COLUMBIA, S.C. — Both Coastal Carolina and South Carolina State reached a point this season when their coaches thought their chances to make the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs were long gone.
But the Bulldogs found their offense and the Chanticleers realized how to put together 60 minutes of good football to extend their seasons.
In Conway, Coastal Carolina might just be the hottest team in the nation as it gets ready to open the playoffs with Western Illinois.
The Chanticleers won their final four games in a row by an average of 28 points. But they still needed a little help to get into the playoffs. When Liberty scored 54 points against Stony Brook last week, it gave the Chanticleers the tiebreaker and the Big South Conference's automatic bid.
Coastal Carolina coach David Bennett called up Flames coach Danny Rocco a few hours after everything shook out.
"I said, 'Hey thank you brother.' And he said, 'You better have a Christmas present Bennett.' And I said 'Any time you want to play golf down here at the beach, just holler,'" Bennett said.
While the Chanticleers are making their second playoff appearance in their eight years of football, Western Illinois has been to the postseason nine times, but not since 2003.
The Leathernecks rank second in FCS with 484 yards of offense a game, while Coastal Carolina's defense was only third in the Big South.
"They're not just one type offense. They're going to throw the ball, they're going to pass the ball. They kind of do it all," Chanticleers linebacker Andrae Jacobs said.
Bennett said Western Illinois quarterback Matt Barr, who ranks second in FCS in passing efficiency, reminds him, with his scrambling and passing ability, of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young.
"He'll pump the ball to one, he'll pump the ball to another and he'll throw it to a third receiver," Bennett said. "We're just trying to get the ball to one guy."
Coastal Carolina started the season 2-5. But things started to turn around when the Chanticleers trailed 31-7 at half against Stoney Brook.
Bennett said his team realized in the locker room they were tired of being beat up and scored three second half touchdowns to make the game respectable. A week later, they knocked off Gardner-Webb in overtime to start their streak.
"I'm very proud of these guys. The resilience they've shown, the fortitude, the perseverance, the discipline, the selflessness is what it takes in life," Bennett said.
And the amazing confluence of events last Saturday that let Coastal Carolina into the playoffs have the players believing this is a special season too.
"Nobody really thought this was going to happen — that Liberty could go up and beat Stony Brook like that and give us this chance," Jacobs said. "I was thinking, we've got to make the best of this opportunity God has given us."