Game Review, 2012: Elon

The Citadel 38, Elon 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Game story, Burlington Times-News

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

The Citadel’s release

Kevin Higgins’ postgame news conference (with Darien Robinson)

Postgame locker room speech

WCSC-TV story on the game (with video highlights)

Box score

The weather was great, the atmosphere was festive, the tailgating was ridiculous, and the Bulldogs won on Homecoming. All in all, it was a very good day to be back at The Citadel.

Was I worried when Elon crawled back from a 25-point deficit to get within a touchdown? Sure. I definitely didn’t want to be in the stands to witness the biggest blown lead in The Citadel’s football history.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, thanks to a 14-play drive that didn’t end until Darien Robinson crashed into the end zone with 2:33 remaining, essentially icing the game. Afterwards, Robinson described Kevin Higgins’ pep talk to the offense before the drive:

Coach got his message across in no uncertain terms. He let us know, we had to establish ourselves on that drive.

Heh…”in no uncertain terms.” Robinson certainly took the message to heart, carrying the ball nine times during the possession (which lasted over six minutes and featured nothing but running plays). He gained 54 of his 178 yards for the day on those nine rushes. Of the final ten plays on the drive, eight were runs by Robinson.

The offensive line came to play at the end, too, especially Mike Sellers, who was taking names on a consistent basis.

I was struck by how physical the game was, from both sides. It took its toll on some of the participants. Elon appeared to get the worst of things, most notably when Phoenix running back Karl Bostick was hurt on a rather brutal play in which he got bent over backwards while being tackled.

Bostick’s injury was to his ankle and may have been season-ending, according to Elon coach Jason Swepson. I was afraid that might be the case when it happened.

I think Elon’s players deserve some credit for not quitting after falling behind 31-6 early in the third quarter, especially after the way the first half ended. That had to have been as crushing a way to go into a locker room for the break as one could imagine.

Swepson made a mistake managing the clock at the end of the half, and the Bulldogs took full advantage. Kevin Higgins could have let the half end, and no one would have criticized him, but he elected to run a play and see what would happen. He made an intelligent call, the quarterback draw, and was rewarded. Three plays later, The Citadel would pull off a “Hail Mary”.

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen The Citadel connect on a Hail Mary in person. At least, I don’t recall another one. I do remember, however, seeing the Bulldogs score a touchdown on the final play of the first half at Johnson Hagood Stadium on one other occasion.

That would have been November 28, 1992. With seven seconds remaining in the first half, The Citadel led North Carolina A&T 13-0 in the first round of the I-AA playoffs. The Aggies had the ball and were inside the Bulldogs’ 30-yard-line, but Tracey Gamble sacked the A&T quarterback, who fumbled. Todd Lair picked up the loose pigskin and rumbled 65 yards for a TD.

As it happens, the 1992 team was honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. Perhaps there was a little magic left over from that ’92 squad…

I linked above to The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery of the game, but just in case anyone missed it, here is a nice shot of Matt Thompson making the reception on the Hail Mary: Link

Having the presence of mind to turn and leap into the end zone may have been more impressive than the catch itself — and the catch was great.

The crowd at Johnson Hagood was announced as 14,853. There was no official total to be had for the number of tailgaters, of course. I really don’t know how many people were tailgating who never entered the stadium. If I said at least 3,000, would that be an outrageous guess? Or would it be a conservative estimate?

Oh, and the flyover was outstanding.

Complaints dept.:

– The Citadel let Elon back into the game by unaccountably bogging down on offense in the second half. After scoring a TD on its opening drive of the stanza, the Bulldogs’ next four drives went like this: lost fumble, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out. A better team may have made The Citadel pay for losing its offensive momentum.

– The defense played well in the first half, but was also a bit lucky. Thomas Wilson failed to connect with Bostick on what would have been a TD pass on the Phoenix’s first possession. Later in the half, the Bulldogs blew a coverage, but Wilson overthrew Aaron Mellette, missing out on a long TD pass.

– The Hail Mary disguised the fact that the rest of the Bulldogs’ passing game was suboptimal on Saturday. Aside from that one play, The Citadel was 1-9 passing for 15 yards.

– I thought the Bulldogs’ timing on pitches seemed a little off at times on Saturday. The Citadel lost a fumble on an errant pitch. Another semi-wayward toss was gathered in by Terrance Martin, who turned it into a rather nimble six-yard run.

Employees of the Week dept:

– Darien Robinson

– Mike Sellers

– Brandon McCladdie, for his outstanding coverage of Aaron Mellette, who had caught at least two touchdown passes in his previous six games. Mellette had no TDs on Saturday and had no truly big plays.

Best play I haven’t mentioned yet: Douglas German made a memorable special teams tackle on The Citadel’s final kickoff. I’m not sure what adjective to use to describe it. I think I’ll go with “sudden”.

Now the Bulldogs are just one win away from clinching a winning season, which was the baseline goal entering the 2012 campaign. The first chance to get win #6 comes next Saturday at VMI, as The Citadel looks to retain the coveted Silver Shako.

There is still a possibility the Bulldogs could sneak into the FCS playoffs with two more victories, although the other SoCon results from this weekend probably reduced the chances of that happening. At any rate, this is VMI week. There is no reason to concentrate on anything else.

Below are photos from Saturday. I seem to be getting worse every week taking pictures. Most of the game action shots are from the first half, as I didn’t have much luck with the camera after halftime.

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