SPARTANBURG — Wofford games begin with the stern-faced visage of coach Mike Ayers staring down from the 22-foot high videoboard behind the north end zone at Gibbs Stadium.
“This is Wofford football!” Ayers intones as his players take the field.
The Terriers played just enough Wofford football on Saturday to end The Citadel’s slim hopes for a share of the Southern Conference title, hanging on for a 24-21 victory before 9,658 fans.
Wofford’s 14th straight victory over The Citadel put the Bulldogs at 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the SoCon. Since a 3-0 start that included wins over FCS top 10 teams Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, the Bulldogs have lost four of five games.
“It’s disappointing,” said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, whose team hosts Elon next week before going to VMI and Furman. “But we still have a shot at a winning season. And if we play really well the next three weeks, you never know, a chance at the playoffs.”
All-America fullback Eric Breitenstein ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns for No. 8 Wofford (7-1, 6-1 SoCon), but needed 23 carries to do it. The Citadel’s defense, led by James Riley, a true freshman making his first start at linebacker, stoned the Terriers’ powerful triple option in the second half, forcing four straight punts. Wofford finished with 283 rushing yards, but only 89 after halftime.
“I promise you, I knew it was coming,” Ayers said of the close call. “Those Citadel guys, you don’t beat App and Georgia Southern and not have confidence. They came in here bound and determined to get it done. It was just one or two plays that made the difference.”
Those two plays happened near the end of the first half, when Bulldogs defensive end Bay Amrhein fielded a bouncing kickoff and fumbled as he was tackled. The Citadel’s defense held, and 6-5 kick-blocking specialist Domonic Jones leaped to get his right forearm on a 42-yard field goal try by Kasey Redfern.
Somehow, the kick wobbled into the wind and over the crossbar, good for a 24-7 halftime lead and the eventual winning margin.
“I was in shock,” said Jones, who also scored The Citadel’s first TD on a 23-yard pass from Ben Dupree.
That field goal — and a 39-yard miss by The Citadel’s Thomas Warren in the second quarter — became huge after the Bulldogs cut a 24-7 halftime deficit to 24-21 early in the fourth quarter.
The Citadel stopped Wofford on fourth down and fullback Darien Robinson popped a 44-yard TD run to cut the lead to 24-14 midway through the third. Robinson finished with 85 yards on just nine carries as The Citadel rushed for 272.
After a Wofford punt, and Dupree turned in two key plays to get the Bulldogs back in it. On third-and-2, the shifty QB looked like he was down, but he rolled over the would-be tackler and sprinted 24 yards to the Wofford 41. Four plays later, Dupree scrambled for 15 yards, setting up slotback Van Dyke Jones for a 5-yard TD that cut the lead to 24-21 with 14:54 to play.
The Bulldogs got the ball back thrice more, but couldn’t advance past their own 46, forced to punt twice. Dupree and backup QB Aaron Miller were 4 for 9 for just 23 yards on the last three drives.
That left Citadel seniors pondering a career without a win over Wofford.
“It’s not them,” Domonic Jones said. “It’s us.”
Follow Jeff Hartsell on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC