COLUMBIA — Tyler Renew pleasantly recalled his former favorite football game at Williams-Brice Stadium. It was Oct. 10, 2010.
Renew, a Columbia native, sold peanuts that afternoon, and a lot of them, as South Carolina surprised top-ranked Alabama and the college football world.
The upset of No. 1 is now No. 2 on his list. Renew ran for 174 yards and scored two touchdowns Saturday in the Citadel’s 23-22 upset of South Carolina. From start to finish, he was symbolic of Citadel perseverance stamped on one of the great seasons in program history.
“It’s just an awesome feeling to come here and have a game like that and for our team to play so well,” Renew said. “It’s so great for this team, for this program. It’s just a great momentum booster.”
The 5-11, 217-pound junior is built like a wrestler but runs like a sprinting champion, which he was at Columbia’s Ben Lippen School. Renew says a lot about Citadel depth, which has to be scary for upcoming Bulldog opponents in the FCS playoffs.
Renew entered the game as the team’s fourth-leading rusher (478 yards).
He left Williams-Brice Stadium as the top rusher against the Gamecocks this season, topping such major college stars as Georgia’s Nick Chubb (159 yards) and LSU’s Leonard Fournette (158 yards).
“Right now, it’s kind of surreal,” Renew said. “There are a lot of mixed emotions when you pull off something so big like this. But as we went throughout the week, we believed in ourselves.”
It’s been a season-long thing. Renew reminded everyone that The Citadel, 8-3, was picked to finish seventh in the Southern Conference.
“We believed as a team that we were a lot better than that,” he said. “No one believed in us, but we believed in ourselves.”
Six Citadel players combined to rush for 350 yards. A-Back Cam Jackson (109 yards on 12 carries) averaged more yards per carry (8.8) than Renew got for his 23 carries from the B-back spot.
It’s obvious the Gamecocks are not very good at stopping the run, or scoring, or winning. But easy to say the Citadel lacks talent when matched up against the big boys if you are not the ones trying to tackle a guy like Renew all day.
He was a Shrine Bowl football player in high school.
He lettered four times in basketball and was the team MVP on defense.
He lettered twice in soccer.
And the track exploits.
Stopping Renew is more difficult when he is getting blocks from offensive linemen like Michael Mabry, Sam Frye, Ryan Bednar, Kyle Weaver and Isaiah Pinson.
There is razzle-dazzle distraction provided by backfield mates Jackson, Dominique Allen, and Vinny Miller and others on any given play.
“We kept chugging along,” Renew said. “It was a great team win.”
Eventually, the Gamecocks learned how to slip blocks and maintain that ‘ol gap integrity necessary to avoid a triple-option nightmare. The Citadel after notching touchdowns on its first two possessions failed to score on five consecutive drives.
The Bulldogs countered in the fourth quarter with kicker Eric Goins’ career-long, 48-yard field goal and Renew’s 56-yard touchdown run.
It came on an up-the-middle audible call from quarterback with Dominique Allen with 6:07 left. It gave the Citadel a 23-22 lead. Renew took a few hard, charging steps forward and found himself with a clear line to a friendly goalpost.
“I was definitely surprised to see that much open space,” Renew said. “The offensive line blocked it perfectly and I just ran. That’s a credit to the offensive line.”
“That’s a kid that started out the year as a backup,” head coach Mike Houston said. “He had been a starter last year and fought his way back by doing things right.”
That the path included 174 yards against the Gamecocks isn’t just peanuts.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff