Sunday, September 26, 2021

Gardner-Webb Downs Western Carolina in Offensive Showdown, 52-34

BOILING SPRINGS – Saturday night's matchup between Western Carolina and Gardner-Webb saw a budding in-state rivalry building into a new chapter as each team was still breaking in fairly new head coaches who both sport offensive philosophies that want to run as many plays as possible in a quick-paced manner. The two teams did not disappoint, combining for 1200 yards of offense and eighty-six points. Although Western Carolina had a quarterback who threw for over 400 yards, it was Gardner-Webb, who lived up to their Runnin' Bulldogs name, sporting two 100+ yard rushers on the night, who were victorious on Saturday, winning 52-34.

The first quarter did not have the fireworks that fans and pundits alike were expecting. Gardner-Webb forced a three-and-out on the first drive of the game, but fumbled on their first play from scrimmage, giving Western Carolina the ball back in Bulldogs territory. The Catamounts took advantage of the turnover, landing on the scoreboard first with a thirty-eight-yard Richard McCollum field goal. Not wanting to be outdone by another in-state kicker, Gardner-Webb's Austin McKay kicked his own field goal to knot the score at three.

Although the first half was marred with turnovers with each team fumbling twice and turning the ball over on downs once, there were bright spots for each squad as well. Gardner-Webb running back Narii Gaither ran hard for Gardner-Webb and wide receiver TJ Luther made two great catches with the sun right in his eyes, the second in the back corner of the end zone to give the Bulldogs their first touchdown of the day. Western Carolina's KJ Milner had multiple tackles for loss and a recovered fumble and quarterback Rogan Wells was 12 of 16 passing with a scoring toss to Kenny Benjamin.

The teams started to settle down as the second quarter got underway. After the Catamounts added another McCollum field goal to cut the deficit to four, Rogan Wells led his team on their first/only touchdown drive of the half, moving Western Carolina fifty-eight yards in eight plays, culminating with a thirteen-yard scoring grab by Kenny Benjamin.

The Runnin' Bulldogs looked to regain the momentum late in the quarter, and quarterback Bailey Fisher was ready to step up and led his team on a seventy-yard scoring drive, finishing the drive on his own with a keeper, but it was Western Carolina who would have the last word in the half with Wells continuing with his hot hand, leading the visiting Catamounts seventy-nine yards in eleven plays. Calvin Jones made a great grab at the one-yard line to get the Catamounts into position and TJ Jones punched it in two plays later to give Western a 20-17 halftime lead.

Gardner-Webb QB Bailey Fisher celebrates a touchdown.
Photo: Brian Barnes

The second half was a tale of two quarters. The third quarter saw both teams trading punches and trying to light up the scoreboard. After forcing an initial punt which rolled all the way to the two-yard line, Western Carolina struck fast and quarterback Rogan Wells broke free on an eighty-two-yard keeper three plays later to give the Catamounts a three-point lead. TJ Luther got Gardner-Webb right back in scoring position after returning the ensuing kickoff seventy yards to the Western Carolina thirty-yard line. This set up Narii Gaither, who picked up eighteen of his team-leading 151 rushing yards on a rushing touchdown three plays later. Wells and the Catamounts sought to respond immediately. Wells, who finished with 427 yards on the evening, accounted for all eighty-three yards through the air on this drive, finishing with a six-yard pass to Raphael Williams to make it a two-score game again. Western Carolina would not see the end zone again the rest of the night. The rest of the game would belong to the home team.

Gardner-Webb got back into and then began to control the last twenty minutes of the game. Freshman Donovan Jones added two scores for the Bulldogs, a six-yard score, and a back-breaking seventy-nine scamper to seal the deal. Between these two Jones scores was a pick-six for junior Jamari Brown.


Up Next

Gardner-Webb (2-2) takes on Monmouth in the Runnin' Bulldogs Big South Conference opener while Western Carolina (0-4) opens Southern Conference play on the road at Chattanooga.