Lexington, Va. – The Citadel retained the Silver Shako and clinched its first winning season since 2007 but not before receiving a huge scare from host VMI in the 33rd edition of the Military Classic of the South.
It was not until VanDyke Jones recovered an onside kick and Aaron Miller converted a third down run with 2:35 remaining that the Bulldogs were able to finish off a 27-24 victory over the Keydets and improve to 6-4 on the season with only next week's regular season finale at Furman remaining.
The Bulldogs will finish above .500 for the first time since going 7-4 in 2007 and can finish with a winning record in the Southern Conference (5-3) for the first time since going 4-3 in both 2006 and 2007 by defeating the Paladins.
VMI dropped to 2-8 despite matching its season high in points and lost to The Citadel for the sixth straight time. The Bulldogs are now 22-10-1 since the game against VMI was dubbed the Military Classic of the South in 1976 and are 36-30-2 all-time in the series.
The Bulldogs led by as many as 21 and still led 27-17 following a 35-yard field goal by Thomas Warren with 4:56 remaining in the game. But a 38-yard pass from Eric Kordenbrock to Deon Watts set up a four-yard touchdown pass to Mario Thompson that made it a three-point game again with 3:03 left.
The Keydets lineup up with two kickers, and David Eberhardt grounded one that Jones fell on at the VMI 46. A personal foul gave the Bulldogs 15 more yards, and when a measurement showed that Miller had gained just enough for a first down on the third play of the drive, the game was finally in the win column.
Darien Robinson led The Citadel with 74 yards followed by Ben Dupree and Miller with 45 and 41, respectively. The Bulldogs were held to 248 rushing yards, 60 below their season average, but the Miller-Dupree duo combined to complete 8 of 11 passes for 121 yards.
Robinson increased his season rushing total to 953 yards, leaving him 47 shy of become the first Bulldog to gain 1,000 yards since Troy Cooper in 2007. He also moved into 14th place in school history with 1,915 career rushing yards, passing Cooper and Tom Frooman. Robinson was thrown for a 14-yard loss on a fourth quarter play, the first time he's been tackled behind the line of scrimmage this season.
Kordenbrock completed 10 of 21 passes for 191 yards for the Keydets while Derrick Ziglar paced their ground game with 51 yards. VMI finished with 277 yards of total offense.
The Citadel consistently hurt its own cause with an uncharacteristic nine penalties for 89 yards after entering the game ranked first in the nation in both fewest penalties committed (3.33) and fewest yards penalized (23.1). VMI was flagged eight times for 75 yards.
The Keydets stayed close for most of the first half, with The Citadel only able to take a 17-3 lead into the locker room. But it appeared the Bulldogs were on their way to taking control of the contest when Mark Thomas sacked Kordenbrock, and Derek Douglas took the resulting fumble 21 yards to the end zone for a 24-3 lead at the 7:12 mark of the third quarter.
The sack gave Thomas, a true freshman, 5.5 on the season on a total of only nine tackles while Douglas scored the first touchdown of his college career and added two sacks of his own to move into a tie for seventh in Citadel history with 12 in his career.
The Keydets quickly bounced back from The Citadel's defensive touchdown and scored twice to pull within seven. Mike Smith returned the kickoff following the Douglas touchdown to the Bulldog 48, and a pair of enforced infractions – a live ball facemask and dead ball personal foul – added 30 yards to the play.
VMI took advantage on a two-yard touchdown run by Jabari Turner to make it 24-10 with 4:00 left in the third quarter and then forced a punt on the next Citadel possession. Facing a 2nd and 20, the Keydets hit on an 81-yard screen pass from Kordenbrock to Turner that got the ball to the Bulldog 3 and set up a touchdown run by Cody Shirley that suddenly put The Citadel victory in doubt.
The Keydet kickoff went out of bounds at the Bulldog 47, and The Citadel overcame a pair of holding penalties on a 15-yard run by Terrance Martin and a 17-yard pass from Miller to Greg Adams to face a 4th and 2 at the VMI 17. Rickey Anderson picked up the necessary yardage, and a 10-yard run by Miller following the big Robinson rushing loss set up the Warren field goal that ultimately proved to be the final margin of victory.
Dupree got the Bulldogs started on their first possession of the game, hitting Jones on a 3rd and 11 play to the Keydet 29 and then scoring himself from 10 yards out for a 7-0 lead.
Dupree's touchdown was the 17th rushing score of his career, moving him into a tie for 11th in school history in that category. He also completed all three of his passes for 49 yards on the game while Miller completed 5 of 8 for 72 yards.
VMI answered with a 39 yard drive that culminated in a 22-yard field goal by Jeff Sexton. After the teams traded punts, Miller hit Anderson for 24 yards and Robinson added a 20-yard jaunt that led to a one-yard touchdown run by Vinny Miller, his third of the season, and a 14-3 Bulldog lead with 11:45 left in the second quarter.
The Citadel scored again as the first half clock ran out when Warren made his first field goal of the day. That drive included a fourth down conversion run by Jones and a 17-yard pass from Miller to Adams to the VMI 20.
Warren's two field goals give him nine on the season and he remained perfect in 37 extra point attempts. The last Citadel kicker to go an entire season without a missed PAT was Mike Adams, who went 56-for-56 in 2007.