After the obligatory handshake line, Charleston Southern players streamed to the far side of Johnson Hagood Stadium, celebrating with delirious Buccaneer fans in the stands.
“We just wanted to gain a little respect,” CSU quarterback Malcolm Dixon said, minutes after the clock ran out on the Bucs’ 32-29 upset of The Citadel on Saturday night. “We know this is a Citadel community, but we wanted to show that we are here too.”
On the home side of the stadium, the bulk of the 12,196 fans stood in stunned silence. The most anticipated Citadel football season in years had begun in disaster, a shocking loss to a CSU team playing its first game under coach Jamey Chadwell.
“There’s a thin line between being confident and over-confident,” Citadel quarterback Aaron Miller said outside a silent Bulldogs locker room. “And we may have been just a tad bit over-confident in this game.”
This was no fluke, even though the 0-1 Bulldogs gifted the Bucs two touchdowns on punts muffed by Citadel slotback Vinny Miller. After rushing for just eight yards in the first half, Charleston Southern (1-0) pushed the Bulldogs’ defense around in the second half.
CSU rushed for 131 yards in the final 30 minutes, taking its first lead at 21-16 after a 75-yard march to open the second half. Cameron Mitchell booted a 29-yard field goal with 6:01 left for the winning margin, and The Citadel could not even get into field-goal range on its last two possessions.
“Disappointing game,” said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, whose team built a 16-0 lead late in the second quarter and was outscored 32-13 from there. “The two muffed punts gave them short fields with momentum, and we gave them life. I give a lot of credit to Charleston Southern, though. Jamey has done a very good job.”
Chadwell, an assistant to former CSU coach Jay Mills, opened his tenure with the Bucs’ second win in seven meetings with the Bulldogs, who may want to move Charleston Southern up a few notches on their rivalry chart. Dixon threw two touchdown passes, and the Bucs’ 3-4 defense threw a lot of different looks at The Citadel’s triple option.
The Citadel rushed for 293 yards, but got nothing going consistently. The Bulldogs were just 6 of 15 on third down, had to punt four times and turned the ball over twice on the muffed punts.
“We caught them on a good night,” Chadwell said. “Regardless of whether they say it or not, they were probably looking past us a little bit (to Wofford next week). I feel proud of what our guys overcame. They were hammering us early, and to be able to finish it off and get a win, it’s huge for us.”
Despite a sputtering offense, The Citadel seemed ready to take control early, after a bad-snap safety and TD runs by Aaron Miller and Terrance Martin gave the Bulldogs a 16-0 lead with 5:19 left in the first half.
But two plays kept CSU in the game. Citadel safety Julian Baxter failed to give help over the top on a 64-yard TD pass from Dixon to Kevin Glears to make it 16-7 with 2:52 left in the half.
Then, Vinny Miller tried to field a short, end-over-end punt from CSU freshman Truett Burns, who employs an unusual side-winding sytle. The Bucs recovered his muff at the Bulldogs’ 19, and Dixon found receiver Donte Sumpter for a 19-yard TD on the next play. Just like that, it was 16-14 at the half.
A 4-yard TD run by Dupree had given the Bulldogs a 22-21 lead in the third quarter when Vinny Miller botched a second punt at his own 25. This time, CSU scored on an 11-yard run by Zachary Frazier for a 29-22 lead with 1:34 left in the third quarter.
“We practiced against those type of punts,” Vinny Miller said. “I just got too excited, and I paid for it.”
Vinny Miller got a measure of redemption on a 4-yard TD run that tied the game at 29 with 11:30 left. But the Bucs would not be denied, their 54-yard drive keyed by a 24-yard run by Christian Reyes, who finished with 92 yards on 22 carries. Mitchell, a 6-5, 225-pound sophomore from Tarpon Springs, Fla., stayed cool after the Bucs got a delay penalty on his first field goal try, converting a 29-yarder for a 32-29 lead.
On their final two drives, the Bulldogs could get no farther than the CSU 36, failing to convert on fourth-down passes both times.
Now, Higgins must figure out how to pull his team together before what was supposed to be a showdown of Southern Conference contenders next week against Wofford, which lost big at Baylor on Saturday night.
“It’s no easy challenge,” said Higgins, whose “1 and 0” slogan was supposed to keep the Bulldogs focused on CSU instead of Wofford. “But we do have great kids, great character kids. We just have to re-focus and get this game behind us. We’ve got to establish who we are next week.”