If any one thing is emblematic of The Citadel's season thus far, it was the sight of that football curling just inches outside the upright Saturday at Georgia Southern.
The missed field goal with 13 seconds to play left the Bulldogs on the wrong end of a 14-12 score against the third-ranked Eagles, and was the latest in a series of near-misses that have marked The Citadel's season.
The Bulldogs also have lost by three points to Elon (in overtime), by seven to No. 8 Appalachian State and by 10 to Furman, ranked No. 21 in FCS this week.
That's four defeats by a gut-wrenching total of 22 points.
"It's bittersweet," said senior offensive tackle Tyler Thornton. "We see how much progress we've made, and we can see the future for the guys who will be back. We're that close, and I know we've been saying that for a while.
"It's frustrating, but it also makes us want to work harder to get the wins."
The Bulldogs (4-5, 2-5 Southern Conference) aren't into moral victories, but can also see progress after losing seven SoCon games by an average of 18.7 points last season.
"Yes, it's frustrating," said senior defensive tackle Quintin Turner. "But I feel like it's a step for our program in the right direction. In a few years, we'll turn those close losses into victories as our program continues to grow."
That's one reason a victory over Samford (5-4, 3-4) in the final home game of the season Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium would mean so much. Statistics are nice, but nothing solidifies the perception of an improved team like victory.
"I really think the team has progressed and grown, especially in the second half of the season," Thornton said. "Having a win here in this last home game would definitely put things into perspective, going into next week and into next season."
With the number of freshmen and sophomores playing key roles on this team (23 on the two-deep), coach Kevin Higgins said learning how to win close games is part of the process.
"These guys know they are really close," Higgins said at his weekly news conference Monday. "It's our second year in the triple option, and these guys can see how much different it looks than last year. And the exciting thing is that there are so many sophomores playing in it now.
"That four-letter word hope is always present, because they've tasted some of that now."
--Saturday's game with Samford is the SoCon TV Network Game of the Week, with former voice of The Citadel Darren Goldwater working the broadcast ... Linebacker Jeremy Buncum missed the Georgia Southern game with injury, but should be back for this week's game ... Slotback Dalton Trevino (collarbone) will not return this week, Higgins said.
Who: Samford (5-4, 3-4) at The Citadel (4-5, 2-5)
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium
TV: SoCon Network
Bulldogs so close, yet so far