SoCon Football 2015: Palmetto State Pride

GREENVILLE, S.C. —On a day when most around the Palmetto State had their eyes trained on the midlands, as No. 1 Clemson survived a scare from arch-rival South Carolina, 37–32, in the 113th meeting between the two arch-rivals, another pair of programs in the Sandlapper State squared off about 200 miles down in the Pee Dee region of the state, as The Citadel met Coastal Carolina in a game with a little more on the line.

While South Carolina’s fate was decided and Clemson entered the game already knowing it would play for an ACC title next week, both The Citadel and Coastal Carolina entered their intra-state battle against one another knowing all too well the finality the FCS playoffs brings. Put in the simplest of terms — one would continue its season beyond Saturday’s game at Brooks Stadium and the other would season its season come to an abrupt end.

In what was just the second meeting between the Bulldogs and Chanticleers, the game would turn out to be a classic, as The Citadel downed Coastal Carolina, 41–38, on a 39-yard field goal as time expired, allowing The Citadel to pick up only its second win in FCS playoff history.

The loss by the Chanticleers marked their last as an FCS program, as Coastal Carolina gets ready to make the leap to the FBS level of football and the Sun Belt Conference in 2016.

The loss for Coastal Carolina comes as a bit of a disappointment for a Chanticleers club which had hopes of contending for a national title in their final campaign as an FCS member. After all, the Chanticleers took North Dakota State to the wire in an FCS quarterfinal matchup last season before losing a heartbreaker, 39–32. But the day was about The Citadel and for the second-straight Saturday, the Bulldogs took care of an in-state program to move to 9–3 overall and into the second round of the FCS playoffs.

The last three weeks of the season have amounted to what has amounted to the Bulldogs’ very own mini-Palmetto State tournament, continuing for a third-straight week on Saturday, as the Bulldogs meet Charleston Southern in a brewing rivalry in the Holy City between the Baptists and the Cadets.

Making this matchup even more intriguing is the events that stoked the fire of this rivalry a little more earlier this season in the wake of the Bucs’ 33–20 win at Johnson-Hagood Stadium, CSU head coach Jamey Caldwell decided it was good idea for his team to break out the brooms after a third-straight win over their city rival.

While CSU might have looked at the regular-season win as a turning point in the rivalry that now captivates the Low Country, fate can play a funny game sometimes, and as it has played out, the Bulldogs found themselves as a football team after that early-season defeat to the Bucs and have proceeded to earn a right to have their say on the field about how they feel about the Bucs’ statement in the wake of that win earlier this season.

The last time the Bulldogs picked up a playoff win was 1992, as the Bulldogs were 44–0 winners over North Carolina A&T in an opening round clash some 23 years ago.

That win propelled the Bulldogs into the then Division I-AA quarterfinals in the 16-team playoff field, where they met the Youngstown State Penguins. The eventual national runner-up would easily dispatch the top-ranked Bulldogs, 42–17, at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston.

LOOKING BACK AT THE CITADEL’S WIN AND HOW IT HAPPENED

Yesterday’s game will be a moment that will live in the collective memories of Citadel fans for years to come, and the hope is that it will be the first of what will become many memorable playoff moments under head coach Mike Houston.

For the first time in 23 years, The Citadel would be playing football the weekend after Thanksgiving. The Bulldogs got the epic win in Conway, using its powerful ground attack to perfection in the win, as the Bulldogs had three 100-yard rushers and finished Saturday’s contest with 524 of its 556 yards of total offense on the ground.

If you like offense, Saturday’s battle between the Bulldogs and Chanticleers was the game for you, as the two teams combined for 79 points and 1,133 yards of total offense on the day.

The Bulldogs were led on the ground by quarterback Dominique Allen, who posted 174 yards and a pair of scores on 33 rush attempts, while Tyler Renew added 129 yards and a score, and Cam Jackson posted 113 yards and a TD in the win.

The biggest key in the contest was four turnovers caused by The Citadel defense, which came up big once again this week, which more than helped off-set a Coastal Carolina offense that amassed 577 yards of total offense on the day.

Kalik Williams intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble, and Shy Phillips returned an INT 32 yards for a score on a key play in the second half, which helped the Bulldogs to their biggest lead of the day, at 38–28, early in the fourth frame.

Williams’ INT allowed for the Bulldogs’ first score of the day, as he intercepted Coastal Carolina’s All-America quarterback Alex Ross at the Chanticleer 39 and returned it 28 yards to the Coastal 11 to set up the Bulldog offense in great position for their first drive of the day.

Senior defensive tackle Mitchell Jeter came up with biggest turnover of them all, recovering a fumble forced by linebacker Tevin Floyd late on in the contest, setting up what was the game-winning field goal from Erik Goins.

It would be The Citadel who started the game strong, with a Jackson 6-yard scoring run less than two minutes in, giving the Bulldogs a 7–0 lead, following the Williams INT.

Coastal’s big-play offense would perform almost on cue, with a 91-yard scoring pass from signal-caller Ross to play-making wideout Bruce Mapp, tying the game, 7–7, a little over three minutes in.

The Citadel’s relentless ground game continued on its next possession, as Renew went in from three yards out, concluding an 11-play, 75-yard drive, which increased the Bulldogs’ lead to 14–7 with 5:56 remaining in the first.

The see-saw battle continued, as Ross found tight end Craig Weick for a 26-yard scoring pass early in the second quarter, tying the game, 14–14. After a defensive stop by the Chants, Coastal Carolina would assume its first lead of the game, at 21–14, when All-America running back D’Angelo Henderson scored on a 44-yard run to make it a 21–14 game with 6:09 left until the half. That would turn out to be the halftime score, as the two teams went to the locker room.

The Bulldogs would tie the game for the third time on the day on their opening possession of the second half, as Allen’s 7-yard run brought an end to a 10-play, 75-yard drive.

On the ensuing Coastal Carolina possession, Ross tossed his third scoring pass of the day, finding Henderson out of the backfield for a 16-yard scoring connection, giving the Bulldogs a 28–21 lead with 8:47 remaining in the third quarter. It would be the final lead of the day for the Chants.

It didn’t take the Bulldogs long to tie the game, needing just four plays to cover the needed 73 yards, as Allen capped the drive with his second TD of the day on a 1-yard plunge, making it a 28–28 game with 7:01 remaining in the third.

It would then be two crucial turnovers caused by the Bulldog defense that would prove decisive on the next two CCU possessions. The first was caused by Jeter, who forced the Chanticleers to fumble at their own 24, and the ball was recovered by the opportunistic Williams to set up The Citadel in great field position. It would lead to a season-long 49-yard field goal from Erik Goins to give the Bulldogs the 31–28 lead with 13:54 remaining.

Then, Phillips picked off a Ross pass and returned it 32 yards for a score, giving the Bulldogs a sudden double-digit, 38–28, with 13:06 left.

CCU, however, wouldn’t go away, using a Ryan Granger 26-yard field goal and an Oshamar Abercrombie 16-yard scoring run on its next two possessions, tying the game, 38–38, with just over five minutes remaining.

It appeared as if the Bulldogs were going to get the win late, driving inside CCU territory, but Goins’ 47-yard attempt with a little under three minutes remaining was blocked.

However, the Bulldogs would cause one more key turnover on the day, as Floyd broke through the line and forced the ball free from Ross and it was recovered by Jeter. It set up the game-winning 43-yard kick for Goins with two seconds left, and Goins’ kick split the uprights sending the Bulldogs bench into frenzied celebrations.

MOCS RUN OVER FORDHAM

Chattanooga made easy work of its opening round playoff game against Fordham, taking a 50–20 win over the Patriot League members at Finley Stadium, setting up a showdown with top-seed Jacksonville State next Saturday.

The Mocs coasted to a 24–0 lead and were never really challenged in the contest, rolling up 560 yards of total offense, with 360 yards coming on the ground. All-SoCon running back Derrick Craine powered that strong ground attack for the Mocs, with 154 yards and a TD on 23 carries.It marked his sixth 100-yard rushing effort of the season.

It was a day of redemption for the Southern Conference, and one of new beginnings. Saturday saw two teams post wins in the postseason other than Appalachian State or Georgia Southern on the same Saturday in the postseason for the first time since 1996, when Furman, East Tennessee State and Marshall won first-round games.

Stay tuned for previews of both potential redemption games for the SoCon in the upcoming week.

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