Citadel quarterback Dominique Allen held the Silver Shako aloft, then brought it down and planted a kiss on the coveted trophy.
Winning the Military Classic of the South, and retaining the Shako, is never to be taken for granted at The Citadel, no matter how many points the Bulldogs left on the field.
“When you pull out a victory like that, it always feels good,” Allen said after The Citadel's 21-3 win over VMI before 11,609 homecoming fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday. “Especially when it's against your archrival.”
For the second straight week, The Citadel's triple option offense piled up more than 400 rushing yards but again had trouble converting those yards into points.
Fullback Brandon Rainey had his long-awaited breakthrough with 125 yards on 16 carries, and slotback Grant Drakeford and backup fullback Lorenzo Ward turned in TD runs of 71 and 45 yards, respectively. Allen added 80 yards with a 1-yard TD.
But The Citadel came up empty on four of five trips inside the VMI 20-yard line, missing three field goals (with a fourth blocked) and failing to come down with a couple of would-be touchdown catches.
It's a season-long problem the Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3 Southern Conference) will have to fix in the next two weeks as they face No. 20 Western Carolina and resurgent Furman in games that will determine the tenor of coach Brent Thompson's second season.
“There were a couple of times we got inside the red zone and shot ourselves in the foot,” said Thompson, whose team totaled 407 rushing yards against VMI (0-9, 0-8) and 405 in last week's 20-14 win at Chattanooga. “We had some opportunities to put the ball in the end zone, and that's kind of been our Achilles' heel all season. And that's something we are usually pretty good at.”
After surrendering a 56-yard drive and 37-yard field goal on VMI's opening drive, the Bulldogs' defense shut down the Keydets the rest of the way.
The Citadel sacked VMI QB Duncan Hodges five times and picked off him off once as Bulldogs safety Aron Spann III made his third interception in two games and SoCon-best fifth of the season.
The Citadel held VMI to 219 total yards, the fifth time in eight games the Bulldogs have held the opponent to under 300 yards. VMI's three points were the fewest allowed by The Citadel in Thompson's 20 games as the Bulldogs' coach.
“We studied a lot of film on these guys and knew they'd try a lot of trick plays,” Spann said. “We wanted to bring it to them today, because they are our rival. We wanted to dominate, and I felt like we did that today on defense.”
It was a different story on offense, despite the quick start provided by Drakeford's 71-yard TD jaunt just four minutes into the game, the longest run of his career.
Kicker Jacob Godek had a nightmarish game, missing field goals of 33, 35 and 22 yards and having a 23-yarder blocked. He's now 4 of 12 on the season after going 2 of 4 last week at Chattanooga.
“Jacob knows the scenario, and it's out there for everybody to see,” Thompson said. “He'll get it figured out and be back out there banging them through. He's got a strong leg and is a great competitor.”
The Citadel had other chances. A false-start penalty on third-and-1 at the VMI 16 preceeded Godek's miss from 35 yards in the third quarter; Josh LeBlanc couldn't handle an Allen pass in the end zone on third down from the VMI 5, and Godek missed from 22 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Allen fumbled a snap on first down at the VMI 7; LeBlanc had a TD pass bounce off his hands on third down; and Godek's 23-yard try was blocked.
“We have to get better red-zone production,” Allen said. “We've got to put points on the board. Running for 400 yards says a lot, but when you don't put points on the board, there's sort of nothing behind it.”
That's a problem for next week. For 24 hours, at least, the Bulldogs could celebrate their 11th straight win over VMI.
“It was an outstanding effort by VMI,” Thompson said. “Those guys fought their butts off all game long. They are just like us, they fight very hard.
“We wanted to make sure the Shako stayed in Charleston. It's something we talked about all week, and this was a game that we circle on our calendar every year.”