Starks plug: Citadel quarterback lifts Bulldogs past rival Paladins
Miguel Starks and Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins stood side by side as The Citadel band played the alma mater Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
"Coach, thanks for the opportunity," the redshirt freshman quarterback whispered to Higgins in those few quiet moments. "And I'm sorry about those fumbles."
After a breakout performance by Starks in Saturday's 38-28 victory over rival Furman, the coach is likely to forgive those four fumbles -- at least until practice today.
Making his first college start, Starks tied a Citadel record by scoring four touchdowns and passed for a fifth TD as the Bulldogs snapped a three-game losing skid before a Parents Day crowd of 14,403.
In a joyous locker room, Higgins shouted, "There's no better feeling than beating Furman!" and a grinning Starks took a stage dive off a table in the middle of the room after leading the Bulldogs in cheers.
His teammates caught him, then praised him.
"At the beginning of the game, he looked nervous," All-America receiver Andre Roberts said. "But he's a great talent, and I expect him to play like that."
Said senior tackle Dan DeHaven, "It was just a breakout for him. I'm sure there's going to be many more games, many more years of this stuff. I think he's a special player."
It was the kind of performance Higgins must have dreamed about when he recruited the 6-2, 219-pound Starks from Atlanta's Mundy's Mill High School two years ago. Starks redshirted last season and has shared time with starter Bart Blanchard this year. But when Blanchard suffered a sprained toe in last week's 14-10 loss at Western Carolina, the stage was left to Starks.
He took advantage by running 23 times for 144 yards, the most by a Citadel QB since 1995, and completing 14 of 19 passes for 183 yards and a TD, a 28-yard strike to Scott Harward that gave The Citadel a 31-21 lead in the third quarter.
Starks iced the game with a 23-yard TD scamper for a 38-21 margin with 2:51 left in the game, becoming the first Citadel QB to score four TDs in a game since Jack Douglas in 1992.
"We knew he was a special athlete, and also a very raw athlete with a lot of work to do," Higgins said. "I can't say enough about his competitiveness, the way that he kept his poise throughout the game was really impressive."
Said Starks: "It wasn't about me leading the team. I look at it like everybody did their job, and we won. And that's what coach says, when we execute like we should, we win."
Freshman Van Dyke Jones added 102 yards as he and Starks became the first pair of Bulldogs to rush for 100 yards in the same game since Tory Cooper and Duran Lawson did it two years ago in a 54-51, triple-overtime win over Furman.
Starks' breakout could not have come at a better time for the 3-4 Bulldogs, who are 1-3 in the Southern Conference after surviving an overtime heartbreaker against Appalachian State and an embarrassing blowout at Elon before blowing a 10-point halftime lead at Western Carolina.
"A huge win for us," Higgins said. "I just felt bad for the players. They had worked extremely hard and lost two heart-breaking games. To come back now and beat your rival at home is just special."
Furman (4-2, 3-2) was victimized by several costly mistakes. After The Citadel drove 75 yards on its first possession for a 7-0 lead, Paladins fullback Cardenal Coleman failed to field a wind-blown kickoff, The Citadel's Biron Nabritt recovering at the Furman 23.
Starks, running in from the 5, recovered his own fumble in the end zone, and The Citadel had a 14-0 lead before the Paladins had even run a play.
"One mistake ballooned into even more mistakes," said Furman coach Bobby Lamb. "We're an average football team, and until we can win big games we'll be an average football team."
Behind from the start, Furman QB Jordan Sorrells was forced to pass 42 times. He hit 27 for 250 yards and three TDs, but was picked off twice -- once at the goal line by safety Joseph Boateng, and once in the end zone by defensive end Erik Clanton.
Boateng's pick came as the Bulldogs were nursing a 31-21 lead with 3:25 left in the third quarter, as Sorrells tried to throw a post from the 26-yard line into a stiff wind.
"He didn't really see me," Boateng said. "I kind of baited him on that pass, making him think I was going to the outside. I just turned around and made that play."
One of many The Citadel made on this day.