After losing to Wofford for the 15th straight time — and after losing for the second time in two weeks — Citadel football players insisted their season is not over.
And, in fact, there are 10 more games on the schedule.
But in order to reach any of their goals for the season, the 0-2 Bulldogs will have to play a lot better than they did Saturday night in a dispiriting 21-10 loss to the Terriers before 14,545 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
In its Southern Conference opener, The Citadel’s offense produced one field goal. The defense surrendered two touchdown passes to a backup quarterback (Michael Weimer), and 149 yards and a TD to a Wofford fullback not named Eric Breitenstein (it was Donovan Johnson).
A 92-yard interception return for a TD by cornerback Brandon McCladdie was the Bulldogs’ lone highlight.
“It’s a pride thing,” said Citadel fullback Darien Robinson, who was held to 32 yards on eight carries. “I know we can pull it together, and I know we will.”
That work must start on the offensive line, which is missing All-America center Mike Sellers, forced to leave the military school in the off-season. There was little room to run for the Bulldogs’ option attack, which totaled 154 rushing yards, its lowest total since the final game of the 2010 season.
And there was little time to throw for quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller, who were sacked once and combined to complete 12 of 22 passes for 108 yards. The Bulldogs were just 3 of 15 on third-down chances.
“We’re not sustaining blocks like we need to,” said coach Kevin Higgins. “That’s a very good Wofford defense, but I was disappointed we didn’t stay on blocks longer to give us an opportunity.”
Sophomore Sam Frye and freshman Ryan Bednar are playing center in Sellers’ stead, but there is plenty of experience around them in seniors Devin Bice, Keith Carter, Jim Knowles and Cullen Brown.
“It comes down to execution,” said left guard Carter. “We weren’t staying on blocks and some simple mistakes cut people free to run to the ball.”
Despite statistical domination by Wofford (1-1, 1-0 SoCon) — 421 yards to 262 for The Citadel — the Bulldogs had their chances. With The Citadel down 7-0 in the second quarter, Wofford’s Octavius Harden dropped a bouncing punt, the Bulldogs’ Brandon Eakins recovering at the Terrier 26-yard line.
But a scrambling Ben Dupree was sacked on third and 9, and Thomas Warren missed a 30-yard field goal.
“That hurt,” Higgins said.
The Bulldogs trailed 14-3 in the third quarter when McCladdie jumped an out route and picked off a Weimer floater, sprinting 92 yards for the score. The second-longest interception return in Citadel history cut Wofford’s lead to 14-10 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs were back in it. But not for long.
After the teams traded punts, Wofford asserted its authority with a 15-play, 86-yard drive that chewed 7:39 off the clock in the fourth quarter. Weimer was clutch on third down, hitting Jeff Ashley for 10 yards on third-and-6 and Will Gay for a 19-yard TD on third-and-9. That made it 21-10 with just 6:25 left.
The Citadel’s last gasp came when QB Aaron Miller was stopped a half-yard short on fourth-and-7 at the Wofford 14 with 1:52 left. Three kneel-downs left Citadel fans wondering if they Bulldogs will ever beat Wofford again. They haven’t since 1998.
“It’s just insane,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said of the streak. “There have been days when we’ve been better and there have been days when they’ve been better. But for some reason, we’ve been able to pull it out every time.”
Weimer, a 6-5 sophomore, hit just 3 of 8 passes with an interception, but was the difference in the game. Two of his passes went for TDs, including a 30-yard strike to Will Irwin in the second quarter. And all three completions came on third down.
Now, the Bulldogs go to Western Carolina, 0-2 after a 45-3 loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Citadel hasn’t turned an 0-2 start into a winning season since 1979, when the Bulldogs were 6-5 under coach Art Baker.
“We have to fight,” McCladdie said. “The season’s not over.”
Linebacker Carl Robinson led The Citadel with 16 tackles, and he broke up three passes. The Bulldogs used a five-man front most of the game, but had only two tackles for loss, one from Derek Douglas. Justin Oxendine and McCladie shared the other.
Punter Eric Goins averaged 43.9 yards on seven punts ... Freshman slotback Devan Robbins made his debut and returned a kickoff for 40 yards ... Thomas Warren made a 25-yard field goal and is 1 of 2 for the season.