CONWAY, S.C. No. 12 Coastal Carolina scored 28 unanswered points to come back and defeat Charleston Southern, 31-17, to capture the outright 2006 Big South Conference football championship with a perfect 4-0 record. The Chanticleers finish the regular-season at 9-2 and have won or shared a League-record three consecutive Big South championships, while Buccaneers wrap up the sesaon with a 9-2 mark and 2-2 in league play.
Charleston Southern jumped out to a 17-3 lead mid-way through the second quarter. On the games first play, Bucs QB Collin Drafts scrambled 59 yards to the Coastal Carolina 11-yard-line to set-up Kenny Harpers 1-yard rush to make it 7-0 Charleston just 2:36 into the ballgame.
Coastal Carolina got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter when the Chants punt defense stopped Charleston Southerns fake punt attempt and rush on 4th-and-5 at the CSU 28, giving CCU 1st-and-10 at the Bucs 16-yard line. But the Buccaneers stood to the challenge and limited Coastal to a 28-yard field goal from Josh Hoke.
On the ensuing drive, Drafts led a 12-play, 62-yard scoring drive that was capped by Nick Ellis 19-yard field goal to make it 10-3. Coastal took over at its 23-yard line on the next possession, but Tyler Thigpens deep pass was intercepted on the first play of the drive, giving the ball back to the Bucs. Drafts again marched the Bucs down the field with a nine-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Robert Adams scoring from a yard out, giving CSU a 17-3 lead.
That would be all of Charleston Southerns scoring, as Coastal cut the deficit to seven points on the next possession. Thigpen converted two third-down conversions with passes, then hit Jerome Simpson for a 57-yard scoring strike down the right sideline for a touchdown. Hokes extra point made the score 17-10. Simpson has now caught a touchdown pass in seven consecutive games.
After intermission, Thigpen led a seven-play, 75-yard drive in just three minutes to tie the game at 17-17. He opened the drive with a 36-yard rush, then completed a 19-yard pass to Perry Parks. Thigpen rushed twice for five yards, then hit Simpson for a 23-yard gain to give Coastal first-and-goal. On third down, Aundres Perkins punched it in from the one-yard line and Hokes PAT made it 17-17.
The Chanticleer defense stopped CSUs next drive, and Coastal went on an eight-play, 54-yard scoring drive to take its first lead of the game at 24-17. Thigpen hit Simpson for a five-yard TD, giving Simpson a Big South record for touchdown receptions in a season with 14, which also ties the overall season TD record.
It remained 24-17 Coastal after three quarters. CSU opened the fourth quarter at its 33-yard line and Kenny Harpers halfback option pass was intercepted by Marrio Norman, who returned it 58-yards to the CSU 20. Thigpen threw his third TD pass of the game to Santini Washington from 20 yards out, and Hokes PAT gave CCU the 31-17 lead, which turned out to be the final margin of victory.
Coastal put together 444 yards of total offense in the win, including 325 through the air, while Charleston Southern had 364 yards of offense. However in the second half, the CCU defense limited the Bucs to just 111 yards of total offense while picking off three CSU passes.
Thigpen finished the game with 325 passing yards and 372 total yards, extending his Big South record to eight 300-yard total offense games. He was 23-of-36 with three touchdowns and two interceptions, along with 47 yards of rushing. Simpson led Coastal with six catches for 107 yards and two scores, while Washington added five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Drafts was 22-of-42 passing and broke the Leagues single-season completion record, while CSUs Maurice Price tallied six catches in becoming just the seventh player in NCAA Division I-AA history with 100 receptions in a season, ending the year at 103.
The Chanticleers will await their fate tomorrow when the NCAA announces the 16 teams selected for the 2006 NCAA DIvision I Football Championship, starting Nov. 25. It will be announced between 1:30-2 p.m. on ESPNews.