GREENVILLE — Surrounded by a throng of cheering Bulldogs, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins made his case in the locker room.
“We got H-O-P-E,” Higgins rapped after a 42-20 win over rival Furman on Saturday at Paladin Stadium. “And if they invite us to the barbecue, we gonna eat!”
Citadel players erupted in delight, even if their chances at a berth in the 20-team FCS playoffs are slim. At 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Southern Conference, the Bulldogs at least have a case to make before the field is announced at 1:30 p.m. today on ESPNU.
“We knocked off two top 10 teams, and that says a lot,” said quarterback Ben Dupree, who threw for one score and ran for another. “Anytime you reverse your record, from 4-7 to 7-4, that says a lot. It will hurt if we don’t get in.”
The Citadel needed a win over Furman (3-8, 2-6) to even have a shot. Senior Van Dyke Jones scored three touchdowns and Higgins pulled off a gutsy fake punt call in the third quarter to make it happen.
The Citadel banked early wins over SoCon tri-champs Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, and lost to the third champ, Wofford, by a blocked field goal that went through the uprights anyway.
Georgia Southern earned the SoCon’s automatic bid due to The Citadel’s win over Furman, and App State and Wofford are at-large locks. That means the SoCon likely needs need a fourth bid for The Citadel to have a shot.
In the locker room, Higgins told his players the odds were about “10 percent.”
“We finished strong, which is always important,” said Higgins, whose team has won its last three games, and four of the last five. “We beat two of the top teams in the country, and lost to the third by a field goal. We played real well in our league, for sure.”
Even without a playoff bid, the Bulldogs have plenty to celebrate. They’ve won as many as seven games only twice since 1992, and their five SoCon wins are the most since the 1992 team went 6-1. Saturday’s win, before 8,127 fans, was their first at Paladin Stadium since 1998.
“This is a great season for us,” said Dupree, who ran for a 45-yard TD in the first quarter and threw a 28-yard TD pass to Domonic Jones in the fourth. “If we don’t get in, it will hurt. But it will be more motivation for next year.”
The Bulldogs clung to a 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter when Higgins made the call that changed the game. On fourth-and-5 from his own 30, Higgins ordered up a fake punt that Cass Couey ran for 18 yards and a first down.\
That kept alive a 75-yard drive that Dalton Trevino finished off with a 17-yard TD run for a 28-20 lead.
The Citadel defense forced a punt, and Dupree threw passes of 23 yards to Terrance Martin (on third-and-18) and 28 yards to Domonic Jones for a TD and a 35-20 lead. There was 11:03 left, but Furman was done.
“Our defense had been on the field for a long time before that,” Higgins said of the fake punt. “We were about go three-and-out and put our defense back on the field. I didn’t have a good feel for us stopping them on that next possession.”
Led by 103 yards and a TD from Jerodis Williams, Furman rushed for 196 yards. But The Citadel got after freshman QB Reese Hannon, sacking him twice and driving him from the game with a hip-pointer, and also sacked backup Dakota Derrick twice.
Chris Billingslea had 2.5 sacks and tipped a pass that was intercepted as the Bulldogs forced three turnovers, and the Paladins were shut out in the fourth quarter for the ninth time this season.
Afterwards,Van Dyke Jones was asked what he’d tell the playoff committee.
“We’re still hungry,” he said. “Let us eat.”