With players from The Citadelís best team watching, the current Bulldogs put on what might prove a playoff-worthy performance Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Backup quarterback Aaron Miller ran for two touchdowns and passed for another, and the Bulldogs smothered Elon and star receiver Aaron Mellette in 38-24 victory before a homecoming crowd of 14,853.
The Citadel (5-4, 4-3 Southern Conference) can clinch a winning season with a victory next week at VMI, and can make a case for an FCS playoff bid with wins at VMI and rival Furman.
That would be The Citadelís first playoff berth since 1992,when the Bulldogs went 11-1, won the SoCon title and were ranked No. 1 in the nation. Members of that team were on hand Saturday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that season.
Fullback Darien Robinson led the Bulldogs with a career-high 178 rushing yards and a touchdown, and QB Ben Dupree added 100 yards and a TD on 13 carries.
Mellette, Elonís All-America receiver, was blanketed by Citadel cornerback Brandon McCladdie, who picked off a pass to save a touchdown. Mellette finished with nine catches for 102 yards, but was held without a TD catch for just the second time this season.
The Citadel led by 24-6 at halftime and seemed to break the game open after Robinsonís 60-yard run early in the third quarter. That set up Millerís second TD, on a 3-yard run, for a 31-6 lead.
But Elon turned a Citadel fumble into a 20-yard TD pass from Thomas Wilson to Kierre Brown, cutting the Bulldogsí lead to 31-14 with 6:37 left in the third quarter. Wilsonís 6-yard TD throw to Tracey Coppedge got the Phoenix to within 31-24 with 8:49 to play.
Miller then led the Bulldogs on one of the key series of the season, a 75-yard drive capped by a 3-yard TD by Robinson. The 14-play march took 6:16 off the clock and iced the game at 38-24 with 2:33 left.
Elon (3-6, 1-5) botched the end of the half to help the Bulldogs to that 24-6 lead at intermission.
Trailing by 17-6, the Phoenix called timeout before Adam Shreiner missed a 42-yard field goal with 33 seconds left, instead of letting the clock run down.
That left the Bulldogs with enough time to mount a drive. Aaron Miller ran for 25 yards before unleashing a 51-yard Hail Mary pass at the buzzer. Matt Thompson came down with it in the end zone as the crowd roared, and The Citadel led by 24-6 at the half.
It took less than two minutes for The Citadel to score in this one, as Dupree sprinted 55 yards for a TD on the Bulldogsí fourth play. Elon answered with a 25-yard field goal by Shreiner, but a 21-yard punt return by Greg Adams set up the Bulldogs for another score.
A pass-interference call and a 16-yard run to the goal line by Robinson led to Millerís 1-yard TD and a 14-3 lead. Thomas Warren doinked a 47-yard field goal off the left upright and over the crossbar for a 17-4 lead early in the second quarter.