NORFOLK, Va. – Charleston Southern forced four turnovers as part of a spirited defensive effort and improved to 4-0 for the second time in program history with a 20-12 win over Norfolk State at Dick Price Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Bucs remained perfect under first-year head coach Jamey Chadwell thanks in part to a brilliant fourth quarter play by junior defensive end Dylan Black. With CSU clinging to a 14-12 lead, Black recorded a strip sack of Norfolk State quarterback Tyler Clark and recovered in the end zone for a touchdown to push the CSU advantage to 20-12 with 3:04 remaining.
Black also forced a fumble in the first half, and finished with nine tackles and half a tackle for loss. Classmate Demaris Freeman led the Bucs with 13 tackles, while defensive captain Calvin Bryant continued an outstanding start to his senior season with 12 tackles and a pair of sacks.
CSU played with passion and poise, and found a way to win late just as it did in earlier victories over The Citadel and Shorter.
"I think the belief and confidence is huge," Chadwell said. "We've never said that we're a complete football team. We're a work in progress but when kids and young people believe in a cause, believe in each other and play for each other, good things happen. Whether you're a good football team or a bad football team or just a team that's trying to get better, belief is a powerful thing."
The Bucs limited the Spartans to 265 yards of offense and 0-for-10 on third-down conversions. CSU also held Campbell without a third-down conversion (0-for-9) in last Saturday's 30-10 win.
"We talked about that it was going to be a defensive struggle and it was," Chadwell said. "We were able to find a way to get some points on the board and play some field position football there at the end. The defense made a great play at the end of the game to get a touchdown. Dylan Black made an unbelievable play, and we're excited about going back home 4-0. This will make the trip home a lot nicer."
Offensively, CSU churned out 201 yards rushing behind a career-high 98-yard effort from freshman Ben Robinson. Junior Christian Reyes added 96 yards on 22 carries, as he continues to be the workhorse in the Bucs' backfield.
While the ground game did most of the damage for the Bucs, it was two big pass plays to tight ends Kirby Broome and Nathan Prater that sparked a third quarter touchdown drive and produced a 14-6 lead.
CSU senior quarterback Malcolm Dixon found a leaping Broome in front of the Bucs' sideline for 24 yards to move the football near midfield. Several Reyes runs moved CSU into scoring position, and Dixon and Prater finished the march. Under pressure, Dixon stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike over the middle for Prater who crossed the goal line for a 24-yard touchdown. The play capped a 12-play, 94-yard drive that took up 5:19 of the third quarter clock.
The Bucs forced another turnover on NSU's next possession, as Matt Hardy recovered a Clark fumble at the CSU 25-yard line early in the fourth quarter. NSU was able to get in the end zone on its following drive, as Clark lofted a 10-yard touchdown pass to Je'Ron Stokes to cut the CSU lead to 14-12 with 6:19 left. The ensuing two-point conversion failed, though, as Matt Hardy blitzed off the edge and forced an incompletion.
"It (defense's ability to force turnovers and make big plays) was huge," Chadwell said. "They drove a couple of times in our end and we were able to force fumbles. Any time you get four turnovers in a game, you should win the game and thankfully we found a way to do that."
Both defenses dictated play from the outset, as the two sides combined for just six first downs in a scoreless first quarter. CSU forced and recovered fumbles on two of NSU's first three drives, but could not convert prime field position into points. Bryant forced the first fumble with a strip sack of his own, and freshman defensive lineman Caleb Batchelor pounced on it at the NSU 45-yard line. Black forced the other, jarring the ball free from NSU tight end Joseph Hawkins and enabling an Isaac Lowrance recovery.
Ben Robinson jolted the Bucs' offense on their first drive of the second quarter to give CSU a 7-0 lead. Seemingly bottled up after a short gain up the middle, Robinson broke free and sprinted down the left sideline for a 39-yard dash to the NSU 34. Following a Dixon first-down connection to freshman wide receiver Colton Korn, Robinson picked up 20 more yards to set the Bucs up with first-and-goal. The Tallahassee, Fla. product capped off the drive on the next play, taking an option pitch from Dixon into the end zone from two yards out for his first career touchdown.
NSU drew to within 7-6 at halftime, thanks to an 11-play, 74-yard scoring drive on their final possession of the first half. The Spartans converted two fourth downs on the drive, with the second coming via an Omari Stokes one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Ryan Wade. Damian Dixon blocked the ensuing extra point, enabling CSU to head into halftime with the lead.
CSU finishes a three-game road trip next Saturday, as it takes on Southern Conference power Appalachian State. Kickoff at Kidd-Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C. is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.