Citadel wide receiver Brandon Eakins was on his way to the Coastal Carolina Fair with his girlfriend Saturday night. Bulldogs coach Mike Houston was at home, sitting with his wife on the edge of the bed. Alex Glover, James Riley and other players were in the locker room at Seignious Hall, unwinding after a 35-14 win over VMI.
They all were tracking the end of the Chattanooga-Mercer game on various devices. Word came in just before 7 p.m. Saturday that Mercer had pulled off a 17-14 upset of third-ranked Chattanooga, thereby clinching at least a share of the Southern Conference championship for The Citadel.
Some Bulldogs were quicker than others to grasp the implications of Chattanooga’s loss.
“We definitely all looked up the rules,” said Glover, a senior wide receiver from Wando High School.
SoCon rules state that teams tied atop the league with identical conference records will share the conference title. The 22nd-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 6-0) can do no worse than a tie with No. 3 Chattanooga (7-2, 5-1). That means The Citadel already can claim its first conference title since 1992 and third in school history, no matter the result of Saturday’s game at Chattanooga.
That made for a fun night at the fair for Eakins and a happy scene in Seignious Hall on Saturday night.
“I was looking at the phone on my way to the fair,” said Eakins, another senior receiver from Wando. “I was actually sitting in traffic when I saw the score. I wasn’t exactly 100 percent sure of what it meant, but I heard from my teammates after a while that it meant we won a share of the championship. That was great.”
Said Riley: “It was intense, Everybody was joyful and smiling. All we knew was that the team we were tied with had lost, and we were No. 1 in the conference.”
A share of the championship is secured, but there still is unfinished business for the Bulldogs.
A victory over Chattanooga would mean an outright SoCon title for the Bulldogs and an automatic bid to the 24-team FCS playoffs, which again would be The Citadel’s first since 1992. A loss to the Mocs means The Citadel would share the title and would need one of 14 at-large bids to make the playoffs.
“We want to make a name for ourselves in Citadel history,” said Eakins. “There’s not many Citadel teams that have won the conference and gone undefeated in the conference. That would put us at a whole other level.”
The Bulldogs met as a team Sunday afternoon and practiced in a cold rain Sunday night to begin preparations for Chattanooga, but there wasn’t much championship talk and definitely no major celebration.
“The only thing we addressed is that we talked about the pink elephant in the room, the subject we’ve been ignoring for several weeks, and that’s the meaning of this game this week,” Houston said. “The big thing for them is that this game doesn’t count any differently than any SoCon game we’ve played this season. The things that it will take to win this game are no different than what it took to win (Saturday).
“We’ve got to focus on just doing what we’ve been doing, and not trying to do more than we’ve been asking of each person.”
Starting quarterback Dominique Allen, who missed the second half of the VMI game after taking a hit to his left shoulder, was at practice Sunday night and should be ready to play, Houston said. The coach said slotback Cam Jackson, who was first to relieve Allen on Saturday before third-team QB Shon Belton took over, would get more snaps at QB this week, just in case.
“The VMI game was good for Shon, and probably good for everybody else, too,” Houston said. “We’ll probably give Cam a little more work this week, but I think you saw the time that (offensive coordinator) Brent Thompson has invested in Shon pay off against VMI.”