Sunday, September 6, 2015

South Alabama Pulls Away Late For 33-23 Win Over Gardner-Webb In Season Opener

MOBILE, Ala. – South Alabama scored all four of its touchdowns on plays of 49 yards or longer Saturday night, pulling away late for a 33-23 win over Gardner-Webb in both teams’ season opener.   Gardner-Webb (0-1) recovered from an early 13-0 deficit, getting a 48-yard touchdown pass from Tyrell Maxwell to Mike Estes and a safety from its defense in the second quarter to trail 13-9 at the break.   The Runnin’ Bulldogs got a defensive touchdown early in the third quarter – a 21-yard interception return by Angel Guzman – to take a 16-13 lead. The Jags answered with 20 unanswered points from there – with two long touchdown plays by Xavier Johnson providing the spark.   South Alabama (1-0) took control of the scoreboard early, scoring quickly on each of its first two drives after electing to receive the kickoff.   Terrance Timmons darted 49 yards on the opening drive’s sixth play, outrunning the Gardner-Webb defense for an early 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game (13:02). The quick-strike drive covered 83 yards.   Gardner-Webb (0-1) picked up three first downs on its initial drive, with Tyrell Maxwell hitting his first two pass attempts to freshmen Victor Harris (seven yards) and Kyle Horton (15 yards) for first downs. Maxwell followed that hookup with Horton by carrying 17 yards himself down the right sideline to keep the chains moving – but two rushes for lost yardage stalled the drive at the South Alabama 34-yard line.   The Jaguars needed only eight plays to get into the end zone gain, with Gerald Everett bulling through a pair of tackles on the home sideline to finish off a 50-yard touchdown catch and run from Cody Clements. A botched two-point conversion failed, leaving the score at 13-0.   The two teams traded interceptions – with Jonathan Sherrill leaping and returning a Clements’ miscue 17 yards just before the evening’s second lightning delay with 2:41 left on the first quarter clock.   When the teams returned, Gardner-Webb slowly gained momentum itself. After a defensive stop, Maxwell found tight end Estes open on a wheel route – and the Raleigh, N.C., junior rumbled 48 yards to the house with 13:15 to play before the half.   Both teams traded punts over the next four possessions, when Andrew Komornik finally pinned the Jags at their own one-yard line with 5:46 left in the half.   Laron Glenn made the punt count one play later, hammering Dallas Davis in the end zone for a safety to trim South Alabama’s lead to 13-9. The score would remain the same at halftime.   Gardner-Webb took the opening kickoff in the third quarter and drove out near midfield, with Maxwell carrying twice for first downs. Another Komornik punt pinned USA back at the 12-yard line, and Angel Guzman stepped in front of a tipped pass on first down – taking the pick back 21 yards for a score and a 16-13 Gardner-Webb lead with 10:56 left in the third quarter.   South Alabama struck quickly once again, however, with Clements hitting Johnson on a simple swing pass that saw Johnson dip and spin through the secondary for a 56-yard touchdown – giving the Jags a 20-13 lead just 20 seconds after they lost it.   Two consecutive turnovers by Gardner-Webb later in the game led to a pair of South Alabama field goals, and the Jaguars led 26-16 with 12:27 remaining in the game. Gardner-Webb drove into Jags’ territory on its next drive, but stalled.    Komornik pinned the home team inside its 10-yard line again, but Johnson broke free up the middle on a 92-yard touchdown run that proved to be the backbreaker with 8:54 remaining.   Maxwell marched his squad 70 yards for the final margin, hitting Estes from five yards out with 19 seconds remaining.   Gardner-Webb finished the night with 309 total yards offensively, led by Maxwell in his first career start. The sophomore completed 11-of-22 passes for 132 yards and two scores, with two interceptions  coming on very strong individual plays by South Alabama cover men. Maxwell also ran 22 times for 102 yards to pace a 177-yard night on the ground for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.   Chad Geter had a strong return to action at linebacker, making 10 stops. Spencer Havird and Aaron Cook each had nine hits and Tanner Burch collected five.    Komornik was strong punting the football, averaging 41.0 yards on seven attempts with four pinned inside the 20. His long boot was 55 yards.   South Alabama finished with 408 yards of total offense, but gained more than 60 percent (247 yards) on its four long touchdown plays. Clements finished 14-of-25 for 184 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his Jags’ debut.   Johnson was the catalyst offensively, gaining 121 yards on the ground on seven carries and catching a 56-yard scoring pass. Gerald Everett had four catches for 75 yards and a score to pace the receiving corps for South Alabama.   Blake Dees led the Jags’ defense with 13 stops and two tackles behind the line. He also forced a pair of fumbles.   Gardner-Webb will return home to host Elon next Saturday, September 12. Kickoff is set for 6:00 pm in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium (Big South Network).