Derek Douglas grabbed a fistful of VMI quarterback Saturday afternoon, and would not let go.
Douglas, one of 17 Citadel seniors playing for the last time at Johnson Hagood Stadium, dragged down Virginia Military Institute quarterback A.J. Augustine by his jersey. The fourth-quarter sack set up the Bulldogs’ final touchdown in a 31-10 win over VMI.
“I was on the ground, just grabbing on and saying, ‘Please, come down with me,’” Douglas said. “He did, eventually, so it was all right.”
The Bulldogs eventually grabbed hold of the coveted Silver Shako, as well, ripping off 24 unanswered points in the second half to delight a crowd of 12,069 on hand for the Military Classic of the South.
The Citadel (5-6) has owned the Silver Shako since 2003 and has defeated the Keydets seven straight times.
“Nobody wants to be that team, that senior that loses the Silver Shako on the way out,” said Douglas, a fifth-year defensive tackle. “Playing on this team the last five years has been the best experience of my life, so it was great to close it out the way we did.”
It was Senior Day in more ways than one. Senior quarterback Ben Dupree was the star, rushing for 109 yards and three touchdowns. Senior fullback Darien Robinson added 115 yards on 21 carries. His 13th career 100-yard game helped the Bulldogs rush for 304 yards behind a line chock full of seniors — Keith Carter, Jim Knowles, Cullen Brown and Devin Bice among the starters.
On defense, senior cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre made the clutch play. His first career interception, in the third quarter, set up the TD that broke the game open, Dupree’s 10-yard run for a 24-10 lead. Douglas had two of The Citadel’s seven sacks and batted down a pass.
“These seniors have invested so much into this program,” said coach Kevin Higgins, whose squad has won three straight overall and three straight at home. “A lot of key guys who have made the program what it is had big days today, and it was neat to see that.”
Dupree’s three touchdowns give him 18 rushing scores for the season, one shy of the school record. His 36 career rushing touchdowns are second in Citadel history, behind only Jack Douglas (50 from 1989-92).
“The only thing better would have been to get four touchdowns,” said Dupree, who scored on runs of 4, 8 and 10 yards. “It was the perfect way to end this, as far as playing at Johnson Hagood. A perfect ending.”
That the end would be perfect was far from clear at halftime, when the Bulldogs trailed by 10-7. But The Citadel rushed for 197 yards after halftime, with an interception and four sacks on defense in the final 30 minutes.
“We made some adjustments on defense and were able to get some more pressure,” Higgins said. “And I really think the takeaway by Jean-Pierre was critical.”
Thomas Warren, who missed a 20-yard field goal in the first half, hit a 34-yarder to tie the game at 10-10 early in the third quarter. After Douglas swatted a VMI pass on fourth-and-3, the Bulldogs took control.
Dupree ran for 18 yards on third-and-7, and Vinny Miller went for eight on 4th-and-3. Dupree scored from 8 yards out and The Citadel led by 17-10.
Jean-Pierre’s pick and 19-yard return set up Dupree’s 10-yard TD run for 24-10, and Dalton Trevino added a 5-yard TD run with 4:39 left.
VMI joins the Southern Conference next season, but the Keydets are just 2-9 in its sixth season under former South Carolina coach Sparky Woods.
“I think we played hard,” said Woods. “But I think when we look back at the film we’re going to be even more disappointed, because we’re going to think we could make it a better game than we did.”
For The Citadel, there remains the small matter of next week’s game at heavily favored Clemson. Many of the Bulldogs watched the Tigers’ Thursday night destruction of Georgia Tech, which runs a triple-option offense similar to The Citadel’s.
“Clemson, man,” Robinson said. “You have to be ready to play in that atmosphere, that big-game atmosphere. I love it. You have to be ready to rise to that level and compete at that level. As long as we can do that — and I’m sure we can, after being here for four years — we’ll be fine.”
Darien Robinson is now fourth on The Citadel’s all-time rushing list with 2,890 yards … Derek Douglas is fifth on the Bulldogs’ career sack chart with 16, and sixth on the tackles for loss list with 38.5.
Linebacker James Riley led the Bulldogs with eight tackles against VMI, including a sack. Safety Nick Willis had seven tackles, and tackle Mitchell Jeter six.
The Bulldogs’ season-high seven sacks were their most since they had seven against Chowan in 2010. Douglas had two sacks and Justin Oxendine 1.5, with Riley, Ian Thompson and Mark Thomas with one each. Jeter was credited with half a sack.
Linebacker Carl Robinson left the game early with a knee injury and is doubtful for Clemson, Higgins said.