Lawson throws for 386 yards, runs for 100; Citadel pulls off 'unexplainable' comeback
As dozens of Citadel cadets piled up on top of Bulldog football players in the end zone, Tory Cooper emerged unscathed, picking his way through the happy crowd Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
"I didn't want to get stuck in the bottom of that pile, man," The Citadel's senior running back said after his five-yard touchdown run in overtime lifted the Bulldogs to an improbable 54-51 win over rival Furman. "I didn't want to get smushed."
Cooper's third TD was the final twist to a game that featured more reversals of fortune than a stock-market crash. A Parents' Day crowd of 16,272 was hugely entertained as the teams combined for 14 touchdowns, 105 points and 1,092 yards of total offense.
The Bulldogs had to rally from deficits of 27-7 in the first half and 41-24 late in the third quarter. Quarterback Duran Lawson set a school record with 486 yards of total offense, Cooper ran for 136 yards and The Citadel scored 37 points in the second half and OT to pull it out, leaving last week's deflating loss to Wofford in the dust.
"Unexplainable," said Citadel center Chris McDowell.
"Crazy" said receiver Andre Roberts.
"An amazing football game," said Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins.
"A heck of a game — if you were a fan," said Furman coach Bobby Lamb.
The net result of The Citadel's first win since 2003 over Furman, the team Higgins has anointed the military school's chief rival, left the Bulldogs at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Southern Conference, still in the hunt for an FCS playoff berth.
"These guys wanted to win this one badly," said Higgins, who endured an overtime loss and a six-point defeat in his first two games against Furman (2-4, 0-2).
Badly is how the game started for The Citadel. In an effort to get hard-hitting free safety Josh Lawson closer to the line of scrimmage to stop Furman's rushing attack, Bulldogs coaches used five defensive backs most of the game, with freshman safety Mel Capers replacing linebacker Reggie Rice.
Furman QB Renaldo Gray shredded the new look, hitting 15 of 32 passes for 289 yards. He threw TD passes of 17, 14 and 61 yards to receiver Patrick Sprague as Furman scored 27 straight points for a 27-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Sprague set a Furman record with 238 receiving yards on nine catches.
"Furman did a great job with its game plan," Higgins said. "Coach Lamb talked a lot about running the ball, we put an extra guy in the box and they were very effective throwing the ball down the field."
The Bulldogs got it to 27-17 by halftime, setting the stage for a wild second half. Duran Lawson, who was 28 of 37 for 386 yards and three TDs and ran for 100 more yards and another score, passed 15 yards to Ta'Mar Jernigan to cut it to 27-24. Furman responded with two TDs for a 41-24 lead, the second score set up by an 87-yard fumble return to the Citadel 1 by linebacker Clifton Dortch.
Citadel freshman running back Cody Wilson, pushing for extra yards, appeared to be stopped on that play. Duran Lawson was heading for the sideline to get the next play from Higgins when Dortch ran by with the ball. Lawson chased him down at the 1, but Gray scored from 6 yards out.
"I think everybody in the house thought the play was dead," Higgins said. "But the whistle didn't blow, I guess."
The Bulldogs fought back again, scoring 21 straight points on Lawson's 16-yard pass to Josh Haney and TD runs of 23 yards and one yard by Cooper for a 45-41 lead with just 3:49 to play.
Higgins ordered up a pooch kick on the kickoff, and the ball bounced at about the Furman 24. "I thought we were going to recover it," Higgins said.
But Furman's Mike Brown picked it up and dashed 76 yards for what looked like a back-breaking TD, giving Furman a 48-45 lead with 3:37 left. Furman was whistled for excessive celebration, and Higgins chose to take the penalty on the ensuing kickoff instead of the extra point. That proved crucial, as Wilson fielded a short kick and returned it 56 yards, setting up Mike Adams' 32-yard field goal to tie it at 48-48 with 1:19 left.
When Furman's Scott Beckler missed his third field goal of the game, a 44-yarder with six seconds left, the overtime stage was set for Cooper. Recalling his OT heroics against Western Carolina on Parents' Day last year, the senior ran four times for 24 yards, cutting right on a counter play for the game winner.
"We got our rings yesterday and beat Furman (today)," Duran Lawson said. "Couldn't ask for a better weekend."