By Carey Phillips
Gardner-Webb outscored Western Carolina 35-7 starting in the third quarter Saturday and rallied for a 52-34 non-conference football victory before 5,689 fans at G-W’s Spangler Stadium.
Narii Gaither gained 151 yards in 22 carries for the Bulldogs, and Donovan Jones had 102 yards in just six rushes. Bailey Fisher completed 14 of 22 passes for 261 yards. T.J. Luther had six receptions for 119 yards.
Rogan Wells led the Catamounts (0-4) through the air and on the ground and finished with 540 yards of total offense.
He completed 37 of 58 passes for 427 yards and carried 14 times for 113 yards.
Raphael Williams had 11 catches for 99 yards.
The teams combined for nine turnovers.
Wells broke free on an 82-yard scoring run with 11:06 remaining in the third period. Richard McCollum, who was four of four on extra points, put WCU up 27-17.
Luther’s 70-yard kickoff return set up Gaither’s 18-yard touchdown run. Austin McKay, who was seven of seven on PATs, cut the gap to 27-24 at the 9:40 mark.
A 58-yard pass from Wells to Mydreon Vines led to a 6-yard TD pass from Wells to Williams upping the margin to 34-24 with 8:09 on the clock.
Gaither’s 30-yard run was the key play in a march culminated by a 5-yard pass from Fisher to Deland Thomas narrowing the deficit to 34-31 at the 6:21 mark.
The Cats got a break when Ronald Kent recovered a fumbled punt at the G-W 32. They failed to take advantage as a sack pushed them out of field goal range.
Fisher’s 53-yard pass to Justin Franklin was followed by Jones’ 6-yard TD run giving the Bulldogs the lead for good, 38-34, with 1:46 on the clock.
Moments later Jamari Brown intercepted Wells’ pass and returned it 36 yards for a score giving G-W a 45-34 advantage at the 1:02 mark.
Western drove to the 35 on its next possession before being stopped on downs.
The Cats drove to the 16 before Malachi Buckner picked off Wells’ pass at the goal line. He returned it to the 30 but fumbled with WCU’s Blake Whitmire recovering.
The turnover parade continued three plays later when Wells fumbled with Brice Bass recovering at the 17.
Jones broke loose on a 79-yard scoring run two plays later for a 52-34 lead with 2:09 left.
The game started off on a bad note for the Bulldogs as Gaither fumbled on their first offensive play, and K.J. Milner recovered at the G-W 34.
McCollum’s 38-yard field goal put Western up 3-0 with 12:37 to play in the first quarter.
McKay’s 25-yard field goal tied it 3-3 with 9:10 to go in the opening period. It was set up by Gaither’s 40-yard run.
WCU’s T.J. Jones fumbled on the next possession, and Kendall Bailey recovered for the Bulldogs at his 24.
Fisher completed a 46-yard pass to Luther, but G-W was stopped on downs at the 21.
The Cats fumbled again on their next possession. Daquan Patten lost the ball after catching a pass from Wells, and T.J. Comstock recovered at the G-W 44.
Fisher’s 6-yard pass to Luther capped a nine-play drive, which included a 29-yard pass from Fisher to Gaither, putting the Bulldogs up 10-3 with two seconds left in the first quarter.
Western was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the 8 on its next possession but got the ball back when Justin Jordan fumbled after catching Fisher’s pass and Ty Harris recovered at the 20.
The Cats settled for McCollum’s 40-yard field goal trimming the deficit to 10-6 with 9:16 remaining in the half.
WCU took the lead at 13-10 with a 58-yard drive in six plays. The TD was a 13-yard pass from Wells to Kenny Benjamin at the 4:55 mark.
The Bulldogs answered by going 70 yards in seven plays behind the passing of Fisher. His 8-yard run gave them a 17-13 edge with 2:40 on the clock.
Western led 20-17 at halftime on a 3-yard run by Jones with 26 seconds to play.
Kareem Taylor was the Cats’ top tackler with 11. William McRainey led G-W with 17, including 12 solos, and Comstock had seven.
34 First Downs 21
41-223 Rushes-Yds. 40-291
37-58-2 Passing 14-22-0
427 Passing Yds. 261
3-32.7 Punts-Avg. 3-46.3
4-3 Fumbles-Lost 4-4
7-58 Penalties-Yds. 4-32
WCU 3 17 14 0 34
G-W 10 7 28 7 52