SPARTANBURG — Those last four passes will stick with Jordan Black and Brent Thompson for a long time.
With 25 seconds remaining, no timeouts and the ball at the Wofford 5-yard line, The Citadel had four cracks at a tying touchdown. All four of Black's passes, called by head coach Thompson, fell incomplete.
Wofford, the defending Southern Conference champion making its debut under new coach Josh Conklin, blew a three-touchdown lead before holding on for a 28-21 victory in front of 8,390 fans at Gibbs Stadium.
"It's literally a game of inches," said Black, the Bulldogs' junior quarterback who was 1 of 11 passing for 23 yards. "That's what coach tells us all the time; we were just one play away. I'm proud of our guys for fighting back. We really took it down to the end."
With no timeouts left, Thompson said four passes were the Bulldogs' best shot at forcing overtime. Black had hit Keyonte Sessions with a 23-yard strike to get The Citadel inside the Wofford 10. But his final throw, intended for Curt Nixon in the end zone, was broken up by Wofford's Devin Watson to seal the defeat.
"I felt like we had to take four shots at the end zone and had to throw it in there," said Thompson, whose team lost its SoCon opener. "In hindsight, maybe we try to run it in there, try to get up to the line of scrimmage as fast as we could.
"I'm replaying that in my mind, different scenarios. But we had pretty good opportunities to get it in there, just couldn't find an open receiver."
What went right
Citadel linebacker Noah Dawkins provided the Bulldogs' best offense, picking off two passes from Wofford QB Joe Newman. His first pick set up the Bulldog' first TD on a 10-yard run by Lorenzo Ward, who ran 20 times for 114 yards.
And Dawkins — from nearby Byrnes High School — took his second pick back 47 yards for a TD to cut Wofford's lead to 21-14 early in the third quarter.
Citadel defensive coordinator Blake Harrell made a nice adjustment at halftime, moving to a three-man front that slowed down the Terrier, who rushed for 225 of their 390 yards in the first half.
And the Bulldogs' MVP for much of the night was freshman punter Matthew Campbell, a 6-1, 227-pounder from Dacula, Ga. Campbell averaged 43.6 yards on his first five punts, landing kicks at the Wofford 5 and 12-yard lines to pin the Terriers deep. He finished with eight kicks for a 39.1 average.
What went wrong
Wofford coaching legend Mike Ayers, who retired after 30 years, 207 wins and five SoCon titles, would have recognized the big triple-option plays that gave Wofford a 21-0 lead.
Halfback Ryan Lovelace broke tackles on a 70-yard TD scamper with an option pitch, and fullback Andre Stoddard took advantage of more bad Citadel tackling for a 62-yard TD. Runs of 31 and 26 yards by quarterbacks Newman and Miller Mosley set up the Terriers' third TD for a 21-0 lead at 11:06 of the second quarter.
Mosley, a transfer from Air Force, led a 56-yard drive for Wofford's go-ahead TD with 7:48 left, on a 1-yard run by Blake Morgan.
After Dawkins' two interceptions helped the Bulldogs get to within 21-14, the Terriers made a third key mistake. A punt from Luke Carter hit teammate Donavan Anderson, with The Citadel's Sessions recovering at the Wofford 29.
Nine plays later, slotback Rod Johnson scored from 1 yard out on fourth down, tying the game at 21-21 with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs face what surely is a must-win game in their home opener next week against SoCon foe Chattanooga, a 34-10 winner over Tennessee Tech in its opener on Thursday. The Citadel can ill afford to fall to 0-2 in the SoCon.
"I'm very encouraged," said Thompson, now 15-9 at The Citadel. "We go down 21 points and we didn't tank it at all. We battled our butts off, and that shows me what kind of football team I have.
"We're young, but we're fighting our butts off in there, especially on the defensive side. We just need to put some longer drives together on offense. If we continue to improve, from week one to week two, we're going to have a good football team."