Coastal Carolina learned hours before its kickoff against Southern Mississippi that the Chanticleers had clinched a spot in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on December 3rd. Louisiana-Monroe’s 31-28 win at Georgia State sewed up CCU’s appearance in this year’s title game, but the Chanticleers wanted to earn their way in, and that meant beating the Golden Eagles on Saturday night.
Playing without starting quarterback Grayson McCall, the Chanticleers found just enough offense to rally past the USM 26-23 before an announced crowd of 16,203 on “Senior Night” at Brooks Stadium. The win improved Coastal to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the league, while Southern Miss fell to 5-5 on the season and 3-3 in conference play.
The game started off as if the Chanticleers would take the division title by force. Getting his first career start at quarterback, redshirt junior Jarrett Guest surprised the Southern Miss defense with his ability to throw the ball downfield. The Marietta, Georgia, native led Coastal on a 75-yard march in four plays to begin the ballgame, highlighted by a 41-yard pass to Braydon Bennett on 3rd and 6. One play later, Aaron Bedgood raced 30 yards for the opening touchdown, and CCU led 7-0 with 13:03 remaining in the first quarter.
Coastal actually rotated two quarterbacks against USM with Guest and super senior Bryce Carpenter sharing the load. Carpenter was utilized mostly in run situations but couldn’t seem to get things going on the ground, finishing with just 15 yards on eight carries. Meanwhile, Guest guided the Chanticleers to 17 first-quarter points as he was 4-of-6 passing for 104 yards in the period. For the game, Guest threw for 163 yards on 7-of-14 passing with two interceptions and no touchdowns.
But as soon as the clock reached zero at the end of the first quarter, midnight seemed to strike on the Chanticleers’ offense. After generating 176 yards in the opening frame, CCU was held to just 185 yards the remainder of the contest as USM turned an early rout into a nail-biting finish.
The visitors surged back into the game with a 17-point second quarter before grabbing their first lead (23-20) with 10:44 left to play on a 23-yard FG from Briggs Bourgeois.
But that’s when Coastal went back to its bread-and-butter, which had been noticeably absent since the first quarter: the ground game. CCU raced 75 yards in just three plays to reclaim the lead on a 2-yard TD plunge by Reese White. CJ Beasley sparked the drive with an opening gallop of 56 yards down to the USM 19, before the Chanticleers punched it in two plays later. A strip sack by the Coastal defense on 4th and 10 with just over a minute left to play sealed the win and earned Coastal its second division crown as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
The Chanticleers are on the road for the final two weeks of the regular season. Next Saturday they play at Virginia before wrapping up the regular season on November 26th at James Madison.