CONWAY – It was essentially a 60-minute game of keep-away at Brooks Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Coastal Carolina football team defeated Arkansas State 52-23 in the Sun Belt Conference opener for both teams in a game that the Chanticleers dominated time of possession, having the ball for more than 41 minutes — something the Red Wolves simply couldn’t overcome.
“That was big,” Chants head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “Anytime you can keep them off the field (is a plus). They’re explosive and we tried to keep their defense out there. Eventually, we were hopeful we were going to wear them down because what they do scheme-wise, it’s tough, it’s challenging. I thought our guys finally there in the third, fourth quarter, some of those runs that were two yards, started becoming five, starting becoming six, started becoming seven, starting becoming eight, and we broke some big runs.”
Chants redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall had the best game of his short career, throwing for a career-high 322 yards on 20-for-29 passing and four touchdowns with a pick and rushed for 44 yards on 17 carries.
“Well, I wanted to wring his neck there on the fumble and the dang interception that he threw there; (it) was just dumb,” Chadwell said jokingly. “But, where he does a great job — he started out a little rough maybe there — he believes in himself. He stays in the pocket, he finds ways to maneuver and he has a great understanding of our offense.”
Senior running back CJ Marable also had an impressive game, carrying the ball 15 times for 63 yards and a touchdown. He also had a good day in the aerial assault, catching four passes for 25 yards and a score.
Marable also hit the 3,000-yard milestone in his career in the third quarter, and it was fitting that it came against Arkansas State, a program that he had signed with but ultimately ended up not playing for because a lack of communication from the Red Wolves. Marable ended up playing at Presbyterian for a season before coming to Coastal Carolina. Throw in the 1-point loss the Chants suffered at the hands of the Red Wolves last season and Marable was grinning from ear to ear under his facemask after getting a little revenge.
“I’m feeling blessed,” Marable said. “To be able to get the win and get the record against Arkansas State, obviously, (with) what happened with me and Arkansas State, it’s a blessing to be able to do that.”
In the first quarter, it didn’t look like the Chants were going to win by four scores.
The Red Wolves scored first when redshirt junior quarterback Logan Bonner hit redshirt senior wide receiver Dahu Green for a 33-yard TD. The play was set up when Bonner hit redshirt senior wide receiver Brandon Bowling for a 35-yard completion to set Arkansas State up at the CCU 33-yard-line. Redshirt junior placekicker Blake Grupe’s PAT made it 7-0 Red Wolves with 5:38 remaining in the first. This was the first time the Chants had trailed all season.
However, the Chants tied the game up their very next play from scrimmage when McCall hit junior tight end Isaiah Likely for a 72-yard touchdown, the longest throw of McCall’s young career, the longest catch of Likely’s career and the longest play of the season for the Chants.
After a missed Grupe field goal for the Red Wolves, the Chants gave the ball right back to Arkansas State after McCall fumbled the ball on the exchange to Marable to set the Red Wolves up at the Coastal 27. It was the first Chants turnover of the season.
The Red Wolves capitalized on the turnover when Bonner hit Bowling for a 21-yard TD with 2:30 to go in the first quarter, making it 14-7 Red Wolves after the PAT.
However, on the Chants’ next possession, they went 75 yards in 10 plays and capped off the drive with a McCall pitch to Marable for a 12-yard score.
After a Massimo Biscardi 42-yard field goal, which came after he executed a pooch kick in the Chants’ favor, CCU scored yet another touchdown, this one coming on the longest scoring drive in team history in terms of time and plays (8:38 in 18 plays) with a McCall throw to Marable for a 3-yard TD.
McCall threw two more touchdowns in the second half, one to graduate student wide receiver Kameron Brown for 3 yards to put the Chants up 31-14 with 6:57 left in the third and one to junior wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh for 6 yards with 10:29 to go in the game to put the Chants up big, 38-17.
The Chants are now 3-0 for the first time since 2015 and have matching their longest win streak since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2017.
Coastal Carolina will continue Sun Belt play next week when it travels to Louisiana-Lafayette to take on the Ragin’ Cajuns on Oct. 10 at noon on ESPN2.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, who are 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt this year, beat Coastal Carolina 48-7 at Brooks Stadium last season.
“This game (Arkansas State) was won up front, and that game’s going to be won up front,” Chadwell said. “They’re going to pound us, they’re going to try to come get us with that zone and all those good backs and play action and boot and that quarterback’s pretty good. So we’re going to have to be physical up front and they cause a lot of issues with their defense in the way they play.”
Chadwell knows his team can’t turn the ball over like it did Saturday (two fumbles and a pick) if it wants to win next week.
“If we play the way we did today, scoring points was awesome, but if we turn it over against them the way we did today, we’re in for a different ball game because they’re going to take advantage of that,” Chadwell said. “We’ve got to clean some of those things up. We got some foolish penalties today and when you play good teams, sometimes that happens, but we’ve got to clean that up. We’re going to have to play a better, complete game and not look like Mickey Mouse there in the third quarter.”
Reach Nick Masuda at 843-607-0912. Follow him on Twitter at @nickmasudaphoto.