Citadel pulls away from Charleston Southern in season opener

Citadel running back Rickey Anderson hurdles a Charleston Southern defender for a short gain in their season opening match up Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012 at Sansom Field at Johnson Hagood Stadium. (Tyrone Walker/postandcourier.com)

When they stopped fumbling, The Citadel Bulldogs started scoring.

It just took them a while to stop fumbling.

The Citadel racked up four touchdowns in the third quarter alone and pulled away for a 49-14 victory over Charleston Southern before 14,264 fans Saturday night at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

For the first 30 minutes, year three of The Citadel’s move to the triple-option offense looked a lot like year one. The football was on the ground a lot, as the Bulldogs fumbled six times to help CSU forge an improbable 14-14 tie at the half.

“In any offense, six fumbles is disappointing,” said Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree, who ran for two touchdowns. “But in the end, we handled it well. We handled the adversity and did what we needed to do.”

When the Bulldogs handled the ball, they handled their business. The option cranked out seven rushing touchdowns — one shy of the school record — and 479 rushing yards, The Citadel’s most since it went for 506 against VMI in 1994.

Sixth-year slotback Rickey Anderson ran for a career-best three TDs, and fullback Darien Robinson went for 120 yards, including a 54-yard TD romp.

But with third-ranked Georgia Southern, a 58-0 winner over Jacksonville, due in Johnson Hagood next week, the Bulldogs have plenty of work to do.

“The good thing is, we executed the option real well,” coach Kevin Higgins said. “The fumbles were not as much on exchanges as they were down field, the ones that hurt us. That’s a matter of protecting the ball and being smart.

“Our guys know they didn’t play as well as they could have, and that they have work to do next week. That’s probably good with a team like Georgia Southern coming in.”

CSU, 0-11 a year ago, showed some promise with junior Malcolm Dixon at quarterback. He threw a 15-yard TD pass to Chase Jones and scrambled for a 9-yard score as the Bucs took advantage of Citadel fumbles for a 14-7 lead late in the first half.

But CSU lost two fumbles to start the third quarter, helping the Bulldogs blow the game open with three TDs in the span of 3:49 for a 35-14 lead. Dupree scored twice, on runs of 10 and 6 yards, while Robinson went straight up the gut for his 54-yard score.

“We imploded there,” said CSU coach Jay Mills. “We put the ball on the ground twice and they scored to break it open. We lost a little focus and discipline there in the second half, and we need to learn that lesson once or we are doomed to repeat it.”

The Bulldogs’ most important drive, however, came after CSU took its only lead with just 2:42 left in the first half. The Citadel drove 65 yards in just five plays, with Anderson’s 27-yard TD forging a 14-14 tie at the half.

“That said a lot about our guys,” Higgins said. “We knew Charleston Southern would give us everything they have. They were fighting and scrapping and found a way to get some turnovers. We needed to get that score in to get some momentum, and our guys responded. It was great to see that.”

The Citadel defense gave up 193 yards in the first half to the Bucs’ modified, no-huddle pistol scheme, but limited CSU to 70 yards in the second half. Defensive linemen Chris Billingslea and Colin Parsons each had sacks and forced fumbles, and safety Austin Boyle picked off a pass.

Backup QB Aaron Miller hit 3 of 5 passes for 48 yards, and freshman running back Vinny Miller impressed in his first action, with 66 yards and a 19-yard TD on eight carries.

In the end, Citadel fans could forget about fumbles, enjoy postgame fireworks and dream about upsetting Georgia Southern.

“We just need to do our assignments, really,” Anderson said. “We just need to come out with some enthusiasm and do our jobs.”