Who: No. 19 Samford (6-2, 4-0) at The Citadel (2-6, 2-4)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium
Radio: 1450-AM. TV/Internet: ESPN3
If you do the math, The Citadel’s football team has lost five games by a total of 22 points this season. A calculator reveals the average margin of those five losses is 4.4 points, or somewhere between a field goal and a touchdown.
But a calculator can’t reveal the depth of frustration felt by Citadel players, which might have reached a season-high after last week’s 28-24 loss at Chattanooga.
The Bulldogs were ahead for about 53 minutes in that game, building leads of 17-7 at halftime and 24-14 in the third quarter. The Citadel held advantages in first downs, rushing yards, total yards and time of possession. The Mocs didn’t take their first lead until just 122 seconds remained in the game.
But all Citadel players were left with was a 2-6 record and a box lunch for the bus trip back to Charleston.
“Our guys took it hard,” Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said Monday. “It was amazing after the game, watching our guys. A bunch of them had tears in their eyes and were upset. But that’s a good sign. It means this is real, real important to these guys.”
Coming so close so many times — the Bulldogs have lost by one to Old Dominion, by three to Charleston Southern, by four to Chattanooga and by seven each to Furman and Georgia Southern — makes it all the more painful. Only a 21-10 loss to Wofford on Sept. 7 was by more than one score.
“Nobody likes to lose, and it definitely hurts when you’re up like that and give it away at the end,” said junior defensive tackle Cam Mobley. “But we’re all just focused on finishing out the season and playing hard. We want to show people we haven’t given up.”
It’s difficult to find a common theme in the close losses, Higgins said. Two dropped punts were crucial against CSU. There were two onside kicks and a 2-point conversion that came up six inches short against ODU. Georgia Southern and Chattanooga both staged late game-winning drives against the Bulldogs’ defense.
“Every game, it’s something different,” he said. “Last week against Chattanooga, we needed to stay on the field a little longer on offense in the fourth quarter. Defensively, we allowed them to drive without coming up with a big play.”
And the Bulldogs did not come up with a turnover against Chattanooga. In their two wins this season, the Bulldogs are plus-2 in turnovers; in their six losses, they are minus-4.
“For us to win football games, we’ve got to figure out a way to get some takeaways,” Higgins said.
Turnovers might be the Bulldogs’ best hope against Samford (6-2, 4-0), which owns first place in the Southern Conference and broke into the FCS Coaches Poll this week at No. 19.
Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin threw three interceptions in his team’s 34-27 win at Wofford, including a pick-six on Samford’s first play of the game.
For the season, Summerlin has seven interceptions against 17 touchdown passes, and Samford ranks fourth in the SoCon in turnover margin, with 12 giveaways and 12 takeaways.
While Samford plays for a SoCon title and playoff berth, Citadel players are reduced to playing for pride, and for each other. But that means something, Citadel players say.
“We haven’t given up in any games this year, and we don’t plan on doing that anytime soon,” Mobley said. “This is a chance to show who we really are, and put those losses in the past.”
Said running back Dalton Trevino, “We’re not going to lay down and let people roll over us. We’re still competing to win games. That’s part of who you are when you come to this school.”
Sophomore receiver Brandon Eakins of Wando High School should be able to return to action in two weeks, Higgins said. Eakins underwent emergency surgery on his lower abdomen in Chattanooga last Friday night.
With 129 rushing yards against Chattanooga, senior fullback Darien Robinson moved into fifth place on The Citadel’s all-time rushing list with 2,652 yards. He needs 140 yards to catch Andrew Johnson (2,792 yards) for fourth place.