Narii Gaither rushed for a career-high 245 yards and two touchdowns, quarterback Bailey Fisher ran for three more and Gardner-Webb made its first-ever FCS playoff appearance memorable with a 52-41 win over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday night.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (7-5) led 31-27 at half and took the game over in the third quarter when Fisher hit T.J. Luther for a 12-yard touchdown pass and ran in from 12 and 16 yards for a 52-27 lead. It's the most points they scored this season since the opener against an Division II playoff qualifer.
Now the Big South automatic qualifier goes to fifth-seeded William & Mary next Saturday. Gardner-Webb lost in the NAIA championship 30 years ago and became FCS eligible 20 years ago. In the two years the Bulldogs won Big South titles, the league didn't have an automatic berth in the playoffs.
Eastern Kentucky (7-5) had a chance to mount a comeback as Parker McKinney, a Payton Award finalist, threw his fourth touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter but on the next possession was picked off in the end zone. His fifth touchdown pass came with 1:02 to play and Gardner-Webb recovered the on-side kick.
The Colonels, who got the inaugural ASUN-WAC berth, were making their 22nd playoff appearance since 1978 but have not won a playoff game since 1994.
The Bulldogs ran for 405 yards as Fisher had 88 on seven keepers and Jayden Brown had 83 on 12 with a touchdown.
Parker finished 37 of 57 for a career-high 454 yards. Jaden Smith had nine catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Cornelius McCoy had 155 yards on six receptions with a touchdown.