Huge rally lifts Bulldogs to upset of Chattanooga
CHATTANOOGA, TENN. — His team trailing 17th-ranked Chattanooga by 24 points at halftime, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins hit the locker room fuming.
“He doesn’t cuss,” said running back Rickey Anderson, an eyewitness to Higgins’ halftime speech. “But he can get real loud, and those blue eyes just pop out. He gets a little twang to his voice, and you can tell it hurts him.”
That hurt turned to celebration after the Bulldogs pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in school history. Trailing by 27-0 with less than 25 minutes left, the Bulldogs scored 28 straight points to steal a 28-27 victory before 10,727 shocked fans at Finley Stadium.
“I’ve never been part of a win like this,” said freshman quarterback Aaron Miller, who led the game-winning drive, which ended on
Darien Robinson’s 3-yard touchdown and Ryan Sellers’ clinching extra point with 2:24 left.
Few have. It was The Citadel’s biggest comeback since at least 1973.
The stunning meltdown by the Mocs, heretofore considered a playoff contender, included a game-turning interception by Citadel cornerback Brandon McCladdie, a blocked punt returned for a TD by linebacker Rod Harland and a game-sealing pick by safety Davis Boyle.
All of this came after The Citadel Bulldogs come storming back in second half (2-2, 1-2 Southern Conference) managed 62 yards, lost two fumbles, switched quarterbacks and fell behind 24-0 in the first half.
“I really challenged them in the locker room and really got after them,” said Higgins, whose team had lost 12 of 13 league games.
“But I liked the look in their eyes. It was not a good display of football in the first half, and they were disappointed by that.”
The bad display continued in the third quarter, when the Bulldogs’ fourth fumble, on a botched pitch, set up the Mocs (2-3, 0-2) on The Citadel’s 9-yard line. The defense held and forced a field goal, but it was 27-0 and the game appeared to be over.
“Obviously, it wasn’t over,” said quarterback Ben Dupree, who ran for 83 yards and two scores. “We just kept our heads up, and the defense sparked us.”
On the Mocs’ next series, quarterback B.J. Coleman (19 of 33, 253 yards, one TD) made a bad mistake under pressure, hitting McCladdie in the chest on a deep slant to Joel Bradford. McCladdie ran it back 30 yards to the Mocs’ 20, Anderson went 18 yards to the 2 and Dupree scored from one yard out to make it 27-7 with 5:21 left in the third.
Now, the Bulldogs’ defense rose up, forcing four straight punts. After the first, Dupree popped a 42-yard TD run for 27-14. On the third punt, Chris Billingslea got a hand on the kick and Harland picked up the ball and raced 40 yards for a TD. It was 27-21 with 7:46 left, and now the Mocs were nervous.
Smelling blood, Citadel defenders Demarrio Sims and Jeremy Buncum sacked Coleman to force a fourth punt, the Bulldogs taking over at their own 29 with 5:37 left.
When Dupree dinged his ankle on first down, the freshman Miller trotted on for the biggest drive of his life. Robinson busted a 39-yard run to the Mocs’ 28, and Miller ran four times for 19 yards and threw a 6-yard pass to Robinson to set up the winning TD.
“I knew they had it in them,” Higgins said. “I was so happy for them, because they have worked their tails off. I knew we were a better team than we showed at halftime, and it was great to see them respond.”
Mocs coach Russ Huesman called the Bulldogs’ effort “unbelievable.”
“Kevin Higgins did a fantastic job,” he said. “We did a horrible job as coaches. Their football team never quit ... Our football team played so bad in the second half, it was amazing.”