Undefeated Indians keep focus on next seven SAC games
Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | by by Steve Argeris, The State Staff Writer

NEWBERRY, S.C. — Coastal Carolina’s football program is young, but it remains in Division I-AA, and Newberry’s 21-7 upset of the Chanticleers on Saturday still resonated here two days later.

While the Division II Indians were proud of the victory, coming against a team with roughly double the number of scholarship players, the team’s players and coaches were not breaking their arms to pat themselves on the back.

“All it does is put a bull’s-eye on our backs,” Newberry coach Zak Willis said.

The next opponent with Newberry in its sights? Lenoir-Rhyne, the team Newberry beat last season to end an 18-game South Atlantic Conference losing streak.

“Honestly, we didn’t particularly think of this game as a special game,” said defensive lineman Tony Ransom, who had two sacks on Saturday.

During a summer intrasquad scrimmage, it was Ransom who chased quarterback Josh Stepp and seldom caught him. Ransom and his defensive teammates began to ask coaches why Stepp didn’t run more.

Coastal Carolina now is wondering the same thing. Stepp blitzed the Chanticleers for 149 rushing yards and 151 passing yards.“I never had that many rushing yards before,” said Stepp, who played in Furman’s option offense as a freshman last season.

Newberry’s coaches had kept Stepp’s running abilities under wraps during the Indians’ first two games, waiting to surprise Coastal Carolina, the rare Division I-AA opponent willing to play at a Division II school such as Newberry.

“That was something we noticed for the first time when the first-team offense went against the first-team defense in summer drills,” Willis said.

Coaches added two quarterback-keeper plays to the book, and “those two plays paralyzed their defense. He uses blockers so well; he’s as good a running back as he is anything else.”

Ransom’s defense fared equally well against Coastal, limiting the Chanticleers to 197 yards and five completed passes.

“We just tried to keep putting pressure on him,” said Ransom, referring to Coastal quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who completed 5 of 20 passes for 33 yards and one interception. “We didn’t want him to know where we were coming from.”

The Indians now begin a stretch of seven consecutive SAC games. Newberry has not had a winning SAC record since 1996, a fact Willis was well aware of when he inherited that 18-game losing streak before last season. But he points out that Newberry has not had a quarterback like Stepp during that span. Stepp, for one, is excited.

“This is all new to me,” Stepp said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s not going to be hard for me to reach the goals I set for myself with the players I’ve got around me. I’ve got so many great athletes with me, they’re going to make it easy for me.”

Reach Argeris at (803) 771-8419 or sargeris@thestate.com.