BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Once upon a time, The Citadel football team scored 52 points at FCS power Appalachian State, and beat two top 10 teams in a row.
That was just a month ago, but it seems like the stuff of fairy tales now. After a 38-7 loss at Samford on Saturday, The Citadel is reeling with three straight losses and wondering where to go from here.
“We’ve got to start over again,” said sophomore linebacker Carson Smith. “We’ve got to refocus, because we’ve got a lot of games left to play.”
Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin passed for 320 yards and a touchdown, and Fabian Truss ran for 114 yards as their team improved to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the Southern Conference.
After the game, Samford players accepted congratulations from some of the 5,872 fans at cozy Seibert Stadium, while Citadel players trudged up a long flight of stairs to their locker room, a once promising season in trouble.
The high hopes engendered by The Citadel’s 3-0 start, which included wins over App State and Georgia Southern, have been dimmed by league losses to Chattanooga and Samford. The Citadel (3-3, 2-2) is ranked No. 22 in FCS, but surely will fall out of the polls before next week’s Parents Day game against Western Carolina.
“I told the guys, we just have to forget about what could happen the rest of the season, where this thing could go,” coach Kevin Higgins said. “We’ve got one game, against Western Carolina, and we have to put all our energies into executing for that one game. Whatever happens after that happens, but we have to win a football game.”
The triple-option offense that seemed so powerful in racking up a 618 yards in a 52-28 win at App State on Sept. 15 has managed just two touchdowns in the last two games. The Citadel mustered only 221 rushing yards against Samford’s “Bear” front, 55 of those on Rickey Anderson’s third-quarter TD run.
The Citadel converted 1 of 14 third-down chances, leaving its defense on the field for 33:54 of the game’s 60 minutes. Samford scored only one TD on offense in taking a 14-7 halftime lead, but rolled up 24 points in the second half against a tiring Citadel defense.
The success against App State might have built some false confidence, Higgins conceded.
“I’m sure guys look back and think, we had ‘X’ number of points and yards, it’s just gonna happen for us,” he said. “You have to keep telling them, no one gives you anything. You have to earn everything you get, and we haven’t been going out to earn it like we need to.”
Citadel coaches felt some early deep passes would loosen up Samford’s aggressive safeties, and quarterback Ben Dupree did hit Matt Thompson for 48-yard gain. But that led only to a blocked field goal, and a later Dupree pass was picked off and returned 65 yards for a TD by safety Jaquiski Tartt.
For the game, Dupree and Aaron Miller were 8 of 19 for 83 yards.
“We didn’t do enough damage with the deep ball to get them off of us,” Higgins said. “And once we couldn’t do that, they kept coming hard on us inside.”
Fortunate to be down 14-0 at the half, The Citadel got a break early in the second half when defensive tackle Derek Douglas forced a fumble by Summerlin. Mitchell Jeter recovered at midfield, and one play later, Anderson took an option pitch and sprinted 55 yards for a touchdown.
But The Citadel gave it right back when cornerback Brandon McCladdie slipped, leaving Samford receiver Riley Hawkins all alone for an 82-yard catch-and-run TD pass from Summerlin. That made it 21-7, and the rout was on.
“We’re hurting right now,” Dupree said. “Our confidence is down now. It’s frustrating, because we know what we are capable of doing.”