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Off 9-3 season, Chants hope for continued success

   Coastal Carolina coach David Bennett may have found what he was looking for last week when his team rallied late to beat Winston Salem State.
    The Chanticleers (1-1) were a 9-3 team a year ago and made the playoffs in the fourth year of the football program. A 45-28 loss to eventual national champion Appalachian State in the opening round was disappointing, but did not dampen the enthusiasm of what the program had accomplished.
    A similar followup season, Bennett knew, would be difficult. The Chants lost 36 seniors at a time when the defending Big South Conference champions began beefing up their non-conference schedule after missing the playoffs in 2005 despite a 10-1 record.  Strength of schedule was the reason cited for leaving CCU out of the 16 team field.
    This year the Chants opened at Delaware State, one of the top teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and they have games with Furman and James Madison in addition to Saturday night’s game with Georgia Southern before heading into the conference play.
    After losing to Delaware State the Chants came home to play what Bennett called the best team WSSU has ever had.
    “We need somebody to step up and be a leader,” said Bennett. “We’ve got some leaders, but we don’t have as many as we had last year. With 36 seniors if one didn’t lead one day a lot of them did.”
    Bennett may have found that leader in junior quarterback Willie Richardson who followed a so-so opening game — he completed 19 of 33 passes for 187 yards in his first career start — with a 301 yard effort against the Rams.
    Richardson had played in only four games prior to moving into the starting role this season. He comes from a football family. His father played for the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Colts. His brother Wally played at Penn State and for Baltimore.
    For his play against WSSU the 6-foot-5, 215 pound Richardson was named the Big South’s Offensive Player of the Week.
    Richardson, who has completed 35 of 57 passes for 488 yards, and wide receiver Jerome Simpson will give the Eagle pass defense a much stronger test than West Georgia which had 224 yards passing, only 32 in the second half.
    Simpson is one of the top wide receivers in the Football Championship Subdivision. He currently has six catches for 158 yards, an average of 28.3 yards per catch, with one touchdown.
    Eagle fans will remember him from the show he put on at Paulson Stadium last year. Simpson had eight catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 38-21 win. Coastal quarterback Tyler Thigpen is now with Kansas City in the NFL.
    Last week the Chants trailed WSS 21-18 going into the fourth quarter. They tied it on a 28 yard field goal from Justin Durham, his third of the game, and then won it when they scored on a one-yard run by fullback Tommy Fraser. A 50-yard pass to Simpson put the ball on the one to set up the winning score.
    “Everyone says they lost a lot of people,” said Eagle Coach Chris Hatcher. “They had a lot of good backups. They are a good team, and they have a lot of speed.
    “I know a lot of their players because we tried to recruit them to Valdosta State,” said Hatcher. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us. They’ll be ready for us.”
    The Chants returned 11 starters from last year, and Bennett believes it is a team with potential if it can get through the early part of the season.
    “We got it going in the fourth quarter,” said Bennett who started the program five years ago. “We’ve got to avoid giving up the big play. We lost two classes of guys so we have to step it up.
    “With the schedule we have you just have to work hard and fight through it,” said Bennett. “We’re a young team with a young offense. Our starting guards didn’t travel last year.”
    The Chants lost backup quarterback Ren McKinnon, a redshirt senior, for the season when he suffered a broken hip socket at Delaware State. True freshman Jamie Childers, who Bennett wanted to redshirt, is now the backup.
    Defensively the Chants have struggled against the run, having given up 587 yards in two games. The Eagles ran for 477 last week against West Georgia with Jayson Foster getting 231 and Lamar Lewis 150.
    The Eagles lead FCS teams in rushing while Foster and Lewis rank one and two, respectively.

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