said. “We needed to do rush the football in a game like this.”

Senior running back Shermari Jones led the way on the ground for the Chanticleers with 95 yards on 14 carries. Jones had two critical touchdowns on the night, the second being a 54-yard scamper to the end zone early in the fourth quarter.

Chadwell praised Jones for his effort as Jones had been struggling recently with injuries, missing two games this year.

“Shermari is a good player,” Chadwell said. “As you guys know, he’s been banged up and playing through some pain. I’m very happy for him because last year was a struggle for him. He wanted to play more and he went through a lot of ‘Hey, should I be here or should I not?’ He stuck it through and he’s getting rewarded for that. And that’s a great testimony of his perseverance.”

McCall also ran for 61 yards on 15 attempts, but the runs were more scheduled than scrambled as the Chanticleer offensive line stepped up. McCall was only sacked once against a defense that has over 30 sacks on the year.

“Offensive line did a great job,” McCall said. “A gutsy performance by them. Troy is very, very good. Their front seven is excellent… I think [the offensive line] did a great job and whenever they made a mistake, they picked each other up.”

Jones’ 54-yard run looked to be the clinching play, giving the Chants a 35-21 lead with 11:23 left in the game. However, the Trojans would just not go away. With less than five minutes to go in the game, Watson found Tez Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown to put the Trojans within a touchdown.

It looked as if the Trojans were going to get the ball back with plenty of time to score, but Chadwell and his special teams pulled a trick play and defensive end C.J. Brewer took off for 12 yards on a fourth and 4 to give Coastal a new set of downs.

“My thought was we’re going to try to win it right now,” Chadwell said.

While the Chants managed to get the first down, they still ended up having to punt, giving the Trojans the ball back with 25 seconds to play in the pouring rain.

On the very first play of the drive, it was almost like déjà vu for the Trojans as Watson was hit by defensive end Josiah Stewart and defensive end Jeffrey Gunter fell on the ball, sealing the 35-28 win for the Chants. In the 2020 regular season finale between these two sides, it was Gunter who forced the fumble that led to game-clinching turnover for the Chants.

Gunter finished the night with four tackles, 1.5 sacks, one quarterback hit and the fumble recovery.

“He’s big for us,” Chadwell said. “Jeff puts a lot of expectations on himself. He’s a really good player and he’s got an opportunity to play at the next level and he has such high expectations. … Sometimes those expectations become burdens on him, [and] you don’t play free. And I thought tonight he played free and just tried to get after the passer and he was hungry.”

Chadwell added that he felt Gunter played his most complete game so far this season on Thursday night.

The win now puts the Chants at 7-1 overall and 3-1 in conference play. Coastal Carolina will return to playing a “normal” schedule with three straight Saturday games starting next week on the road at Georgia Southern.

Coastal’s last trip to Statesboro was in 2019 when the Chants fell 30-27 in triple overtime to the Eagles.

Coastal and Georgia Southern will kickoff at 6 p.m. on Nov. 6.

Reach Ian Livingston Brooking at 843-248-6882 for any story ideas or news happening in your area.

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