Inside Davidson's record-setting win that didn't set any NCAA records

DAVIDSON, N.C. -- On Monday morning, the scoreboard at Davidson College was still intact. It had not exploded. The grandstands at Richardson Stadium were also there, clearly having not been enveloped and swallowed into a space-time wormhole. There were also no visible skid marks or burnout trails on Stephen B. Smith Field. (No relation to Stephen A., Stephen B. played for the Wildcats in the 1960s.)

There was, however, a giant oak tree down, having literally crashed the gate to the venue that, four days earlier, had hosted one of the greatest offensive performances in college football history.

"This old tree was wore out," a Davidson College physical plant employee stated as he gripped the starter cord on his chainsaw. "After that game last week, everybody was."

On Thursday night, Sept. 13, 2018, the Davidson Wildcats defeated the Guilford College Quakers by a score of 91-61. In a football game. There's a lot to digest there. And a lot to print. The official stats report is 19 pages long. That's what happens when the home team scores 13 touchdowns and the visitors add another nine. A total of eight Davidson players scored TDs, joined by six Quakers, racking up 152 combined points. A total of 35 players touched the ball on offense as the two teams combined for 1,662 total yards, 1,005 rushing and 657 passing. The game was so devoid of defense that there were no interceptions, only two fumbles lost (one each) and zero field goals attempted.

Because they don't play in the same division -- Davidson is FCS; Guilford is Division III -- the NCAA's finicky record book won't officially recognize any of their insane combined statistics (the FCS scoring record is 141; D-III is 138). So the Wildcats will have to settle for two FCS records: total yards (964) and rushing yards (685) for a single game. They also set six school marks for yards in a half (525), points in a half (57), touchdowns in a game (13), average yards per play (15.5), rushing touchdowns in a game (10) and blocked kicks (3).

Yeah, that's right. They blocked three kicks. All were Guilford PAT attempts. Add that to the night's WTH list.

It's a long list.

"I've been coaching this game for more than 20 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Davidson head coach Scott Abell, only three games into the job, confessed Monday morning. He sat in his modest office, film projected onto a wall at one end, talking ball with his sophomore quarterback Tyler Phelps. "People hear 'Davidson scored 91 points,' and they're going to immediately assume that happened around the corner over there," Abell said, pointing down the hallway of Baker Sports Complex to the basketball floor made famous by Stephen Curry and longtime Wildcats head coach Bob McKillop. But even that storied hoops program rarely does what Abel's crew did last week. Last season, on their way to yet another conference title and NCAA tournament berth, McKillop's team scored 91 or more points in only four out of 33 regulation games. Twice they scored exactly 91.

"Honestly, the night started off as normal as you could have imagined," Abell recalled of each of the team's first drives. Both ended in punts. Guilford's second series was an eight-play, 52-yard beauty that made the score 6-0 in favor of the visitors five minutes into the contest. Then the Wildcats blocked the PAT. Five plays later, Wildcats receiver-turned-running back William Wicks scored on a 60-yard TD dash. Guilford punted. The Wildcats scored three plays later via a 23-yard run from Wicks. Guilford punted. On the very next play, the Wildcats scored on a 40-yard sprint from running back James Story. Guilford tried to punt, but it was blocked. The Wildcats scored two plays later -- on a 50-yard carry from Wesley Dugger. Then the first quarter ended.

"That's when I first realized, 'OK, this might not be a normal night at the stadium,'" remembered Abell, shaking his head. "If it wasn't then, at the end of the quarter, it was on our very first offensive play of the second quarter. Wouldn't you say, Tyler?"

Abell received the nod of agreement from his quarterback, the one who made that play -- an 84-yard TD pass to Hunter Louthan, his only catch of the game -- happen. That was one of only six passes attempted by Phelps. He completed all six for 192 yards and a pair of TDs. Phelps, without a shred of arrogance, replied to his coach, "I think when we hit 36-6, we honestly started thinking about, 'OK, how do we start slowing this down?'"

Slowing down was a concept welcomed with open arms and minds along the sideline of Smith Field and in the press box above it. On the field, the chain gang and game officials were already looking a bit winded as they tried to keep up. In the box, Davidson football sports information director Jake Brewer's keyboard and fingers were in overdrive, not only logging the big numbers but also researching where the team measured against the school's 121-year-old record book.

"The good news," Brewer admitted, "was that we didn't have to worry about keeping any defensive stats."

Meanwhile, the radio broadcast teams of both schools were rifling through the offensive record sections of their media guides while simultaneously attempting to conjure up new synonyms for "wow," "incredible" and "unbelievable." "It all happened so fast that I was just working, trying to keep pace," explained Jack Benjamin, the play-by-play voice of Davidson's streaming video broadcast. "It didn't really dawn on me what was happening because I was so busy. But when they hit 50 points and we still had six-plus minutes remaining in the first half, that's when I was officially like, 'Wow, I'm not sure anyone has ever seen this before.'"

Not a lot of people were seeing it at all. Benjamin was working double-time because he was flying solo. His color commentator, recent Davidson graduate Ben Rowell, wasn't able to make it to the game from his Charlotte office. He wasn't alone. The contest originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon was moved up to Thursday because Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the Carolinas. Located a short drive north of Charlotte, Davidson was directly in the path of the storm. In their first two games of the season, the Wildcats averaged more than 4,000 fans per game. Officially, this game drew 2,922, but in reality, it was less than that.

On Monday morning, along the bottom row of the Richardson Stadium grandstand, a ticket floated in a puddle of the post-Florence downpour. "I'm going to take that home and dry it out," said Davidson local James Littleman, as he stretched before walking laps around the track that circles Smith Field. "That way I can lie to all my friends and tell them I was at the game, instead [of] what I was really doing, sitting at home watching the Weather Channel. We'll all claim we were there and none of us were there. It'll be Davidson's Woodstock."

"We have a lot of kids on this roster with family on the coast, and Guilford (located in Greensboro, North Carolina) does, too," Abell explained. "So, football-wise, we only had two days to prepare for this game. And while we were doing that, we were also all worried about our friends and loved ones. We had guys who were housing family members who had come west to get away from the storm. We had other guys who were in constant contact with family who were still down there. There was a lot going on."

In fact, it was Florence's heavy rains and winds that weakened that felled oak outside the stadium. "That's why you move the game up," the chainsaw man added. "You don't want to risk this happening with people here."

Both Abell and Guilford head coach Chris Rusiewicz said they believe the distractions of the storm and the lack of prep time contributed to the offensive explosion, which continued even after the Wildcats attempted to slow down the proceedings via massive substitutions. Phelps and his fellow first-teamers were out of the game for the second half, but their replacements still added five more touchdowns, most on simple handoffs that were broken for long runs, part of Abell's triple-option hybrid "gun-spread" offense. Perhaps the most WTH statistic of the night: Davidson was 0-for-0 in red-zone scoring. The shortest TD of the night was scored from the 23-yard line.

"To me, the part I probably enjoyed the most was seeing the young guys have an opportunity to have big moments," Phelps said with a smile. "Gunnar Leyendecker is a freshman quarterback. His first college pass was a 74-yard touchdown."

Such good feelings weren't limited to the Davidson sideline. After the game, Rusiewicz was quick to tell Abell that he wasn't angry about the outcome. He wasn't mad at the Wildcats. He was mad at his defense. He was also quick to remind that his Division III team had just scored 61 points against an FCS squad. Along the way, the Quakers also set school records for all-purpose yards (1,005) and kickoff return yards (307). They scored on nine of 18 drives, with a 187-yard rusher, a 364-yard passer and a 129-yard receiver. And they lost.

By Friday morning, the 91-61 game had officially gone viral. Phelps had an idea that might be coming as he scrolled through his Twitter feed late Thursday night. But no one had any idea that Davidson football would be the lead story on every sports website across the nation.

"I had four classes on Friday, and I had two different professors start class by saying they had just watched me on SportsCenter," Phelps recalled. "Everywhere I went, students were congratulating us. You have to understand, at Davidson, that's what you expect if you're Steph Curry. If you're on the football team, that's not typically how it goes."

Davidson College football has long been an afterthought in the Carolinas. It's a non-scholarship FCS program located in the shadow of Tobacco Road that hasn't won three games in a season since 2011. Now they are 3-0. The trophy case in the lobby of the sport complex contains footballs from wins over NC State, UNC and Florida, all from the 1910s and '20s. The only actual trophy is a cup proudly engraved with "Tangerine Bowl Runner-Up 1969." Soon, an artifact from Sept. 13, 2018, should find its way behind the glass.

"My job is to build a program here that expects to win football games, not surprised when they win football games," Abell said. "But no one expects to win a game like we did last week."