SoCon Football Week 10: A Historical Sketch of the ‘Battle For The Silver Shako’

Citadel and VMI Renew Rivalry For The 71st Time Saturday, With The Bulldogs Holding a 38–30–2 All-Time Series Edge

CHARLESTON, S.C. — On Saturday, the most important game in the Southern Conference to folks around Lexington, VA and Charleston, S.C., will no doubt be the Battle For The Silver Shako — also known as the Military Classic of the South — which of course is the annual battle between The Citadel and VMI on the college football gridiron.

With The Citadel 5–0 for the first time in its Southern Conference history and VMI a much-improved program under the direction of Scott Wachenheim, the game figures to carry plenty of importance, and could in fact be the most important game in this rivalry in quite sometime. The two will be meeting for the 71st time on Saturday at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston, with the Bulldogs holding a 38–30–2 all-time series edge.

The Bulldogs enter the contest ranked No. 25 in the latest STATS FCS Poll, while in the FCS Coaches Poll, find themselves No. 22 in the national rankings. The Bulldogs find themselves back in the FCS polls for the first time since ranking No. 22 on Oct. 1, 2012.

The Citadel is one of only 15 teams in the FCS still unbeaten in league play, and the Bulldogs enter riding their longest winning streak since the days of Willie Simmons and Nehemiah Broughton — or 2003 in broader terms — as the Bulldogs have won four-straight entering Saturday’s rivalry contest.

This is a rivalry with every bit the bitterness and hatred of Army vs. Navy at the FCS level, and it probably has even more animosity than even that aforementioned rivalry. This season, this rivalry will determine much. The Keydets are looking for a program-definining win, while The Citadel is chasing down what could be potentially its third Southern Conference title in school history, and first since 1992.

Perhaps even more important, it could see The Citadel back in the playoffs for the first time since that ’92 season, and a chance to chase unprecedented program success in just Mike Houston’s second season as the head coach.

The Keydets’ longest streak in the series came from 1950–57, which saw the Keydets claim seven-straight in the series, as the two met in every season during the aforementioned years except 1956.

The two schools have combined for nine Southern Conference titles, with VMI having won seven and The Citadel having claimed two league titles. VMI’s most recent title in the SoCon came in 1977, while The Citadel, which happened to also coincide with their largest win in history over the Bulldogs — a 50–0 trouncing in Charleston — which was the 1992 season. The Keydets claimed their largest win in the series back in the 1954 season, with 42–0 win.

The Bulldogs are 23–10 against VMI in Charleston and 38–24 all-time in homecoming battles, including having won three-straight. The last Keydet win in the Low Country came during the Bill Stewart era, which saw the Keydets emerge with a a 20–10 win on Nov. 11, 1995.

Thomas Haskins rushed for three of his school-record ten 200-yard rushing games in the Battle for the Shako, including a school-record 277 yards in a 34–27 overtime win over the Bulldogs in 1996.

The 2 p.m. kickoff at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston, will represent both homecoming and Senior Day in a game and a rivalry already overloaded with excitement. Has there ever been a more important game in this series?

WHAT WOULD A WIN FOR VMI MEAN:

A win by the Keydets would mean a great deal to the folks around Lexington, VA, and the VMI football program, as it would snap what has become an eight-game winning streak for the Bulldogs in the series after last season’s 45–25 win in Lexington.

The last time the Keydets tasted victory in this series was on Nov. 16, 2002, when the Keydets posted a 23–21 win in Charlotte, N.C., playing at historic American Legion Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. In what was a quagmire in Charlotte, the Keydets rebounded from a 13–7 halftime deficit to come away with the win. The Keydets would score 16-straight points to run out to a 23–13 lead early in the fourth quarter before holding on for the two-point win.

The key play in that game came with a little over 10 minutes to play, and it would be VMI nose guard Matt Kluk, who came with a key fumble recovery at The Citadel 15, which eventually would lead to the game-winning score by John Bell, who hauled in a 17-yard scoring pass from QB Joey Gibeson on a 4th-and-12 play, giving the Keydets a two-score lead in the fourth. Matt Sharpe preceded that Bell scoring connecting on a 22-yard field goal, which led to the 10-point lead.

The Citadel would add a 5-yard scoring pass from Auburn transfer Jeff Klein to wideout and former quarterback Scooter Johnson to make it a 21–19 game, with 2:07 remaining. The Bulldogs then converted a 2-point conversion to make it a 23–21 game.

The Bulldogs would get the ball back at their own 20 with just 27 seconds left. After advancing the ball to their own 48, however, Klein’s desperation heave as time expired was knocked away at the 20 as time expired, and the Keydets had captured the Silver Shako for the first time in two years. Perhaps even more importantly, it was the sixth win of the season for the Keydets, preserving their first six-win season since 1981.

WHAT WOULD A WIN FOR THE CITADEL MEAN?

A step closer to a Southern Conference title — something that has eluded the tradition-rich Citadel football program over the past 23 years, though the Bulldogs have been close at times. It would secure only the third seven-win season in the past 22 years, but it would mark the third seven-win season in the past nine seasons, dating back to a 7–4 campaign in 2007.

If Kevin Higgins started by turning this program around in 2004, then Mike Houston is in the process of elevating the Bulldog football program back to its glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A seventh win, and one which sees the Bulldogs secure a ninth-straight win in this series, would be something worthy of note for not only the program, but also Houtson in his elevation project currently in process in the Low Country, and there’s perhaps no foe the Bulldogs would rather do it against.

LAST YEAR’S MEETING: CITADEL 45, VMI 25

The top Southern Conference rivalry, The Citadel and VMI would be the 68th renewal of the rivalry between The Citadel and VMI in a game referred to as the “Military Classic of the South” or the “The Battle For The Silver Shaiko.”

The Bulldogs showed little ill-effect from the heartbreaking loss a week earlier to Samford, taking the 20-point win to close the season with a 5–7 season in Mike Houston’s first season at the helm in Charleston. On the other side of the coin, it would be the final game as the head coach for Sparky Woods, as the Keydets finished out the season with a 2–10 mark in their first season back in the SoCon since the 2002 campaign.

The Bulldogs ran out to a 21–0 lead in the contest only to see the Keydets storm back to make things interesting, closing to within five points, at 24–19, on a 28-yard scoring pass by quarterback Al Cobb to wideout midway through the third. However, led by Aaron Miller, the Bulldogs reeled off a decisive 21-straight points to close out the win on a day when the Bulldogs racked up 397 of their 488 yards on the ground. VMI would actually out-gain the Bulldogs, 495–488, however, it was The Citadel who went home with its eighth-straight Shako trophy.

Who will bring home this year’s rivalry trophy and potential program-defining win? We’ll know Saturday at about 5 p.m. Should be a good one and a game I am thorougly looking forward to watching.