The Citadel’s recent football games with Georgia Southern have been full of heartbreak for the Bulldogs.
But Thomas Warren’s 37-yard field goal with 35.5 seconds left, lifting the Bulldogs to a 23-21 upset victory over the third-ranked Eagles before 12,299 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium, might have made up for all of that.
Warren, a senior from Bishop England High School, booted three field goals and Georgia Southern missed a 31-yarder at the buzzer, giving the Bulldogs their biggest win in eight years under coach Kevin Higgins.
The Bulldogs’ backup quarterback, Aaron Miller, completed a 20-yard pass to Greg Adams on 4th-and-14 to set up Warren’s game-winner.
Georgia Southern got a 53-yard kickoff return from J.J. Wilcox to give the Eagles one last chance. But kicker Ryan Nowicki pulled his 31-yard try wide to the left, setting off a wild celebration on the field and in the stands as the Bulldogs improved to 2-0.
Georgia Southern (1-1) converted a crazy 4th-and-6 and scored a go-ahead TD on a 1-yard run by quarterback Ezayi Youyoute for a 21-20 lead touchdown with 3:13 left.
His TD was set up by a wild play when the Eagles faced 4th-and-6 at The Citadel’s 35. Slotback Jerick McKinnon took a handoff and moved to his right, attempting to pitch to another back. A Citadel defender batted the ball, but McKinnon snatched the ball out of their air and scrambled seven yards for the crucial first down.
Warren’s second field goal of the game, a 39-yarder in a steady rain, gave The Citadel a 20-14 lead with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs got off to the start of Higgins’ dreams, recovering two GSU fumbles and converting them into quick touchdowns for a 14-0 lead.
Safeties Davis Boyle and Nick Willis teamed for the first one, Boyle forcing a Swope fumble and Willis recovering at the Eagles’ 28. On 4th-and-1, slotback Rickey Anderson took a pitch right and, behind superb blocking, rambled 19 yards for a TD with 8:50 left in the first quarter.
Just two plays later, GSU slotback Jonathan Bryant dropped a pitch, tackle Justin Oxendine falling on the ball for The Citadel at the Eagles’ 39. Junior quarterback Ben Dupree found receiver Dominic Jones on the right sideline, and Jones spun away from cornerback Valdon Cooper for a 26-yard TD. The first TD pass of Dupree’s career gave The Citadel a stunning 14-0 lead less than nine mintues into the game.
Inevitably, GSU fought back behind Swope, who ran for 98 yards on 17 carries in the first half. He keyed TD drives of 65 and 75 yards as the Eagles tied it at 14-14 on Jerick McKinnon’s 8-yard run and Swope’s own 2-yard dive.
Citadel QB Aaron Miller answered by hitting Van Dyke Jones on a 26-yard pass. But Dominic Jones, coming wide open on a post pattern for a TD, let a Miller pass bounce off his hands. The Bulldogs had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Warren for a 17-14 lead with 2:39 left in the half.
Dominic Jones, a 6-5 senior, made up for the missed TD by blocking a 31-yard field goal try by the Eagles Ryan Nowicki at the halftime buzzer, preserving the Bulldogs’ 17-14 lead.
The Citadel is at Appalachian State next week.