After 25 years, Citadel’s upset of USC lives on

The scoreboard at Williams-Brice Stadium reflects The Citadel’s 38-35 upset of South Carolina in 1990. (The Citadel photo)

Twenty-five years later, Jack Douglas still gets the double-takes.

“I introduce myself in social situations, and I can see their minds work,” said Douglas. “They say, ‘Are you the quarterback that beat us?’”

Yes, South Carolina fans, Jack Douglas — now a mild-mannered insurance executive in Columbia — is The Citadel quarterback that led the Bulldogs to an epic 38-35 upset of the Gamecocks in 1990.

That outcome won’t have much to do with Saturday’s game between The Citadel, ranked No. 24 in FCS and co-champion of the Southern Conference, and South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“Certainly, you mention that game, because it can happen,” said current Citadel coach Mike Houston. “But college football now compared to back then is night and day. There are so many Division I programs now in the Carolinas and Georgia that the talent pool is a little more diluted than it was back then. And with the TV money now, the SEC is just off the charts. So it’s a different time, and I don’t know how much the comparisons mirror each other.”

Indeed, it had just been announced weeks before the Gamecocks played The Citadel in 1990 that South Carolina — then a football independent — had been invited to join the mighty Southeastern Conference.

Still, that game lives on in the memories of Citadel and USC fans, and the players and coaches who participated in the game.

“I don’t run across a South Carolina fan who does not remember that game,” Douglas said. “It’s like a milestone, like how people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot.”

Connections still abound from that game. Rob DeBoer was a freshman on that USC team; his son plays football with Douglas’ son at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo. Everette Sands, an All-America fullback for The Citadel who scored a touchdown in that game, is now USC’s running backs coach. Here’s how some who were there recalled that game in various interviews:

The Citadel had won eight games and made the Division I-AA playoffs in 1988, coach Charlie Taaffe’s second season. But the 1989 season was interrupted by Hurricane Hugo, forcing the Bulldogs to play two games at Williams-Brice Stadium as they stumbled to a 5-5-1 record. In 1990, The Citadel was 3-3 and coming off a 7-6 loss to Chattanooga when it went to Columbia to play the 4-1 Gamecocks, coming off a 37-7 win over East Carolina.

Douglas: “Early in that season, I had a few hiccups and Coach Taaffe was pretty quick with the hook to pull me out. I learned some good lessons that season, about being more consistent in my performance and handling the football.

Taaffe: “I remember when we recruited Jack (from Garrett High School), we offered him half a scholarship. Best deal I ever got.”

Taaffe: “As I recall, we kind of set USC up with that loss to Chattanooga. It was all part of the plan. There was a lot of disappointed Citadel fans after that game, and this was in the age before social media. I’d hate to see what they would have been saying about me if we had social media back then.”

Sands: “One of the first things I remember was that morning in the (State) newspaper, it said all USC had to do to win was just show up, and the only way The Citadel could win was if Jack Douglas was Jamelle Holieway (of Oklahoma) and if The Citadel’s wishbone was Oklahoma’s wishbone. Coach Taaffe got us going off that. He was a great motivator.”

Taaffe: “That didn’t sit well with our young cadets. I had an assistant make copies and put one on each player’s chair at breakfast. So thanks to The State newspaper for a little motivation.”

Against a defense ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time, Douglas ran for 104 yards and hit 7 of 9 passes for 125 yards as The Citadel piled up 396 yards and jumped to a 14-0 lead. Kicker Howard Barnard booted a crucial 37-yard field goal, then Torrence Forney recovered Barnard’s onside kick as The Citadel scored 10 points in the final 3:11. Douglas scored the winning TD with 22 seconds left.

Barnard (now a Mount Pleasant businessman): “Tony Skole was one of the best teammates I ever had, anywhere, anytime. He never said anything, but in the locker room he silenced all of us and said, ‘Don’t tell me if we took off our gear and met them at the 50-yard line, we wouldn’t win.’ The place just went crazy.”

Taaffe: “I can remember waiting for USC to finish their ‘2001,’ and our guys were just bouncing around. They couldn’t wait to get out there.”

Barnard: “It was one of the better pre-games I remember. The coaches had us at a fever pitch by the time we got there, and a few minutes into the game, we were up 14-0.”

Douglas: “In our offense, when you run the first series of plays, you get a feel for whether or not the defense can stop you. In that game, the confusion on the defensive front seven was probably the worst I’ve ever seen as far as preparation. I knew then we’d be able to have long, sustained drives and score points on them.”

Barnard: “The 37-yard field goal, I probably squeaked it over by a yard. But when we lined up for the onside kick, it’s hard to believe that grace wasn’t involved. It just worked perfectly. And truth be told, I went to Monday’s practice and tried 100 onside kicks, and couldn’t get one to pop up like it did at Carolina.”

Douglas: “On the winning touchdown, we ran inside a couple of plays and inched it down toward the goal line. That ball was literally on the two-inch line. But we couldn’t punch it in, so I had to take it outside.”

The Citadel went on to finish that season with a 7-5 record and made the I-AA playoffs. In 1992, when Douglas was a senior and Sands a junior, the Bulldogs went 11-1, won the SoCon and were ranked No. 1 in I-AA. The 1990 Gamecocks lost their next two games after The Citadel game, and finished the season at 6-5. The loss to The Citadel cost coach Sparky Woods’ team a shot at a bowl game.

Woods (after the game): “I can’t ever remember feeling worse since I’ve been in this business. This game was a heartbreaker.”

Douglas (after the game): “I hope we shut up all the critics. They said we didn’t have snowball’s chance in hell to beat USC.”

Rod Walters, USC trainer (in his book): “Sparky Woods was livid postgame ... He was so disappointed in the confusion on the defensive staff regarding player assignments and responsibilities, confusion over who was taking the fullback, who was taking the option back.”

Taaffe: “I remember I got a note from Clyde Wrenn, who was the recruiting coordinator at Clemson. It just said, ‘Thanks.’ That was just a great period of time. There were some great individual wins in there, beating Arkansas and Navy and Army, but the body of work of those guys during that special time was just fantastic.”