BOONE, N.C. — After a second upset of a top 10 team in as many weeks, Citadel coach Kevin Higgins had to go big with his post-game victory speech.
“Here’s what you just did,” Higgins told the assembled Bulldogs after an incredible 52-28 trouncing of FCS powerhouse Appalachian State on Saturday. “You just shocked the world!”
Shock seems just about the right word for the emotion in Kidd Brewer Stadium, where 7th-ranked App State had won 18 straight games and had not lost to The Citadel since 1992.
By halftime, the App State faithful among the 24,137 on hand had booed the home team twice and began streaming toward the parking lots. A hardy band of about 200 Citadel supporters hung around to high-five an impromptu conga line of Bulldog players when the game was over.
“It did feel a little bit unreal,” said quarterback Ben Dupree, who ran for a career-best 180 yards and two touchdowns, on sprints of 57 and 46 yards. “But I want to say it felt like practice a little bit. We practice hard, and then we came to the game, and it just felt like practice.”
App State’s vaunted defense offered little more resistance than a scout team might. The Bulldogs racked up 618 yards — their most ever in a regulation game — and put three runners over the 100-yard mark for the first time since 1998. Fullback Darien Robinson went for 113 yards with a 45-yard TD, and slotback Rickey Anderson had 102 yards and a TD.
Passing? Sure. Dupree and backup QB Aaron Miller combined to go 4 of 6 for 155 yards, with former QB Matt Thompson catching three balls for 123 yards.
With back-to-back wins over top 10 teams — The Citadel upset No. 3 Georgia Southern, 23-21, last week — the No. 23 Bulldogs are 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the Southern Conference for the first time since 1992.
That season, all good Citadel fans know, is the last time the Bulldogs won a SoCon title and made the FCS playoffs. Suddenly, all that seems within reach for a team that won four games last year and was picked to finish eighth in the SoCon this season.
“The sky’s the limit,” Dupree said. “Our first goal is to make the playoffs and win the SoCon, and we’re not there yet. We’ve got to take it one game at a time, but we’ll get there.”
App State (1-2, 0-1) looked sluggish and ill-prepared after last week’s emotional, 35-27 win over FCS power Montana. It was App’s worst loss to an FCS foe since a 54-7 loss to Georgia Southern in 2004.
“It was a long afternoon,” App State coach Jerry Moore said. “Didn’t seem like it was ever going to be over. The Citadel is a good football team, and they played really, really hard.”
The Bulldogs dominated every phase, leading by 45-7 before App State managed three late scores. Sophomore linebacker Carson Smith intercepted a pass, and scooped and scored on Domonic Jones’ second blocked kick of the season (and seventh in two years), a blocked punt in the second quarter.
Dupree was clutch as the Bulldogs converted 11 of 14 third-down chances. His 32-yard pass to Jones — on a route similar to the one Jones scored on vs. GSU — on third-and-10 set up the first score, a 4-yard run by Anderson.
On the next series, App State defenders had Dupree hemmed in on third-and-9. But the 5-9, 185-pound junior wriggled out of trouble, cut to his left and ran 57 yards for a TD and a 14-0 lead.
“I went to cut back and didn’t see any receivers open,” Dupree said. “I just read the blocks, and when I get into the open field, nobody can catch me.”
The Bulldogs built a 31-0 lead before App State’s Steven Miller managed a TD with 3:50 left in the half. But Dupree squashed any hope of a comeback with a 46-yard TD jaunt, making it 38-7 at the half.
“That run was critical,” Higgins said. “We really stressed being fundamentally sound and not letting up, no matter the score. I felt like we did that.”
Now, The Citadel faces N.C. State and is gunning for its first win over an FBS squad since — you guessed it — 1992.
“Some of our best stuff,” Higgins said in the locker room, “is still to come.”