Sunday, October 22, 2023

Gardner-Webb Stages Thrilling Comeback Victory Over Eastern Kentucky

BOILING SPRINGS – In a heart-pounding showdown on Saturday, October 21, Gardner-Webb’s Runnin’ Bulldogs managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as they clawed their way back from behind, defeating the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, 35-32. It was a game filled with dramatic twists and incredible plays and went down to the wire.

From the opening kickoff, it was evident that both teams came to play, and Eastern Kentucky wasted no time in making their presence known. In just the second play of the game, Braedon Sloan sprinted 61 yards down the field, putting the Colonels ahead 7-0 in the blink of an eye. Gardner-Webb, however, answered with a relentless drive of their own, only to be thwarted on fourth down by Mike Smith, Jr., granting Eastern Kentucky another opportunity. But it was Gardner-Webb’s defense that soon stole the show. Ja’Kai Young intercepted a pass at the 40-yard line, racing into the endzone and tying the game 7-7 with 10:51 remaining in the first quarter.

Eastern Kentucky retaliated with an impressive 11-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by an 18-yard touchdown pass from Parker McKinney to Jalen Burbage, giving the Colonels a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. Gardner-Webb’s subsequent possession was marked by a crucial sack from Cam Junior, causing a fumble recovered by Ryan Jackson of Eastern Kentucky. Despite the opportunity, the Colonels failed to capitalize as Raequan Ousley broke up a pass on fourth down.

The back-and-forth continued when Gardner-Webb’s Jordon Thomas stripped the ball from Ephraim Floyd’s grasp, handing Eastern Kentucky possession once more. This time, the Colonels made no mistake, as Josh Carter ran into the endzone from 22 yards out, extending Eastern Kentucky’s lead to 21-7 with 11:47 remaining in the first half.

Undeterred, Gardner-Webb mounted a determined offensive drive, converting three fourth downs, with Jaylen King taking matters into his own hands and rushing into the endzone on fourth down at the six-yard line, narrowing the deficit to 21-14 with 4:59 left in the second quarter. Before the halftime whistle, Ousley snagged an interception with 2:40 left in the quarter, paving the way for Narii Gaither to storm into the endzone and tie the game at 21-21.

The third quarter saw Gardner-Webb driving deep into Eastern Kentucky territory, only for a critical sack by Logan Blake to force a fumble on fourth down, with Jaylen Herrud recovering the ball. This allowed the Colonels to take a 24-21 lead with a field goal as Ty French and Josiah Wright made a crucial tackle.

As the game entered the fourth quarter, Gardner-Webb found themselves backed up at their own 12-yard line, but Jayden Brown electrified the crowd with an 88-yard touchdown run, giving the Runnin’ Bulldogs their first lead of the night at 28-24 with 12:10 left in the game. The Gardner-Webb defense then rose to the occasion as William McRainey forced a fumble, with Wright recovering the ball at the 27-yard line. Capitalizing on the opportunity, King connected with AJ Johnson for a 37-yard touchdown pass, extending the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ lead to 35-24 with 10:25 remaining.

Eastern Kentucky, refusing to surrender, embarked on a gutsy 98-yard drive, helped by penalties against Gardner-Webb. Sloan closed the drive with a six-yard touchdown run, and McKinney found Burbage in the endzone for a two-point conversion, closing the gap to 35-32 with 2:12 remaining. Floyd’s recovery of an onside kick attempt followed by Brown’s 15-yard rush secured the 35-32 win for Gardner-Webb, capping off an exhilarating night of football.

Up Next
Gardner-Webb remains at home for another week, hosting nationally-ranked UT-Martin for homecoming while Eastern Kentucky travels out west to play Utah Tech.