Big plays lead NC Central to 24-17 win over Gardner-Webb

Gardner-Webb came into Durham determined to stop N.C. Central on the ground, content on letting Eagles freshman quarterback Chauncey Caldwell beat it with his arm. Challenge accepted.

Caldwell had career highs in attempts (30) and passing yards (333), tossing two touchdowns in a 24-17 win on Saturday.

He scored twice in the second half to give N.C. Central some breathing room. The first score was with his legs, carrying three defenders in the end zone for a 9-yard score, giving the Eagles a 17-3 lead late in the third quarter. N.C. Central’s defense, which had only allowed seven second-half points in the last four games, gave up a 23-yard run to Bulldogs quarterback Tyrell Maxwell to make it a seven-point game with 11:33 remaining in the game.

With a 10-game home winning streak on the line, the Eagles countered on the ensuing drive. Once again depending on Caldwell to use his arm, the quarterback found sophomore wide receiver Xavier McKoy for an 89-yard score. McCoy, who had just 43 yards receiving coming into the game, caught the ball at midfield and outraced the defenders the rest of the way. McKoy was a threat down field all afternoon, catching a pass for a gain of 42 in the first half, finishing with three catches for 139 yards and the one score.

Gardner-Webb made things interesting late, ripping apart the N.C. Central defense for a 99-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 24-yard run by Maxwell with less than two minutes remaining. The Eagles recovered the onside kick with 1:44 remaining and the ball at midfield. The Bulldogs defense, with two timeouts, did its job, forcing N.C. Central to punt the ball back to Gardner-Webb with 27 seconds remaining and 80 yards to go. Maxwell picked up a couple of big gains with his legs to move to the Eagles’ 37 with four seconds remaining. The end-zone heave fell to the ground as the Eagles held on for their 11th straight home win.

N.C. Central committed to the passing game early, as Caldwell attempted 19 passes in the first half, two shy of his career-high. Six of his 10 completions went to senior wide receiver Jacen Murphy (7 catches, 64 yards). Caldwell’s longest pass was a 57-yard touchdown to freshman Nique Martin on the Eagles’ first possession of the second quarter.

Caldwell did make one mistake, though, throwing his first interception of the season to Bulldogs linebacker Kenyetta Dunbar. The N.C. Central defense held Gardner-Webb to a field goal, and the home team led 10-3 at the break.

In the opening quarter, Eagles place kicker Aedan Johnson’s 40-yard field goal gave N.C. Central an early 3-0 lead. The N.C. Central defense forced a fumble on Gardner-Webb’s opening drive, that was recovered on the 41-yard line by De’Niro Laster. After Caldwell’s touchdown pass to Martin, the Eagles wouldn’t sniff Bulldogs’ territory the remainder of the first half.

On its last drive of the second quarter, N.C. Central got some help from Gardner-Webb in the form of two 15-yard penalties, but the drive stalled when Caldwell overthrew David Murphy on third-and-6, forcing the third punt of the first half from senior Nathaniel Tilque.

N.C. Central hosts Norfolk State at 2 p.m. on Saturday.