In an up-and-down game, Coastal Carolina missed opportunities, left points on the board and dealt with injuries at key positions.
It didn’t matter.
The Chants (6-3) bested Old Dominion on the road, 28-24. Coastal took its first and final lead with fewer than thirty seconds remaining when CCU third-string quarterback Ethan Vasko found wide receiver Sam Pinckney in the end zone for a touchdown.
“You’ve got to win tough games like this on a road with backup players at times,” coach Tim Beck said after the game. “Our guys were resilient and able to do that, so I’m really proud of them.”
Pinckney’s performance was historic in other ways, too. He extended his streak of having at least one catch in a game to 54, tying an NCAA record set by Central Michigan receiver Bryan Anderson.
— Coastal Football (@CoastalFootball) November 4, 2023
Pinckney finished the game with seven catches, 69 yards and the winning touchdown.
“(Pinckney’s) among the greatest wide receivers in college football history to be able to do what he’s done,” Beck said. “It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance and toughness to play that many games in a row, let alone have a catch, and all those games, so he’s well-deserving.”
It was a win that CCU might not have pulled off earlier in the season. At one point, the Chants trailed the Monarchs by 15 late in the third quarter, as several of their chronic problems this season reappeared.
CCU missed a field goal, almost muffed a punt return, allowed ODU receivers to get wide open for massive chunk plays and touchdowns and was inconsistent in the red zone.
All of these issues contributed to the team’s three losses this season. Add in injuries to quarterback Grayson McCall and backup quarterback Jarrett Guest and the early exit of receiver Jared Brown (also injured) Saturday night, and it seemed like the circumstances would be too great for Coastal to overcome.
But they weren’t, and the Chants are now bowl-eligible, the fourth consecutive year they’ll play in the postseason.
CCU’s defense kept the game close and got stops in crucial situations, including four sacks, to give the Chants a chance to win the game.
“This whole team is really built on complementary football,” defensive lineman Michael Mason, who finished the game with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. “That’s kind of what its foundation has been.”
It was also Vasko’s performance, which at times hurt CCU, that led to the victory.
“(You’ve) gotta love him getting thrown in there against a very unique defensive system, having to play that and going out there and leading us in that in that two-minute drive at the end of the game for the win,” Beck said.
Vasko credited his teammates after the game for his performance.
“I just had to get them the ball and at the end of the game, that’s all I did,” he said. “I have all the trust in Sam (Pinckney) and all the other guys that they’re going to go and make a play we needed.”
Vasko’s running helped win the game
But Guest did not play except for a lone snap because of a pregame injury, Beck said. Vasko learned he might start on Thursday; he said after the game.
Vasko has seen minimal field time this year, mostly serving in running situations. Guest’s injury it seemed would hamper CCU’s pass game, which has slowly become one of the best in the Sun Belt, and led CCU to adopt a run-heavy game plan with 278 yards on the ground and 6.2 per carry.
Vasko was CCU’s most effective runner, gashing the Monarchs’ defense repeatedly with quarterback draws finishing with 170 yards on the ground on 21 carriers,
He got CCU back in the game with a 75-yard touchdown to make it a one-score game in the third quarter, and he tied the game after he broke a tackle on a two-point conversion run with about 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Vasko was helped by ODU’s defense, which is 8th in the Sun Belt Conference in run defense.
But Vasko couldn’t connect with his receivers downfield on a routine basis. He finished the game with a 55-completion percentage on 31 passes, and had they been catches would’ve given Coastal a more comfortable victory.
Vasko’s missed throws could have cost Coastal but didn’t
With less than nine minutes left in the second quarter, Pinckney was uncovered dashing across the middle of the field when Vasko threw to the super senior, a surefire touchdown if caught.
The ball was far over Pinckney’s head, who couldn’t put a hand on it despite jumping for it.
Vasko continued missing passes, including an interception late in the third quarter, and a missed throw to Kyre Duplessis on a fourth down with more than 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
But when it counted, Vasko made the throws he needed to, including a 32-yard pass to Duplessis and the Pinckney touchdown to seal the win.
Coastal Carolina will return to Conway for its second-to-last home game this year. The Chants are set to play Sun Belt foe Texas State.
Game 10: CCU vs. Texas State
Gameday: Saturday, Nov. 11
Kickoff Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Brooks Stadium, Conway, S.C.
Where to watch: TBA
CCU’s all-time record against Texas State: 3-1