Bulldogs coach picks Paladins as 'the' game

One of the first questions football coach Kevin Higgins had when he arrived at The Citadel in the spring of 2005 was this: Which game is our rival game?

"I heard about five different schools," Higgins said this week.

And it's true. There's crosstown rival Charleston Southern. There's fellow military school VMI. There are in-state rivalries with Southern Conference colleagues Wofford and Furman.

And perhaps the fiercest rivalry of all is the one in basketball and baseball with the College of Charleston.

Faced with this assortment, Higgins felt it was important to choose one to emphasize above the others, at least in football.

"I said, let's make it this one, and that is Furman," Higgins said. "In talking with several key alumni, it seemed like they were most passionate about Furman. It was the last game of the season for a long time, and the places I've been, the last game is always the rival game. So that seemed to make the most sense to me."

Indeed, The Citadel's series with Furman dates back to 1913 — the Bulldogs' oldest rivalry — and today's Parents' Day game at Johnson Hagood Stadium will be the 87th meeting. Furman was the Bulldogs' final regular-season foe from 1977 through '92, when The Citadel clinched

the SoCon title with a 20-14 win over the Paladins in Greenville.

But the game was moved to the middle of the season in '93, and the Bulldogs have won only twice in the last 12 meetings. From the Paladins' perspective, conference games with Appalachian State, Wofford and Georgia Southern have taken on greater meaning.

On The Citadel's message board, thelordsofdiscipline.net, an informal poll this week was split just about evenly between Furman and VMI as the Bulldogs' biggest rival.

But it serves Higgins' purposes this week to treat Furman as "the" rival, as the Bulldogs are coming off a disappointing 28-7 loss to Wofford last week.

"It's a rival game, and that helps us get over the previous game and get back to work," he said.

At 2-3, Furman is off to its worst five-game start since 1994, when the Paladins were 1-4 on their way to a 3-8 record. But Furman's three losses are to ranked FCS teams Hofstra and Wofford and to Clemson.

"They are still Furman," Higgins said.

The Paladins still boast 6-0, 246-pound fullback Jerome Felton and senior quarterback Renaldo Gray, the duo which led Furman to a 39-31 win in triple overtime in its last trip to Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 2005.

Furman's defense, with eight starters back, ranks first in the SoCon in rushing defense (111.4 yards per game) and in sacks, with 16 in five games.

"We had a setback last week," said Citadel senior Chris McDowell. "We need a stepping stone this week, to regain our confidence and rebuild toward some of our goals."