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A referee breaks up a skirmish between Citadel and Furman players last year at Johnson Hagood Stadium. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

It wasn't exactly the Silver Shako, but The Citadel did come away with a prize after its "must-win" victory over Western Carolina on Saturday.

Bulldogs linebacker Gunner Covey, nephew of WCU coach Mark Speir, won a bet with his uncle — a cowboy hat signed by country music stars Brooks and Dunn.

"He loved the hat and said, 'If we win this year, I get the hat,'" Covey said. "It's all fun and games, but I'm glad I get to keep the hat."

That's right, there were actual jokes made in the interview room after the 35-17 win over Western Carolina snapped a two-game Citadel slide. Quarterback Brandon Rainey brought guard Drew McEntyre with him to share the spotlight of TV cameras. And with Rainey listening, Thompson needled the QB about "overthrowing" receiver Raleigh Webb on a 39-yard TD pass.

Covey's cowboy hat won't take the place of the coveted Silver Shako, which The Citadel surrendered to rival VMI two weeks ago. But the win over struggling Western Carolina definitely lightened the burden on Bulldog shoulders as they head into yet another rivalry game this week at No. 8-ranked Furman.

"Going into Furman week, we really needed that," Citadel coach Brent Thompson said during his weekly news conference on Monday. "We couldn't have gone through another miserable week right here. You need a little bit of life to keep these guys going."

The Bulldogs' 3-4 season has already been a grind, with a week on the road due to Hurricane Dorian, an emotional upset victory at Georgia Tech, a four-overtime loss at Samford in The Citadel's longest game ever, and the loss of the Silver Shako to military school rival VMI. The Citadel and VMI are the only Southern Conference teams yet to enjoy a bye week.

Now comes Furman (4-2, 3-0 in the SoCon), the third of four foes that can be considered "rivals" of the Bulldogs, and probably the best team The Citadel will play this season.

That's one or two more rivals than most schools can claim, which begs the question: Does The Citadel have too many rivalry games?

During my weekly chat with former Citadel offensive lineman Kyle Weaver (esteemed host of The Citadel Grayline), I asked Kyle to rank the Bulldogs' various rivals in football.

Weaver, who played on The Citadel's Southern Conference championship teams in 2015 and 2016, went with Wofford, Charleston Southern, Furman and VMI in roughly that order.

Ask another Bulldog, and you might get the same four teams in a different order.

I asked Thompson if he liked having that many rivalry games, or if it was all a bit much.

"I don't think we have many friends," Thompson said. "Every time I turn around, we're in a rivalry game. I kind of like it. We've been playing football for a long time and we've been playing in the SoCon a long time, so we've got regional foes and teams we've been playing for a long time."

Thompson's take on the rivalry rank:

"CSU, we've got close proximity and we've had some battles and played in the playoffs," he said. "Wofford, we were on the lopsided end of a 16-game streak, but we've slowly brought it back around and have had some really good games with those guys. VMI, obviously it's a rivalry again now when you win 12 straight years and then lose it. We will circle that one on the calendar."

Furman, which owns a record of 60-35-3 against The Citadel, is the Bulldogs' longest standing rivalry, dating back to 1913. Saturday's game will be the 99th meeting between the two teams, which have evenly split the last 10 games, with Furman winning the last two.

"Purple makes me puke," is the mantra of Citadel fans during Furman week, but the Bulldogs' performance the last time they went to Greenville was just as retch-inducing.

"We played horribly, one of our worst games since I've been here," said Thompson, referring to a 56-20 loss in 2017. "That doesn't sit too well with me, so we want to make sure we go up there this time and play a little bit better."


• Citadel linebacker Marquise Blount was named the SoCon defensive player of the week on Monday. Blount, a 6-3, 223-pound sophomore from Charlotte, was credited with nine tackles, with two for loss and 1½ sacks, in the win over WCU.

Blount recorded his first sack on WCU's final drive just one play after the Catamounts reached the red zone. Two plays later, he teamed up with Gunner Covey for another sack that set up a 4th-and-25.

• In postgame statistics, The Citadel was credited with four sacks against Western Carolina, all on the Catamounts' final drive. But film review revealed the Bulldogs actually had six sacks on the Catamounts' last series. Joseph Randolph II got one of the extra sacks (giving him two for the game) and Dalton Owens was credited with the other.

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

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