CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern rolled up a season-high 548 yards of offense and limited Bucknell defensively for much of the day to post a 49-28 win on Saturday at Buccaneer Field.
CSU (5-2, 2-0 Big South) largely cruised to a fourth consecutive victory and tenth straight home triumph behind the play of its two redshirt freshman quarterbacks. Shane Bucenell threw for 172 yards and three first half touchdowns, while London Johnson ran for 80 yards and two scores and added a 32-yard touchdown strike to Saire Davis. Davis and another redshirt freshman, Kameron Brown, hauled in two touchdown passes apiece. Mike Holloway paced the Bucs' ground game with 105 yards, marking his fourth 100-yard effort of the year.
The Bucs' defense, meanwhile, made Bucknell (3-5, 2-1 Patriot League) one dimensional. The Bison rushed for just 71 yards and less than two yards per carry and couldn't push the ball downfield in the passing game.
A pair of turnovers and several costly penalties allowed Bucknell to hang around but CSU was pleased to move into the closing stretch of its regular season with more momentum. The Bucs host Gardner-Webb next Saturday to kick off a juncture that will decide whether they can repeat as Big South champions.
"I don't know that we played our best but you've gotta give credit to them and I thought we responded well offensively in the first half," CSU defensive coordinator Chad Staggs said. "Our guys responded really well to distractions and we did some good things on both sides. To finish these last three games out, we've gotta play better than that. We can play better and we'll work to do that."
CSU outgained Bucknell by 170 yards in the first half but led by only 21-14 at halftime due to an interception shortly before the break. The Bison's Connor Golden picked off Bucenell and returned it to the CSU 40-yard line with 1:25 left. R.J. Nitti's 35-yard pass to Kyle Kinner then set up a short touchdown throw to whittle the Bucs' advantage to seven.
The Bucs pushed their edge back to 14 with a 12-play, 65-yard touchdown drive out of the locker room. Bucenell piloted much of the march before Johnson stepped in and ripped off three straight runs, with the last taking him over the goal line from five yards out. Bucknell recovered a fumble option pitch at the CSU two-yard line two series later, narrowing its deficit to 28-21 courtesy of Chad Freshnock's touchdown run.
CSU rattled off two touchdown drives and forced a Bucknell three-and-out in between to put the game away over the remainder of the third quarter. Johnson ran for two first downs before lofting a perfect pass to Davis in the end zone to give the Bucs a 35-21 lead. After a defensive stop, Johnson rolled to his right and found Colton Korn for a 43-yard gain to the Bucknell 20. Two plays later, Johnson dashed 20 yards down the right sideline to up CSU's cushion to 42-21 with 34 seconds remaining.
Bucknell clawed back within two touchdowns and had an opportunity to mount a drive and make things interesting midway through the fourth. Zane Cruz stepped in front of a Nitti pass for an interception, however, and returned it to the one-yard line. Holloway then scored for the second time of the day and ninth time this year to account for the final 49-28 margin.
Bucknell set the tone at the contest's outset, traveling 66 yards over nine plays to move ahead just 3:21 into play. Nitti hit Jack Horan for a ten-yard touchdown to finish off a methodical drive anchored by the Bison's big offensive line.
CSU was undeterred behind Bucenell, who made a host of accurate throws in the first half for the second straight week. Bucenell connected with Davis for a 59-yard touchdown to even the score and added hookups of 27 and 13 yards to Brown to up CSU's lead to 21-7.
CSU caps a three-game homestand next Saturday against Gardner-Webb. Kickoff is slated for 12 noon and the game will be broadcast on the American Sports Network (ASN).