Citadel loses a heartbreaker on Senior Day, 20-17 to Samford

by:Jeff Hartsell
Nov 15 2014

Citadel quarterback Aaron Miller stood with his helmet tucked under his left arm, staring straight ahead at the Corps of Cadets in the stands. After he finished singing the alma mater, the senior looked backed at the scoreboard before walking off the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium for the final time as a player.

What he saw on that scoreboard hurt. Despite holding the Southern Conference’s best offense two touchdowns below its average; despite scoring a go-ahead TD with less than two minutes to play; despite getting Samford to fourth-and-10 with 51 seconds left; despite all that, The Citadel lost, 20-17, before 7,638 fans at Johnson Hagood. Miller’s glance at the scoreboard and the silence in The Citadel’s locker room confirmed that 11 seniors would not have a victory in their final home game to remember, and that they will go out this season with a losing record. The Citadel is 4-7 overall and 2-4 in the Southern Conference with just next week’s game at VMI left to play.

“I take a loss pretty hard,” said Miller, who ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns, including a 4-yard score for a 17-13 lead with just 1:57 left. “I know it’s too late to change anything, but I always look at the scoreboard and think about what I might have done better, how it might have been different.” For first-year coach Mike Houston, there was not too much The Citadel might have done differently, save for two plays on Samford’s game-winning drive. Samford quarterback Michael Eubank, a 6-6, 246-pound transfer from Arizona State, completed throws of 29 yards on fourth-and-10 and 26 yards to The Citadel’s 2-yard line, setting up Denzel Williams’ game-winning TD with 17 seconds to play. “Our team went out and executed our game plan exactly the way we needed them to all day long,” an emotional Houston said. “They made the plays they needed to make. So for it not to go our way at the end, that’s pretty tough.”

The 20 points by Samford (7-3, 5-2) matched its lowest output of the season against an FCS opponent, and its 360 yards were its second-lowest against an FCS team. Samford had averaged 45 points in its last three games, all victories. Citadel fullback Tyler Renew ran for 102 yards on 23 carries as The Citadel out-gained Samford, 419-360, and held the ball for 37:42 to 22:18 for Samford.

But when The Citadel’s defense needed it most, it could not stop Eubank, who hit 18 of 28 passes for 228 yards and a TD. On 4th and 10 from his own 43, Eubank found Karel Hamilton, the SoCon’s top receiver, between two defenders for 29 yards and a first down. On the next play, Eubank avoided pressure and hit his check-down receiver, Robert Clark, who rumbled 26 yards to the 2. “We knew right where the ball was going on the fourth-down play,” Houston said. “He’s the leading receiver in the conference, and we had over-and-under coverage on him. He made a great play and out-leaped the defender for the ball and the first down. “It’s a tough deal,” Houston said. “Person for person, Samford is as talented as anybody in our league. Our kids, honestly, they outplayed them today and should have won the ball game.”

The Citadel’s 11 seniors were honored before the game, heartbroken after it. “Not being able to close out this game, with the significance of this day, it really hurts,” said senior defensive end Justin Oxendine, who had The Citadel’s lone sack. “The emotions are going to spew out, I can feel it. To have them clamped down all day and then not be able to cut it on that last possession, that really hurts.”

The game was tied at 7-7 going into the fourth quarter, right where The Citadel pulled out recent wins over Mercer and Furman. Eric Goins’ 30-yard field goal gave The Citadel a 10-7 lead with 12:39 left, but that came after an illegal-shift penalty wiped out what would have been a 13-yard TD run by Vinny Miller.
Samford responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive, with freshman Krondis Larry scoring from 14 yards out on a quick-snap trick play for a 13-10 lead with 8:39 to go. Aaron Miller somehow found Vinny Miller for 21 yards on fourth-and-3 at the Samford 38, setting up his own 4-yard TD for a 17-13 lead with 1:57 left. As the scoreboard confirmed minutes later, it wasn’t enough.

“I just wish our kids would have had a different memory on Senior Day,” Houston said. “But the thing I will remember is the way they played this game, the way led this team and the kind of character they have.”

Freshman slotback Reggie Williams made his season debut, running three times for 3 yards. Injuries to Cam Jackson, Dalton Trevino and Jonathan Dorogy forced The Citadel to burn Williams’ redshirt … Safety Nick Willis (ankle) also did not play.

The Citadel welcomed Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, famed author Pat Conroy, baseball’s Rodney Hancock and Hank Kraft, football’s Mike Davitt and wrestling’s Dan Thompson into its athletics Hall of Fame … Seniors who played their final home games included Aaron Miller, Oxendine, Julian Baxter, Victor Hill, Cam Mobley, Rah Muhamamd, Carl Robinson, Walker Smith, Jake Stenson, Kevin Thornton and Dalton Trevino.


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