CONWAY, S.C. – Western Illinois scored 45 unanswered points from the second quarter on, rolling to a 52-10 FBS victory over Coastal Carolina. The Leathernecks, who opened with three road games to start the season, improved to 3-0 for the second straight year under head coach Charlie Fisher.
“We have a lot of veteran players and a lot of confidence. We believe in what we are doing on both sides of the ball and when you have a good scheme, you believe in it and you have good players, you always have a chance. All the credit goes to our players, offensive and defensive staff and the job that they did. I tip my hat to the way we played tonight,” said Fisher. “We played for all four quarters. All offseason we talk about ‘Finishing the Fight’, don’t let up, keep playing hard and play with great effort. That is what we are doing right now.”
The victory also marks the first time in program history that Western recorded three straight road wins to start the year. It was also the largest margin of victory for Western against a FBS opponent, defeating the Sun Belt Conference member Chanticleers (1-2 overall) by 42 points. The previous high was a 22-point win over Eastern Michigan in 2003, and was the program’s eighth FBS victory all-time. The Leathernecks performance was a record setting one as the 52 points scored were the most a Missouri Valley Football Conference team had ever scored against an FBS opponent. Western’s showing passed 47 points Southern Illinois posted against Indiana Sept. 5, 2017.
After a pair of punts, Coastal took over inside its own 20. A 50-yard pass play flipped the field, but the defense came up with a short gain, pass break-up and Brett Taylor got his 21st career tackle for loss. That set up a 52-yard field goal for Evan Rabon, the second-longest kick in Chanticleer history for a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Western responded with a 30-yard run by Max Norris and a career-long 36-yard pass completion to Tony Harper. That eventually set up 1st-and-Goal from the nine. Isaiah LeSure took a reverse and even though his first career pass completion was deflected, Sean McGuire caught it for a touchdown. Sam Crosa‘s extra point made it 7-3.
Coastal responded with a 24-yard TD run by Alex James to regain the lead. However, Western found the endzone again as McGuire connected with Brandon Gaston for the sophomore wide receiver’s first collegiate touchdown, a 19-yard catch. Crosa made it 14-10 with 7:37 left in the opening half and the rout was on.
Later in the quarter, McGuire connected with Adam Conrady on a 57-yard reception inside the RedZone. Steve McShane rushed it to the one, then Norris plunged across to eventually make it 21-10 at halftime.
After deferring the coin flip to the second half, Western took advantage. McGuire helped the offense march 65 yards in eight plays, capped by McShane’s 2-yard TD run.
The Leathernecks eventually made it 35 unanswered points with two more touchdowns in the third quarter. Tyrin Holloway deflected a pass, and Riggs Baxter came up with his first collegiate interception. One play later, Conrady caught a 10-yard TD pass from McGuire. With just nine seconds left in the quarter, McGuire connected with Clint Ratkovich on a 5-yard TD to make it 42-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
Crosa connected from 35 yards out to extend the lead to 45-10. Later in the fourth quarter, Devon Sanders, who had just 70 career rushing yards in his three-year career, went untouched for an 80-yard touchdown run for the final margin.
“More than anything, Jared (Elliott) did a really good job of mixing it up. We can throw the ball, we can run it and we are very diverse on offense. I really thought that showed tonight. Defensively, I think that Tony (Grantham) called another great game. Once they got those early points, our guys really settled in,” said Fisher. “Once they figured out the speed of the option offense, they really got going and played well. Again, I tip my hat to our players, offense and defense, and especially our special teams was really sound tonight.”
Sanders’ run tied for the fifth-longest run in program history (longest run since Aaron Stecker in Nov. 1, 1997 at Southern Illinois), and was the second-longest rushing touchdown by a Leatherneck.
Justin Fitzpatrick, who recorded his first career interception last game at Northern Arizona, recorded a career-high two interceptions during the fourth quarter.
McGuire finished 17-of-19 for 276 yards and matched a career-high of three touchdown passes. He also caught a 9-yard TD pass.
Norris ran for 80 yards and Sanders would add 78 yards on the ground. Jaelon Acklin caught four passes for 61 yards.
Taylor led the defense with eight tackles, and Western held a 510-307 edge in total offense.
Marcus Outlow led Coastal with 66 rushing yards. James Heft and Fitz Wattley led with 11 tackles each.
The Leathernecks return to Macomb for their home-opener, which is also Homecoming and their Missouri Valley Football Conference opener, next Saturday (Sept. 30). Western plays host to South Dakota, kickoff scheduled for 3 p.m.
• Western won the toss and elected to defer. It was the first time this year winning the coin toss.
• When Coastal took the 3-0 lead, it was the first time this year Western trailed. That ended a streak of 127 minutes.
• The 36-yard pass completion to Harper set a personal-long reception for the senior tight end.
• Conrady had just 51 career reception yards before his career-long 57-yard reception in the second quarter.
• Western out-gained Coastal 265-190 at the half and held a near three-minute time of possession advantage.
• McGuire moved into seventh place all-time in total offense.
• The last time the Leathernecks had a 75-plus yard run was Frisman Jackson’s 77-yard run at Southern Illinois in 2000, which set a Western Illinois record by a quarterback.