Cullowhee, N.C. – Gardner-Webb placekicker Kurt Everett nailed a 33-yard field goal as time expired to cap a 16-play, game-winning drive as the Runnin’ Bulldogs downed Western Carolina, 24-21, in nonconference action in front of a Family Weekend crowd of 11,865 Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
GWU tailback Jayln Cagle patiently rushed for a game-high 138 yards including a crucial 14-yard gain on the game’s penultimate play to transform a third-and-13 into a first down while also managing to get out of bounds to preserve five seconds of game clock to set-up Everett’s game-winning boot. Despite a pair of timeouts taken by WCU to try and ice the kicker, the redshirt sophomore split the uprights to halt WCU’s four-game series winning streak.
Cagle tallied a pair of first half touchdowns including a 46-yard first quarter scamper and a two-yard plunge in the second as the two teams traded first half scores. The Catamounts opened scoring on a three-yard Connell Young romp and again lit the scoreboard on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Tyrie Adams to a wide-open Nate Mullen to head to the halftime locker room tied at 14.
Neither team managed more than a one-score lead as momentum in the game swayed back-and-forth much of the afternoon. Gardner-Webb (2-3) used a big play on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Kalen Whitlow to Chuma Awanna to grab its first lead of the day, 21-14, representing the lone scoring in the third quarter before Adams juked his way to pay dirt on the first play of the fourth quarter from eight yards out for his team-leading third rushing TD of the season.
Looking for the go-ahead score in the final frame, Gardner-Webb was twice turned away by the Catamount defense. Whitlow hit Izaiah Gathings on a 33-yard catch-and-run with the big receiver shedding the initial two would-be tacklers and had a somewhat clear path to the end zone. However, Michael Murphy never gave up on the play and tracked the receiver down, punching the football loose where John Brannon pounced on it for the takeaway to thwart a scoring opportunity. Murphy added an interception on a pass deflected by Trevor Childers to be a part of both Catamount takeaways.
Later, with the Runnin’ Bulldogs again knocking on the door, the WCU defense bowed its back on four-consecutive running plays from inside the three-yard line to stone Gardner-Webb and keep the game deadlocked, 21-21.
However, Gardner-Webb’s defense also proved up to the task, limiting the potent Catamount offense to just one first down in the fourth quarter which came on the ensuing drive after the goal line stand and only 36 total yards in 4:42 time of possession in the final stanza as WCU suffered its first loss to the Runnin’ Bulldogs since 2009.
Whitlow, who originally signed his NLI to Western Carolina and spent the 2015 season on the Catamount sidelines as a redshirt before transferring, marched GWU 54 yards in the game-winning drive before Everett won the game on the only field goal attempted in the game.
Adams accounted for 236 yards of total offense including 138 yards on 16-of-22 passing and a touchdown while also just missing the century mark with 98 rushing yards and his fourth-quarter score. With 7,789 career passing yards, the St. Petersburg, Fla., native moved into sixth-place in the Southern Conference record books for career passing yards, leaping over four players on the day including VMI’s Al Cobb (7,727, 2014-16), Furman’s Reese Hannon (7,730, 2012-16), ETSU’s Todd Wells (7,735, 1997-00), and App State’s Richie Williams (7,759, 2002-05).
After a sluggish start, Whitlow settled to finish 14-of-23 for 194 yards and a touchdown through the air in his return to Cullowhee, managing the game for the Runnin’ Bulldogs to score the victory. Awanna was his favorite target, finishing with 78 yards on five receptions including the 52-yard third quarter strike.
Defensively, Murphy led three Catamounts with double-digit tackles in the loss, matching his career-high with 12 tackles, adding the forced fumble and interception. Childers tallied his third, double-digit tackle effort of the season with 11 stops including seven solo hits, while safety JerMichael White was credited with 10 tackles, the third-time in his career he’s recorded double-digit stops.
Gardner-Webb’s Darien Reynolds posted a game-high 13 tackles before being ejected on a targeting call in the third quarter. Devin Mines and Quinton Jones both posted 10 hits apiece for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Western Carolina (1-4, 0-2 SoCon) hits the road to the Palmetto State for its next two games in Southern Conference play, visiting The Citadel Bulldogs (2-4, 0-2 SoCon) next Saturday, Oct. 12 at Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston, S.C., before visiting Wofford on Oct. 19 at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C. The next home game for the Purple & Gold comes in a chromatic showdown against the Furman Paladins for Homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 26 at Whitmire Stadium / Waters Field in Cullowhee.