NCAA football playoffs school firsts for Gardner-Webb, Wingate

Two Charlotte-area universities will make history for their football programs Saturday, as Gardner-Webb and Wingate each play NCAA playoff road games.

Gardner-Webb travels to fifth-seeded William & Mary in a second-round FCS contest, while Wingate visits West Florida in a Division 2 quarterfinal game.

This is the first appearance in the FCS playoffs for Gardner-Webb.

Wingate has played in the Division 2 playoffs before but has reached the quarterfinals for the first time.

Here is a look at their contests:

Gardner-Webb (7-5) at William & Mary (10-1), 2 p.m., in Williamsburg, Va. — Gardner-Webb downed Eastern Kentucky 52-41 in a first-round game last Saturday, while William & Mary had an opening-round bye.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs’ record is deceiving. They lost to three FBS teams, each of which is bowl-eligible this season. One of those was a 21-20 setback against a Liberty team which was nationally-ranked at the time.

Gardner-Webb also lost to a pair of teams — Elon and Wofford — that made the FCS playoff field.

One of the offensive leaders for coach Tre Lamb’s team is Narii Gaither, a 5-10 senior running back from Rock Hill. He has rushed for 930 yards this season and is a three-time all-Big South selection.

Quarterback Bailey Fisher, a senior, is the Big South Offensive Player of the Year. He has thrown for 2,873 yards.

William & Mary has beaten three nationally-ranked FCS teams this season and also owns a victory over the Charlotte 49ers.

The Tribe averages 274 rushing yards a game, but quarterback Darius Wilson has thrown for 13 touchdowns.

This is the first meeting between the teams, and it’s the first time Gardner-Webb has played a football game in December since 1992, when the Runnin’ Bulldogs lost 19-16 to Central State in the NAIA national championship.

Wingate (11-2) at West Florida (11-1), 1 p.m., in Pensacola, Fla. — Wingate has reached the third round of the Division 2 playoffs with victories over Virginia Union (32-7) and Benedict (23-6).

The teams have met twice previously, both times in the Division 2 playoffs. West Florida won 31-0 in 2017 and downed the Bulldogs 38-17 in 2019, on route to a national championship.

This game will pit the host Argos’ ground game against a Wingate defense that ranks third overall nationally in Division 2.

West Florida is averaging 252.2 rushing yards a game, led by Shamari Macon, who is averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

Wingate’s defense ranks No. 6 nationally against the run. Junior linebackers Davon Gilmore (90 tackles, 20 tackles for loss) and Jaquan Edwards (87 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) lead the defensive unit.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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