After the 35-yard field goal cleared the crossbar, Citadel holder Austin Wiles turned to kicker Thomas Warren for his customary high five.
“I turned around,” Wiles said, “and he was gone.”
Warren showed unusual speed for a kicker, charging down the middle of the field and flinging his helmet high into the air. His overtime field goal lifted the Bulldogs to a 31-28 win over Appalachian State before 13,601 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
“Best feeling ever,” said Warren, a fifth-year senior from Bishop England High School. “Especially in overtime, because you know the game is over and you can run around and go crazy. I just had to avoid everyone trying to tackle me.”
Warren’s kick snapped a two-game skid for the Bulldogs, lifting their record to 2-4 overall and 2-2 in the Southern Conference. More than that, it cleared the air of the negative vibes that crept in after the Bulldogs lost their first three home games.
“We proved some people wrong,” said quarterback Ben Dupree, who ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns. “People had been talking bad about us, and about App State. This is a win we can build off.”
The bad vibes won’t stop for App State (1-4, 1-1), stumbling out of the SoCon toward FBS and the Sun Belt. The Mountaineers have lost two straight to The Citadel for the first time since 1992-93, and are 1-4 for the first time since 1993.
“Our kids didn’t quit,” said App State coach Scott Satterfield, who replaced Mountaineers legend Jerry Moore this season. “They had a lot of fight in them. I’m proud of the way they came back.”
Furman exploited the Bulldogs’ secondary in a 28-21 win last week, but App State tried only four passes in the first half, which ended tied at 14-14. Citadel cornerback Brandon McCladdie shadowed 6-5 sophomore receiver Sean Price, holding him to three catches for 24 yards as QB Kam Bryant hit 19 of 23 passes for 214 yards and one TD.
The Bulldogs looked to have the game locked up at 28-21 when fullback Darien Robinson (109 yards, two touchdowns) scored from two yards out with just 1:19 to play.
But App State’s freshman standout, running back Marcus Cox, turned a screen pass into a 49-yard gain to the Bulldogs’ 5. QB Kam Bryant scored two plays later, forcing The Citadel’s first OT game since 2011.
The Bulldogs won the coin flip to start the overtime, and chose to play defense first. That decision paid off when defensive tackle Mitchell Jeter intercepted a third-and-8 pass from Bryant.
On a play that looked a lot like the Bulldogs’ Immaculate Interception at Western Carolina three weeks ago, linebacker Carl Robinson tipped a pass intended for Price. Safety Nick Willis hit Price as the ball arrived, sending the ball sailing backwards into the arms of the 6-0, 285-pound Jeter.
“It was crazy,” Jeter said. “In practice, we rush the quarterback and then run downfield to the ball, and that’s what I was doing. When the ball came my way, it was a big surprise, but I jumped up and caught it.”
Three plays later, Warren and Wiles lined up for the winning field goal, trying to dismiss memories of their botched 33-yard try in the third quarter. Wiles mishandled the snap and ended up trying to throw a pass to the kicker.
It didn’t work.
“Fortunately, we had a routine extra point after that,” said Wiles, a senior who was the long snapper last season. “So I had a chance to get that last mistake out of my head. (The coaches) knew I messed up, I knew I messed up, so I thought, let’s just go win the game.”
Warren’s kick barely cleared leaping App State players at the line, but was good enough to set off a Citadel celebration.
“It was overdue,” said linebacker Carl Robinson. “But it feels great. Last week, we said no matter what, we’re going to practice like we’re 4-1. I hope this gets us over the edge, so we can get rolling.”
Darien Robinson now has 11 100-yard games in his career, tied for fifth on The Citadel’s all-time chart ... Ben Dupree has 10 rushing touchdowns this season and 28 for his career, good for fourth all-time ... This was The Citadel’s first overtime since a 54-51 OT win over Furman in 2007.
Linebacker James Riley led The Citadel with seven tackles, and safeties Nick Willis and Julian Baxter had six each. Defensive end Bay Amrhein had 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, and the Bulldogs had six tackles for loss. Defensive end Justin Oxendine forced and recovered a fumble to set up a Citadel TD.
The Bulldogs play next week at Georgia Southern (3-2, 1-2), which lost by 44-34 at Samford on Saturday. The Citadel defeated GSU by 23-21 last year, and has never defeated both App State and Georgia Southern in consecutive seasons.