Story and photo courtesy of Coastal Carolina Athletics
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Coastal Carolina safety Johnnie Houston made three big plays, including a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown, to lead the Chanticleers (8-4) to a 24-14 victory over #22 Bethune-Cookman (9-3) in the first round of the NCAA Championship Saturday afternoon at Municipal Stadium.
The win was Coastal’s first in the three previous playoff appearances (2006 and ’10) and the Chants will now travel to Old Dominion for a second round matchup next week.
Houston, who had four tackles, finished with a half sack, two forced fumbles and the 68-yard interception. The junior additionally recovered an on-side kick late in the game. Houston and Tyler McCarty, with 10 tackles, helped Coastal’s defense hold the Bethune-Cookman rushing attack to just 206 yards as the Wildcats entered ranked 10h in the NCAA with an average of 247 rushing yards per game.
Coastal gained 202 yards on the ground, marking the seventh straight game with 200-plus rushing yards. Jeremy Height led the Chants with 78 yards on 16 carries, while Marcus Whitener added 72 and a score. Aramis Hillary completed 19-of-24 passes for 180 yards with an interception and a three-yards touchdown to Matt Hazel.
Both teams had relative success moving the ball in the first quarter. Coastal reached the Bethune-Cookman 29 and went for it on 4th-and-3. Hillary hit Tyrell Blanks, but Wildcat corner Nick Addison broke up the play in the end zone. The Chant defensive would force a punt and the CCU offense kept the momentum. Hillary opened the drive with a 16-yard completion to Blanks and, after a 15-yard face mask penalty on B-CU, Hillary found Niccolo Mastromatteo and Blanks for consecutive 11 yard gains on the final play of the first quarter and first play of the second. Marcus Whitener took over form that point, gaining 11 yards and scoring from 14 yards out on an option play ran to perfection by Hillary. The Alex Catron extra point gave Coastal the 7-0 advantage.
On the ensuing Wildcat drive, Andrae Jacobs came through with an eight-yard sack to force a punt. The Chants kept the peddle down, scoring in nine plays. Key plays included an 13-yard Hillary to Mastromatteo completion on 3rd and 7 and a 12-yard run by Hillary. On 2nd-and-goal, Hillary lofted a pass to the back left corner of the end zone where Matt Hazel out-jumped two defenders for a three-yard score and 14-0 lead.
Five plays after the kickoff, Coastal’s defense came up with another big play, this time forcing a turnover. Quinton Williams completed a pass to Jordan Murphy. Johnnie Houston dislodged the ball and Quinton Davis recovered it. The play was ruled down by contact on the field, but the play was reversed in CCU’s favor as all plays in the NCAA postseason are automatically reviewed. While the drive stalled after a Bethune-Cookman sack, Catron split the uprights from 35 yards out to a 17-0 lead with 3:05 left in the half.
After a penalty on the kickoff backed Bethune-Cookman to its eight, Williams completed a 55-yard pass to Eddie Poole. However, Houston recorded his second big play in as many drives, getting a 24-yard sack and forcing a fumble. While the Wildcats recovered, they faced 4th-and-27, moving from the CCU 33 to the B-CU 46. B-CU punted and the Chants ran out the clock in the first half.
Coastal opened the second half with a good drive before fumbling on the B-CU 22. However, LaDarius Hawthorne forced a Wildcat punt thanks to a nine-yard sack. Jeremy Height reeled off consecutive runs of 11, 21, five and five yards before Whitener followed with runs of 11 and two yards. Hillary then found DeMario Bennett for 15 yards to the Wildcat five However, Coastal committed another turnover, throwing an interception on 4th-and-1 from the one.
The Wildcats changed quarterbacks and Broderick Waters had a 56-yard rush to the CCU 11. Coastal’s defense stiffened to force 4th-and-five from the CCU six and Bethune-Cookman sent Sven Hurd on to kick a 22-yard field. However, a false start and unsportsmanlike penalty pushed the Wildcats back to the 26. After a timeout, the Wildcats decided to go for it and Waters hit KJ Stroud in the back of the end zone. However, after official review, Stroud was ruled to have his hand touch first out of bounds to give Coastal the ball to start the fourth quarter.
While Coastal’s offense sputtered – and after a short punt – Bethune-Cookman looked to be gaining momentum. However, Houston made his third big play of the game, picking off a pass and returning it 68 yards for a touchdown, marking the second-longest interception return in school history and giving Coastal a 24-0 lead.
The pick proved key. After trading punts, Bethune-Cookman got on the scoreboard with 6:44 left as Williams to hit David Blackwell for a 74-yard touchdown. The 2-point play was good to make the score 24-8. After Coastal missed a field goal, the Wildcats added another score with 1:22 left, a 10-yard Isidore Jackson run, but failed on the two-point play.
Coastal recovered the on-side kick, got one first down and ran out the clock for the win.