CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Smiles, hugs and rushing yards.
Those had become rare commodities around Citadel football in the last month. All were restored Saturday as the Bulldogs snapped a three-game losing skid by rushing for 405 yards in a 20-14 victory over Chattanooga before 7,521 fans at Finley Stadium.
Safety Aron Spann clinched the win with an end-zone interception with 70 seconds left, and The Citadel (4-3, 2-3 Southern Conference) kept alive its hopes for a winning record and shot at an FCS playoff bid.
It's not quite the same as a third straight SoCon championship, but after consecutive losses to Samford, Mercer and Wofford, the Bulldogs will take it.
“It was a great feeling,” said Spann, who had two of The Citadel's three interceptions.
“It's feels great to get back in the win column,” said quarterback Dominique Allen, who threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Josh LeBlanc and ran for 88 yards on 13 carries.
“It definitely feels good, because it's been three weeks,” said slotback Grant Drakeford, who led the Bulldogs with 97 yards on just eight carries.
Jacob Godek rallied from missing his first two field goals to make crucial kicks of 45 and 34 yards in the second half, and slotback Rod Johnson scored the go-ahead points with a 4-yard TD late in the third quarter.
It all added up to a dominating edge on the stat sheet, if not on the scoreboard. The Citadel ran 72 plays for 444 yards to 50 for 298 for Chattanooga (1-7, 1-4) and held the ball for more than 37 minutes.
“I challenged them a little bit at halftime,” said coach Brent Thompson. “I didn't think we gave it our best first half of football. But we came back in the second half and played excellent defense and played really good on offense.”
Chattanooga running back Darrell Bridges ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns, including a 61-yarder, as the Mocs took a 14-7 lead at halftime. But he managed only 25 yards in the second half, and The Citadel harried freshman quarterback Cole Copeland into 17 of 31 passing for 155 yards with three interceptions.
“We just played harder,” Spann said of the Bulldogs' second-half shutout. “We wrapped up better, read our keys. It really was just an effort thing with that.”
Trailing 14-7 at the half, The Citadel opened the second half with a 46-yard drive resulting in Godek's 45-yard field goal to cut the gap to 14-10. Godek had missed tries of 51 and 27 yards in the first half.
Drakeford's 35-yard run and a 15-yard penalty for a horsecollar tackle keyed a 95-yard drive for The Citadel, with Johnson scoring from 4 yards out for a 17-14 lead with 1:51 to play in the third quarter.
A career-long 54-yard run by Allen set up Godek's 34-yard field goal for 20-14 with 11:39 left.
But the Mocs had one last chance left, taking over with 3:18 to play. Copeland hit Bingo Morton for 31 yards, and Chattanooga drove to The Citadel's 11 with 1:26 left.
The Bulldogs survived four plays from there. Pressure from Noah Dawkins and then Ja'Lon Williams forced incompletions, and Tyus Carter broke up a fade pass in the left corner.
On fourth down, Spann stepped in front of a Copeland pass in the middle of the end zone with 1:10 left.
Now, the Bulldogs return home to face 0-8 VMI, a 26-7 loser to Western Carolina on Saturday, with the coveted Silver Shako on the line.
“Hopefully, this sets the tone for the next three or four games coming up,” Allen said. “But our only focus now is VMI.”