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Citadel football great's message to seniors: 'You can still write final chapter'

Jacob Godek Gage Russell

Citadel seniors Jacob Godek (86) and Gage Russell (93) are two of 19 seniors who've experienced the highs of winning at Georgia Tech and the lows of losing to rival VMI this season. AP photo 

After watching The Citadel's gut-wrenching 34-33 loss at Chattanooga last week, Brian Ruff felt a tug on his heart.

The former Bulldogs' great, a Citadel Hall of Famer and an All-American in the 1970s, was so moved that he asked coach Brent Thompson for permission to address the team this week.

His topic: Saturday's regular-season finale against Wofford, and what it would mean to the Bulldogs' 19 seniors for the rest of their lives.

"Some of them have been playing football for up to 15 years," Ruff said. "And I told them that, unless the stars line up perfectly, at the end of this week it's over and you'll never do this again.

"And I told them, you're going to miss it. This is a chapter in your life that you're going to miss. The good news is, you still have a chance to write it."

That final chapter could have been a showdown for a piece of the Southern Conference championship.

But the last-minute loss at Chattanooga eliminated the Bulldogs (6-5, 4-3) from the title chase; Wofford (7-3, 6-1) clinched a share of its third straight championship and the SoCon's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with a 24-7 win over Furman. The Terriers can claim the outright title by beating The Citadel.

Still, the Bulldogs have much to play for. Aside from an always satisfying win over rival Wofford, this Citadel team can become just the 19th in 111 years of Bulldogs football to win seven games.

And with a 7-5 record that includes wins over Georgia Tech (the only FCS win over a Power 5 team this season), Furman and Wofford, The Citadel would at least have a case for an at-large bid to the 24-team FCS playoffs.

"This is definitely a playoff team (with a win over Wofford)," said slotback Remus Bulmer, who played on playoff teams at Sam Houston State. "The teams we play against in the SoCon, this a physical, tough conference. It's not an easy conference, so I'd say yes, we can be a playoff team."

Bulmer and fellow graduate transfer Airan Reed are among the 19 seniors who will be recognized on Saturday as they play in their final home game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Among those seniors are starting offensive linemen Drew McEntyre and Denzel Wright; defensive line stalwarts Joseph Randolph II and Aaron Brawley; kicker Jacob Godek and long-snapper Patrick Keefe; linebacker Phil Davis; and backup quarterback Brian Murdaugh, who stepped in for the injured Brandon Rainey to lead the Bulldogs to victory over Charleston Southern this season.

"For most of these seniors, they were in my first recruiting class," said coach Brent Thompson. "So it's a very special class for me. I have a lot of respect for everything they've done. They've been in the good and not-so-good, and they have stuck it out and will be rewarded at the end of the day for what they've done here.

"I want to send them out on a high note against a very good Wofford team."

Wofford, under second-year coach Josh Conklin, has won seven straight FCS games since starting 0-2 while experimenting with some changes to its traditional option-style run game.

Quarterback Joe Newman averages 84.5 rushing yards per game, with running back Blake Morgan at 65 yards per game. Newman has thrown seven touchdown passes against five interceptions, but has thrown only one pick in conference play.

Running back Nathan Walker, a sophomore from Cross High School, has 353 yards and three touchdowns this season, and the Terriers' experienced offensive line is led by junior center Blake Jeresaty from Bishop England High School.


• Other Citadel seniors honored Saturday will be Stephon Eugene, Nic Trocha, Mark Weakland, Josh Roides, Charley Conley, Nick Hudgens, Rashad Riley, Elijah Lowe and Gage Russell.

• As noted this week, The Citadel's Corps of Cadets will not be required to attend Saturday's game due to Thanksgiving furlough, the first time since 2004 the Corps will have missed a game.

Wofford coach Josh Conklin acknowledged this week that Citadel officials had inquired about moving the game to Thursday so the Corps could attend.

"It wasn't out of disrespect that we didn't want to move it," Conklin told reporters this week. "For us, it comes down to preparation. They are such a difficult team to prepare for offensively and defensively and ... it could be such an important game at the end of the year.

"Those 2½ days of prep are really important to us as a program."

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