CULLOWHEE, N.C. (BULLDOGS) – The Citadel defense dominated a potent Western Carolina attack in the first half. Over the final 30 minutes, it was good when it had to be.
The Bulldogs came up with a wild interception with 2:12 remaining in the game to finally thwart a second half Catamount rally in a 28-21 Southern Conference victory Saturday at E.J. Whitmire Stadium. The Citadel is 1-2 overall and 1-1 in the SoCon while Western fell to 0-3 and 0-1. The Catamounts have lost 23 consecutive league contests.
The Citadel held a 21-0 lead at halftime before Western turned drives of 71, 75 and 76 yards into scores, the latter trimming the deficit to seven with 6:51 left in the fourth quarter. One possession later, Catamount quarterback Troy Mitchell's fourth down pass was deflected by Brandon McCladdie and bounced off the knee of Derek Douglas before settling into the hands of Bulldog safety Julian Baxter.
Two first down runs by Darien Robinson ran out the clock, giving the Bulldogs their eighth win in the past 10 meetings with Western. The Catamounts have not won a SoCon game since defeating The Citadel 24-13 at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2010.
The Bulldogs simplified their offense, running out of the traditional triple option the majority of the day, and it led to a 343-yard rushing attack for a unit that was averaging 223.5 per game going in. Ben Dupree led the way with his fourth career 100-yard outing, gaining 126 on 28 carries while scoring two touchdowns.
The senior quarterback went the distance with Aaron Miller limited during the week with a sore foot. With his big game, Dupree moved up four places to 13th on the all-time Citadel rushing list with 1,907 yards and also moved into a tie for ninth along with Harry Lynch and Adrian Johnson with 21 career touchdowns on the ground.
The rest of the rushing attack featured a balance between the B-back and slot back positions, with five other runners gaining at least 30 yards. Robinson finished with 50 yards to move past Kenyatta Spruill into ninth place in school history with 2,106. His backup, freshman Tyler Renew, finally made his Citadel debut and turned in several strong runs to finish with 36 yards on six carries.
Devan Robbins, another true freshman, saw his first extended action and carried three times for 38 yards including a 15-yard touchdown on a burst down the Citadel sideline that made it 28-7 with 6:06 left in the third quarter. Dalton Trevino contributed 42 yards and Vinny Miller ran for 38.
The Catamounts had two ball carriers go over 100 yards, with Mitchell leading the way with 106, four more than Darius Ramsey, who scored two times. Western finished with 323 yards of total offense with 244 coming in the span of three second half drives that all ended in touchdowns.
The first half was all Bullxogs with the opening possession setting the early tone. The Citadel took the opening kickoff and ran off 19 plays, all in the triple option, and Dupree capped the 75-yard drive with a one-yard scoring run. Western was forced to punt the first time it had the ball, but the snap was low and Clark Sechrest lost control of the ball while being tackled. Freshman Tevin Floyd grabbed the free ball and walked in from eight yards out to make it 14-0 with 4:11 left in the opening quarter.
The Citadel then had a punting mishap of its own but again it worked out in favor of the Bulldogs. Eric Goinsmishandled the snap but took off and gained a first down, with the play compounded by a late hit on Goins out of bounds that moved the ball to the Western 45. A 16-yard reception and 18-yard run by Vinny Miller set up another one-yard plunge by Dupree that made it 21-0 early in the second quarter.
The Citadel had one more scoring opportunity in the first half, but a 33-yard field goal attempt by Thomas Warren was blocked as the clock expired. The Bulldogs finished the opening half with 190 yards of total offense to only 79 for the Catamounts and held a 19 minutes to 11 edge in possession time.
Western started getting its offense humming at the outset of the third quarter with 48 passing yards by Mitchell sparking a 10-play, 71-yard drive that got the hosts on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs responded with a 78-yard drive of their own including a pair of third down conversions, one on a 20-yard run by Trevino, and were back in control with a 28-7 advantage midway through the third quarter.
The Catamounts needed only four plays to go 75 yards when they got their hands back on the ball, with Mitchell running for 53 on the first play and then hitting Kamorris Benson on a five-yard touchdown that made it 28-14 with 1:17 left in the third.
The Citadel reached the Western 13 before a Dupree pass was batted in the air by John McBeth and picked off by Andre Whitmire. The Catamounts capitalized with a 14-play, 76-yard march, and when Ramsey scored his second touchdown of the game the lead was down to seven. But the Baxter interception quelled any further Western threat.
James Riley led The Citadel defense with 12 tackles and joined Douglas with two stops behind the line of scrimmage. Douglas had his 13th career sack, tying him with Scott Thompson and former teammate Chris Billingslea for sixth on the Bulldog career chart. The interception was the second of Baxter's career.
The Citadel stays on the road next Saturday with a 6 p.m. game at Old Dominion in the first meeting between the teams. The Monarchs are led by quarterback Taylor Heinicke, the 2012 Walter Payton Award winner, and are currently in the transition from FCS to FBS.