Citadel vs. Samford

A healthy Cam Jackson will be key for The Citadel in Saturday's playoff game against Wofford. (Michael Pronzato/Staff)

Near the end of Cam Jackson's 63-yard run against Samford on Saturday, Citadel play-by-play man Mike Legg's voice rose with excitement.

"And he is finally - no, he's still up!" Legg exclaimed. "Twenty, 15, 10, I can't believe that run by Cam Jackson!"

Legg was not the only one who couldn't believe that run. Jackson's 63-yard scamper – at a moment when the Bulldogs seemed dead in the water, down by 10 points with little more than five minutes to go, facing third and 7 – saved the game and The Citadel's shot at a perfect run through the Southern Conference.

Jackson's run set up the Tyler Renew touchdown that got the Bulldogs to within 34-31 with 4:24 left. Cody Clark kicked field goals to force overtime and for a 37-34 lead in OT, and Samford bounced a field goal off the left upright as The Citadel (9-0, 7-0) clinched at least a share of a second straight SoCon title and an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs.

The Citadel, ranked No. 6 in the FCS Coaches Poll, can clinch the outright SoCon championship with a win Saturday at VMI (3-6, 1-5).

When the story of the Bulldogs' 2016 season is written, Jackson's run will take its place alongside Kailik Williams' "Pitch Six" return for a TD against Wofford as among the biggest plays in a season chock full of them.

"We were just saying 'We've got to come together and make big plays,'" Jackson, a 6-2, 205-pound junior from Mobile, Ala., said after the game. "And that's what we did. I just wanted it. I didn't want to be stopped, and I wanted to win this football game."

It wasn't just the timing of Jackson's run that made it special. The play seemed like it was over several times, but with help from his teammates, Jackson kept going. The play lasted a remarkable 17 seconds.

Citadel coach Brent Thompson compared it to Georgia Southern fullback Adrian Peterson's legendary 58-yard run in the 1999 FCS championship game against Youngstown State.

"Just a tremendous amount of absolute toughness," Citadel coach Brent Thompson said. "If you remember, Cam sat out a couple of plays in the first half after taking a blow. He came back, battled back and ripped off a huge run that really set us up."

Renew, the Bulldogs' senior fullback, ran 45 times for 285 yards and three touchdowns against Samford. But Samford had actually done a pretty good job against the rest of the Bulldogs' triple option, holding Jackson, slotback Reggie Williams and quarterback Dominique Allen to a modest 115 yards on 31 carries, outside of Jackson's long run.

But The Citadel, down 34-24 and facing third-and-7 at its own 31, was finally able to break an option pitch to the outside. Allen, running to his left, pitched to Jackson, and the play got to the edge when Williams cleared out a Samford defensive back. Jackson cut up the sideline, then cut back to his right at about the Samford 45.

Racing diagonally across the field with 6-3, 255-pound tackle Nick Jeffreys out in front, Jackson stiff-armed a Samford tackler, then shook him off with help from receiver Rudder Brown. Jackson dashed back to his left and looked like he might score before he was finally cut down at the Samford 6.

It was one of those madcap dashes that cries out for a speeded-up video and a zany soundtrack.

"To make a play like when we needed it, it was just a Cam thing," Renew said. "As long as he's been here, he makes plays where you just say, 'Wow.'

"For me, it was one of the best runs I've ever seen live. He's running this way, then he turns back. The determination to not get tackled, to put the team on your back and do everything you can to continue to fight for yardage, it was absolutely awesome."

Notes

• VMI quarterback Al Cobb, the Keydets' career passing leader, was injured against Furman two weeks ago and did not play in last week's 32-29 loss at Western Carolina. Redshirt freshman Austin Coulling started in his place and hit 18 of 25 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown, with three interceptions.

"I thought Austin Coulling played his tail off and gave us a chance to win the game and really fought hard the entire game," VMI coach Scott Wachenheim said after the game.

• The Citadel plans to bus first-year cadets ("knobs") to the VMI game. The knobs also attended the Bulldogs' 24-21 overtime win at Wofford this year.

• The FCS playoff selection committee's latest rankings are due out Thursday. The Bulldogs were ranked sixth last week. The top eight teams receive a first-round bye. Selection Sunday is set for Nov. 20.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at (843) 937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC