Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

In a way, the inspiration for this post came after reading press releases with headlines like this one from 2007:

THE BULLDOGS HOST APPALACHIAN STATE FOR 55TH HOMECOMING

What is wrong with that headline, you ask? Simply this: the 2007 game between The Citadel and Appalachian State was not the 55th Homecoming game in the military college’s history. In fact, it was the 80th.

When media guides first became a regular feature of The Citadel’s promotional output, there was no easy way for the sports information directors of the time to go back and check old records for most statistics. Other than game dates and scores, information was hard to come by (and even with those basic data points, there were issues).

Understandably, record-keeping was limited to readily available research material. In the case of The Citadel’s football program, this led to a “records timeline” that began in 1953. As noted in the 1988 football media guide:

The year of 1953, when seven schools withdrew to form the Atlantic Coast Conference and 10 remained to provide the Southern Conference most of its present membership, is taken as a convenient starting point for compiling Citadel modern day football records. Also, no comprehensive records were maintained before 1953.

This always bothered me. Just to take Homecoming as an example, there were obviously many contests played prior to 1953 — yet they weren’t listed in any of the guides or record books, which all began their respective lists of Homecoming games with that season.

Let me hasten to add that I don’t blame the SIDs of days gone by. I am all too aware of how difficult that job could (and still can) be. Given the limited resources available, they did very well.

These days, though, it is much easier to research past sporting events. The internet is a large part of that change. There are still hard-to-find gaps in the record, to be sure, but if someone has the time, projects large and small can be accomplished.

What follows is one of the smaller projects…

The first college football homecoming games date back to the early part of the 20th century. There is some question as to which school first hosted one, at least an event that included an intercollegiate contest. (There were alumni football game celebrations as far back as the 1890s.)

Baylor had a homecoming football game in 1909, and Illinois followed suit a year later. Missouri, Wisconsin, and Northwestern all hosted homecoming gridiron events in 1911.

The first Home-Coming Day of the Greater Citadel was held on October 25, 1924. Hundreds of the alumni — old men, middle-aged, and young men — many from distant states — came to the celebration.

…Shortly after one o’clock the crowd began to gather in groups towards Hampton Park, where the chief event of the day was to take place. This was the Furman-Citadel football game, in comparison with which all other features of Home-Coming Day (and there were several others of noteworthy interest) paled into insignificance.

On this battlefield of the gridiron, two teams of stalwart warriors were to battle for the honor and renown of their Alma Mater, and to perform exploits that would put their names in big headlines in the morning papers. This was the opportunity, too, when the alumni could wear their college colors and show their loyalty to the old school.

— Oliver J. Bond, The Story of The Citadel

 

The Blue and White, directed by the incomparable genius of Teddy Weeks, started again.

…Uncanny Teddy now set the Furman backs wild. One pass to Ferguson from Teddy himself netted seventeen yards and a first down. Before Furman had settled, Weeks shot a pass to “Firpo” McFarland and the ball was on Furman’s ten-yard line. The stands were in an uproar. Furman was visibly worried.

Youngblood circled around right end for eight yards and two more line-bucks put the oval six inches from the line.

Carl Hogrefe was selected to win the game and he came through as only a fighting son of Anderson and The Citadel can come through. Again he plunged into the left side of Furman’s line and the ball was over.

— C.D. Weimer, The News and Courier, October 26, 1924

Carl Hogrefe, who scored the first touchdown in the first Homecoming game at The Citadel, may have been a “fighting son of Anderson”, but he appears to have been born in Augusta, Georgia — and at least one source says he attended public schools in Augusta, too. After graduating, Hogrefe went on to have a distinguished career in the oil milling industry.

Incidentally, according to The News and Courier, Hogrefe (the short-yardage back of choice in 1924) weighed in at 144 lbs. The listed weight for the smallest Bulldog on the current roster, placekicker and social media sensation Joshua Roides, is 146 lbs.

Despite a steady rainfall that began shortly after kickoff, the event was an unqualified success, leading to it becoming an annual gathering. Class reunions were held in conjunction with Homecoming weekend until 1939, when they were moved to commencement weekend. However, alumni still came out in force for Homecoming, and after World War II, reunion activities reverted back to the fall.

The growing number of fans at the games (there were an estimated 6,000 spectators in attendance for the 1926 Homecoming contest, some of whom had to stand) had a direct impact on the decision by the city of Charleston to build the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, which opened for business in 1927.

The Citadel has now hosted 91 Homecoming weekend celebrations. The event has been held every year since 1946, after a four-year break due to the war. Of course, the college did not field a team for three of those years (1943-45).

There was originally a Homecoming event scheduled for 1942, but it was canceled by order of General Charles P. Summerall. The school president announced that “due to conditions resulting from the war and over which The Citadel has no control, it is necessary to omit Parents’ Day [which had originated in 1934] and Homecoming from the academic calendar.”

In an article about the cancellations, an unnamed writer for The News and Courier observed that “with the various government agencies pleading [against] unnecessary travel, especially on week-ends, it would be strange for an institution like The Citadel, with its record of service to the state and nation, to encourage two such large gatherings in Charleston…However, these are ‘big days’ at The Citadel, and much regret was felt by General Summerall at the necessity for calling them off in 1942.”

Behold: a spreadsheet!

Homecoming Football Games at The Citadel

The spreadsheet lists every Homecoming game from 1924 to 2018. The date of each contest is recorded, as is the attendance (estimated or official), opponent, score, venue, and the game’s place in the sequence of Homecoming matchups (including total games and wins/losses/ties). Many entries also include a brief “random note”, usually about a big play or two, an outstanding performance, or another bit of trivia.

I’ve corrected some online record book errors with regards to game dates, and a couple of score discrepancies. I’ve also listed the correct Homecoming opponent for 1960. In the older media guides and the record book, the Parents’ Day and Homecoming games for that year were “flipped” by mistake, due to a transcription error that occurred several decades ago.

One note: I consider the current iteration of Johnson Hagood Stadium as having been built in 1948. In my opinion, the renovations (and teardowns) of the last fifteen years have not resulted in a separate edifice. I realize not everyone may agree with that definition.

On the other hand, the “original” Johnson Hagood Stadium was clearly a different building, structurally and in orientation (east-west rather than north-south).

Therefore, on the spreadsheet I have listed the Bulldogs as having played home games in three different venues during the Homecoming era:  Hampton Park (a/k/a College Park Memorial Stadium), Johnson Hagood Stadium [I], and Johnson Hagood Stadium [II].

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel has played Furman more than any other Homecoming opponent, with the Paladins making 26 appearances in the game. The two schools have split those meetings (12-12-2).

VMI has been the Bulldogs’ Homecoming opponent 19 times, with The Citadel winning 13 of those contests. Davidson and Chattanooga have each faced the Bulldogs seven times at Homecoming; The Citadel is 6-1 versus Davidson, and 3-4 against the Mocs.

– In all, 17 different schools have served as The Citadel’s Homecoming opponent at least once. Mercer will become the 18th in 2019.

After that scheduled matchup against the Bears, the only current SoCon school not to have faced the Bulldogs in a Homecoming contest in Charleston will be Western Carolina. It is somewhat surprising that the Catamounts have never been The Citadel’s opponent for the game, as the two teams have met 43 times on the gridiron.

Other schools that have frequently played The Citadel, but never as Homecoming opponents, include Newberry (41 meetings) and William and Mary (25 meetings).

– At one point, The Citadel had a record of 6-20-2 on Homecoming. After winning the first contest in 1924, the program lost three consecutive celebration games, and did not again have a winning record in Homecoming matchups until 2006, when a 48-21 victory over VMI propelled the Bulldogs to an all-time Homecoming game mark of 39-38-2.

The current seven-game winning streak in Homecoming games has provided a bit of a cushion in the wins vs. losses department, and so The Citadel’s record on Homecoming now stands at 47-42-2.

– The longest winning streak in Homecoming games for the Bulldogs is 10, from 1969 through 1978.

– Bobby Ross was 5-0 on Homecoming, the most wins without a loss by a Bulldogs coach. Other coaches with perfect marks: Brent Thompson (3-0 so far), Mike Houston (2-0), and John Zernhelt (1-0).

Charlie Taaffe and Eddie Teague were both 6-3, tied for the most wins, and each is tied with Kevin Higgins (who was 5-4) with the most Homecoming games at the helm of the Bulldogs. Tatum Gressette (2-6) and Quinn Decker (1-6) have the most losses.

– In 91 Homecoming games, The Citadel has scored 1648 points. Opposing teams have scored a total of 1653 points, for a difference of only five points over most of a century’s worth of games.

In the first 28 games of the series (from 1924 through 1955), the Bulldogs were outscored 405-131. Since then (a 63-game stretch), The Citadel has outscored its Homecoming opponents 1517-1248.

– In Homecoming games decided by 7 or fewer points, The Citadel is 21-14-2. The Bulldogs have won 15 of the last 20 such contests.

– Attendance figures from 1924 to about 1964 were generally estimates made by the reporter covering the game for The News and Courier. From the mid-1960s to the present day, attendance totals are considered “official”, as they were (and are) released by the college.

For two games in the early 1960s, the newspaper listed both a “paid” attendance number from The Citadel and its own estimated attendance, the latter figure always higher. On the spreadsheet, I have chosen in both cases to use the estimated total from the beat writer covering the game, as I greatly suspect the “paid” figures given by the college for those contests were themselves just estimates.

I was unable to find estimated attendance for three Homecoming games:  1925, 1931, and 1959. I’ll add those numbers to the spreadsheet when (if?) I get them.

– Homecoming has been played 74 times in November, 13 times in October, and 4 times in December. All four of the December games were against Clemson and South Carolina (two each), with the last of those matchups taking place in 1949.

The Citadel has played 51 of its last 52 Homecoming games in November, with the exception being the 2017 contest versus VMI (which was held on October 28). In 2019, the game will take place on October 26, which means that it will have been played in October two of the last three seasons, after 50 straight November contests.

The earliest calendar day for a Homecoming game was October 9, in 1954 (against Richmond). The latest in the year a Homecoming contest has been played was December 8, in 1928 (versus Clemson).

– The dedication game for the new Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 1948, came at Homecoming. Clemson was the opponent, and the estimated attendance was 16,000, at the time the most spectators to attend a football game in Charleston. The Citadel would not draw a larger crowd for a Homecoming game until 1969.

– There have been many memorable Homecoming games over the years. In terms of on-field action, atmosphere, and impact on the season, a list of the top games might include:

  • 1928: The Citadel’s 12-7 victory over Clemson is probably the biggest upset in Homecoming history. The oft-repeated story of Thomas Howie’s wild ride in a Studebaker from Columbia to Charleston to make it to the game on time, after he had interviewed earlier that day for a Rhodes Scholarship, is part of the game’s lore.
  • 1988: Marshall, undefeated and ranked #1 in I-AA, came to town for its first (and only) appearance as a Homecoming opponent. The Thundering Herd left with a 20-3 loss, subdued by Gene Brown and a determined Bulldogs defense.
  • 2016: Down ten points midway through the fourth quarter, with a SoCon title on the line, The Citadel roared back to win an overtime thriller over Samford, 37-34. Fans will long remember Cam Jackson’s great run, along with the sound of the football hitting the goalpost on Samford’s tying field goal attempt in the extra session.

I had the privilege of attending two of those momentous contests. (I was out of town for the 1928 game.)

– The largest crowd at a Homecoming game: 21,811, for the 1992 contest against VMI. The Bulldogs won 50-0, the largest margin of victory ever on Homecoming.

– Pat Green’s 25-yard field goal just before halftime of The Citadel’s 17-0 victory over VMI in 1964 was the first made field goal by a Bulldog at a Homecoming contest. Yes, you read that correctly.

It only took 37 games.

– A few Homecoming game records of note for Bulldog players:

  • Mark Slawson holds the Homecoming game records for yardage (201, also the all-time school record), and TD receptions (4, tied for the school record), setting both marks in 1979.
  • Tim Russell’s 6 touchdowns and 362 yards passing in that 1979 game are both Homecoming records (and the TD mark is the school record, too).
  • Jeff Klein completed the most Bulldog passes in a Homecoming game (24 in 2002).
  • Slawson’s 4 TDs in the 1979 game set the record for most touchdowns scored in a Homecoming contest. That mark was matched by Lorenzo Ward in 2018, with all of Ward’s TDs coming on the ground.
  • Andre Roberts (2007 and 2008) and Gene Hightower (1967) share the record for receptions in a Homecoming game, with 9.
  • Tyler Renew’s 45 carries and 285 yards in the 2016 contest are both Homecoming records.
  • Eric Goins’ five field goals against VMI in 2015 established both the Homecoming and school records for most made field goals in a game.
  • Jeff Varnadoe (1970) and Rusty Holt (1972) share the record for most interceptions in a Homecoming game, with 3 (both efforts came against Davidson). The school record for interceptions in a game is also 3.

– Longest plays for The Citadel in Homecoming games include:

  • Run: 92 yards (TD), Nehemiah Broughton, 2004
  • Pass: 78 yards (TD), Marty Crosby to Sam Scadlock, 1978; Tim Russell to Mark Slawson, 1979
  • Kickoff return: 87 yards, Keith Gamble, 2010
  • Punt return: 80 yards (TD), Mark Slawson, 1980
  • Interception return: 75 yards (TD), Tevin Floyd, 2015
  • Field goal: 48 yards, Cody Clark, 2016
  • Punt: 85 yards, Albert Salvato, 1941

That punt by Albert Salvato brings to mind a topic that, while not strictly related to Homecoming, I would like to briefly discuss.

In the current online record book, the longest punt is credited to Greg Davis, for an 81-yard boot at Clemson in 1986. However, many of the records in the online guide only go back to 1965 — not even as far back as the older media guides in some cases.

As a result, Davis is listed first in the online record book, while according to the media guides of the 1980s and 1990s, the longest punt was by Paul Maguire, an 83-yarder at West Virginia in 1959. Then we have Salvato’s kick, which isn’t listed in any media guide or record book.

This is a problem, and one that probably can’t be corrected until statistics for all of The Citadel’s football games over the years have been reviewed. After all, it is possible that someone in the pre-war era had an even longer punt than Salvato’s effort (though there is some evidence to indicate his kick is probably the all-time record).

The timeline cutoff issue can cause notable plays and accomplishments to fall through the cracks. Two others of the non-Homecoming variety that come to mind are Eddie Doyle’s 90-yard fumble return for a touchdown at Mercer in 1926 (20 yards longer than the top mark listed in the online record book) and “Broadway” Billy Hughes’ 100-yard interception return for a TD against Newberry in 1959.

I should mention that basketball and baseball records are also affected by the lack of record-keeping. For example, C.D. Gibson’s 1912 no-hitter isn’t listed in the online baseball record book, because statistics for that publication only date back to 1970.

Again, this isn’t anyone’s fault. Correcting and adding to these types of records takes time and resources, both of which can be of short supply in the world of athletic media relations/sports information, especially at a relatively small institution. The Citadel is arguably fortunate to have the data it does possess. I attribute that to a lot of hard-working people who have served the college over the years, and also to the general interest in the school (including the local press to a certain extent).

Also, I make no claim to infallibility myself (big of me, I know). It is quite possible that I’ve made some errors in compiling the data for this post — and if that is the case, I apologize in advance, and will correct mistakes as soon as I am aware of them.

I have a suggestion. I think that someone in charge at The Citadel needs to immediately lay the groundwork for the 2024 season, and ask the Southern Conference to reserve the weekend of October 26 that year as a home date for the Bulldogs.

October 25, 2024 will be the 100th anniversary of the first Homecoming game at The Citadel. That day happens to fall on a Friday. While it is not practical to play the football game on that date, at least the college should host its Homecoming festivities during that weekend.

It would be an opportunity for The Citadel to pull out all the stops, even more so than at a typical Homecoming. It could be a fairly big deal — and if Furman were interested in being the opponent, just as the Paladins (or rather, the “Purple Hurricane”) were in 1924, so much the better.

There may be five years to go before that anniversary, but time does tend to fly.

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