CHARLESTON, S.C. – Tyrell Maxwell's one-yard touchdown pass to Mike Estes with 26.5 seconds left gave Gardner-Webb the lead and Jaylan Foster's interception in the end zone with 0.2 seconds left sealed a 17-10 win over No. 8 Charleston Southern Saturday.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (4-6 2-2 Big South) had dropped two tight games to nationally ranked teams earlier this season, but finally broke through against the defending Big South Conference champion Buccaneers (5-3, 2-1 Big South).
"We had a very good week of practice and I was pleased with the way our guys responded with their preparation after a tough overtime loss [at Liberty] last week," said head coach Carroll McCray. "They came in with a great attitude and were focused on competing. I'm very proud of our fight today. We finished the game strong against a very, very good football team. We had some young men step up and make plays to win the game."
Maxwell ran for a season-high 165 yards on 23 carries and a score – and passed for 195 yards and the game winner to finish with 360 yards of total offense in another strong overall performance. It was Maxwell's second game in two seasons with more than 150 yards rushing in an upset of a top-15 team.
Gardner-Webb rolled up 430 yards of total offense – including 235 on the ground – against the nation's No. 11 defensive unit. Maxwell's performance came at a key time, with leading rusher Khalil Lewis not dressed due to an injury. The Cordova, S.C., junior's 52-yard scamper with 7:41 left in the third quarter tied the game.
Charleston Southern came out quickly to seize the lead, driving 70 yards on just five plays to open the game. Shane Bucenell hit Colton Korn on a 25-yard pass play for the first touchdown of the game with 12:26 to play in the first quarter.
Gardner-Webb buckled down defensively from there – despite playing without a number of starters out with injury – and the Bucs' lead remained at 7-0 at intermission.
Maxwell finally broke through midway through the third quarter, keeping on an option play to the right and breaking through two tackles into the open field. With Charleston Southern's Solomon Brown closing in with the angle, Maxwell put his foot in the ground and angled quickly back to the middle of the field – outrunning the Bucs to the end zone for a 52-yard score.
Both teams traded punts for the rest of the quarter, until Charleston Southern mounted a drive late in the period and got into the red zone after a fumble near midfield by the Runnin' Bulldogs. Gardner-Webb held, however, and after a false start penalty the Bucs were forced to try a 38-yard field goal.
Tyler Tekac's kick was good with 13:11 to play in the game, and the Buccaneers had a 10-7 lead.
Gardner-Webb finally got its offense back in gear midway through the quarter, going on a drive that chewed up 5:02 on the game clock. A penalty stalled the march, however, forcing Paul Schumacher to try a 40-yard field goal. The West Palm Beach, Fla., junior nailed the kick with 3:26 left to tie the game.
The Runnin' Bulldogs forced a punt near midfield to get the ball back with 1:42 left, and Maxwell engineered an eight-play, 85-yard drive that took just over a minute.
He started with two short completions to Kyle Horton and Jayln Cagle, then took off for a six-yard gain to move the chains on third down. A 27-yard completion over the middle to Estes pushed the ball into Charleston Southern territory and Maxwell used his legs to take over from there.
A 15-yard scramble down to the Charleston Southern 27-yard line put the Runnin' Bulldogs squarely in field goal range with 45 seconds left and another run – this time for 26 yards – nearly ended the game. Maxwell reached for the pylon, but was ruled out at the one-yard line.
He rolled right on the next play and hit a wide open Estes for the score just over the goal line with 26.5 seconds left.
Charleston Southern had one last chance. A solid kickoff return set the Bucs up at their own 29 and backup quarterback Robert Mitchell heaved a 55-yarder up for grabs on first down. Larry Jones III hauled in the jump ball at the Gardner-Webb 16-yard line, sending the home stands into a frenzy with 10 seconds left.
An incompletion in the end zone with 5.2 seconds left left Charleston Southern with one play and Foster stepped in front of a fade route in the end zone with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Gardner-Webb went into victory formation to run out the clock.
It was the fifth win over a nationally-ranked team for McCray since he arrived at his alma mater prior to the 2013 season.
The Runnin' Bulldogs limited Charleston Southern to 312 yards of total offense – more than 100 below its season average – and recorded four sacks.
Redshirt freshman Davis Neilands led the was from his defensive end spot – recording a career-high 11 total tackles (five solo), a half sack and a quarterback pressure. All-America linebacker Chad Geter had 10 stops (seven solo) and a tackle for loss and end Donovan Manning finished with five total tackles and 2.0 sacks in his second career start at nose guard.
In addition to Maxwell's big day offensively, Gardner-Webb got 50 yards on 15 carries from true freshman Cagle in his first career start. The Runnin' Bulldogs averaged 5.3 yards per carry for the game.
Charleston Southern got 70 yards on 13 carries from Mike Holloway and 46 yards on 10 carries from Darius Hammond, but were put behind the chains too often by Gardner-Webb's pass rush.
Bucenell finished the day 5-of-13 for 89 yards and a score, but was sacked four times. Kameron Brown led the receiving corps with two catches for 59 yards.
Solomon Brown led the defense with nine stops. J.D. Sosebee added eight hits.
Gardner-Webb will head into its open date next weekend, before returning to action on November 19 to host Monmouth in the season finale. Kickoff in Boiling Springs is set for 1:30 pm that afternoon.