For the first half hour of The Citadel's season opener Saturday night, Bulldog fans must have been having flashbacks.
Looking a lot like last year's squad, the Bulldogs fumbled three times in the first quarter and quickly fell behind by nine points to Jacksonville. But it didn't faze sophomore quarterback Ben Dupree.
"I wasn't worried at all," said Dupree, who ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns as The Citadel scored 31 straight points for a 31-9 win before 12,099 fans. "Stuff like that happens in every game. I don't think about last year at all -- not at all."
Dupree steadied the Bulldogs with second-quarter TD runs of 58 and 28 yards, and year two of The Citadel's triple-option attack began with 439 rushing yards, the Dogs' most since 1994.
"I was just happy that after we put the ball on the ground a few times, we kept our poise," said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, who began his seventh season. "They stuck with the game plan, and we were able to finally get it going."
The Bulldogs' defense, flashing a 3-4 look most of the night, bottled
up a Jacksonville offense that ranked No. 1 in FCS during a 10-1 season last year.
Quarterback Josh McGregor hit 21 of 33 passes for 208 yards, but accounted for no touchdowns and was sacked five times.
"They came in with a big offensive line and expecting to get a good look on us," said defensive tackle Derek Douglas, who had two sacks and recovered a fumble.
"We have a real multiple defense this year, and it's real exciting."
Only a 45-14 loss to Appalachian State kept Jacksonville from the FCS playoffs last year, but this loss might already have torpedoed the Dolphins' chances this season.
"We played about as bad a football game as we could, especially on the offensive side of the ball," said coach Kerwin Bell. "We just didn't have a chance and I have to take blame for that. We've got to understand that we are not the No. 1 team on offense this year."
A muffed punt handed the Dolphins an early TD, and they tacked on a field goal for a 9-0 lead late in the first quarter. But Dupree's 58-yard TD sprint on an option keeper did a lot to calm nerves on the sidelines and in the stands.
"I've watched him in practice forever doing that," Higgins said. "But he hasn't been able to do that in a game. It was neat to see him bring the spark today. And there's still so much he has to learn."
After sophomore fullback Darien Robinson broke off a 44-yard run, Dupree snaked through a tiny hole, juked a defender and went 28 yards for a TD and a 14-9 lead with 1:12 left in the half.
Another big run, a 57-yard jaunt on a reverse by senior receiver Kevin Hardy, set up a 30-yard field goal by Ryan Sellers for a 17-9 lead in the third.
A Jacksonville fumble, recovered by Douglas, led to Robinson's 1-yard TD for a 24-9 lead late in the third.
The Bulldogs blew it open in the fourth, as Dupree hit Van Dyke Jones for 21 yards and Dalton Trevino rambled for 28 to set up his own 7-yard TD for a 31-9 lead.