Citadel clinches share of SoCon title, retains Silver Shako

The 'Dogs retained the Silver Shako!

The ‘Dogs retained the Silver Shako!

Jeff Hartsell Postandcourier.com
Nov 7 2015 6:01 pm

Photos by Paul Zoeller/P&CStaff

At long last, Citadel players were able to end their postgame celebration by shouting, “Beat Chattanooga!”
and that was with full approval from coach Mike Houston. “You bet your rear end it was,” a jubilant Houston said after a 35-14 homecoming win over VMI before a season-high crowd of 14,925 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Bulldogs’ fifth straight victory kept the coveted Silver Shako — which goes to the winner of the Military Classic of the South — in Charleston, and set up a showdown at Chattanooga next week for the outright Southern Conference championship.

The Bulldogs clinched a share of the SoCon title — their first since 1992 — later Saturday night when Mercer upset the No. 3 Mocs, 17-14. Chattanooga fell to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the SoCon. The Citadel can claim the outright title and the SoCon’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with a win next Saturday; Chattanooga can still grab a share of the title and get the auto bid if it beats The Citadel.“Chattanooga was the hands-down favorite to repeat,” Houston said. “Everybody figured we’d finish last or next-to-last. So what do we have to lose? We’re going in there to win it.”

Eric Goins kicked a school-record five field goals and defenders Quinlan Washington and Tevin Floyd returned interceptions for touchdowns as the Bulldogs beat VMI for the ninth straight time. Starting quarterback Dominique Allen sat out the second half with an injured shoulder, but said he will play against Chattanooga.

After ignoring the looming Chattanooga showdown — at Houston’s insistence — for the last few weeks, the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs (7-2, 6-0) are now free to focus on defeating the Mocs. “When I took the job two years ago, I said the goal was to build something that would compete for the Southern Conference championship regularly,” said Houston, now 12-9 at The Citadel. “The players’ buy-in to what we are doing, they way they trust us and play together, that’s why we are in the situation we are in. I’m blessed to have incredible kids, and that’s why we are where we are.”

The win over VMI, which played without top SoCon passer Al Cobb, guarantees the Bulldogs at least a 7-4 overall record and 6-1 SoCon mark this season. The Citadel plays at South Carolina on Nov. 21 to end the regular season. That record, along with a SoCon co-championship, would merit strong consideration for an at-large berth, Citadel athletic director Jim Senter said. “I would hope that people would respect the SoCon enough that they would give us serious consideration,” said Senter, who added that he plans to submit bids for first and second-round games should the Bulldogs make the playoffs for the fourth time in school history.

With VMI’s Cobb out for “undisclosed medical reasons,” The Citadel came after backup QB Hayden Alford with a vengeance, sacking him twice and picking him off four times. Washington had two picks, taking one 72 yards for a TD and a 14-0 lead early in the game. Floyd’s 75-yard return with seven seconds left iced the win at 35-14, and safetly Malik Diggs also picked off a pass, giving The Citadel 17 interceptions this season.

Washington turned in another key play after VMI had cut the lead to 20-14 with 11:47 to play. He timed perfectly a safety blitz, belting Alford to force a fumble recovered by Kevin Graham at midfield. Third-team QB Shon Belton passed 39 yards to Jorian Jordan, and Goins’ 20-yard field goal made it 23-14. Goins added two more field goals for a 29-14 lead.

Settling for five field goals indicates The Citadel had some red-zone problems, and penalties (11 for 98 yards) and ball-handling issues (four fumbles, three lost) were some of those. So was the loss of Allen, who went out late in the first half after taking a hit on the left shoulder. Slotback Cam Jackson got first crack at replacing Allen before Belton finished out the game. But with ice wrapped around his shoulder after the game, Allen said he will play against Chattanooga.

“I took a shot on that one play, but I think I will be straight next week for Chattanooga,” he said. “It’s a big game for us, and I will be back and ready to go.”

The Citadel dominated statistically, rushing for 326 yards as Jackson totaled 100 yards on 12 carries, including a 68-yard TD on the Bulldogs’ third play. Allen hit 3 of 8 passes for 75 yards and Belton 2 of 3 for 50 as The Citadel out-gained VMI, 460-213.
“It was frustrating what we couldn’t knock them out,” Houston said. “But at halftime, with Dom out for the game, we had to change the way we managed the game. We had to play for field position, play for field goals, and put it on our defense.”

The defense came through, shutting VMI out over the final 26 minutes and stopping the Keydets on four tries from the 4-yard line in the final minutes. “It was a dominating performance by our defense,” Houston said. “We were decent on offense last year, and embarrassing on defense last year. That’s the biggest turnaround on our team, the improvement on that side of the

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