The Jamey Chadwell era of Charleston Southern football began with a resounding bang on Saturday night as CSU rallied for a 32-29 win over rival The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Chadwell and the Bucs answered The Citadel drive for drive over the final 40 minutes to overcome a 16-0 deficit. The Bucs showed toughness, resilience, explosiveness and grit in attacking a Bulldog team that many projected to be an FCS Playoff contender. The Bucs' first-year head coach got the exact effort and fiery play out of his Bucs that he sold to his team from the day he stepped on the CSU campus in January.
"I said when I first got here that our guys were going to play for 60 minutes and play with passion. They fought for each other and the University and you saw what they did tonight. It's a great start for us and I'm proud for those guys."
CSU had only 30 yards on 28 plays before Malcolm Dixon connected on touchdown passes on consecutive offensive snaps to cut the deficit to 16-14 at halftime. CSU scored following a muffed punt to score just before the half and rode the momentum from 14 quick points to a lead on its opening possession of the second half. Both offenses took over in the second half, with Charleston Southern delivering the final score of the back-and-forth affair. Cameron Mitchell provided it, drilling a 29-yard field goal on the first attempt of his career to give the Bucs a 32-29 advantage with 6:01 remaining.
After allowing The Citadel touchdowns on each of its first two drives of the second half, the CSU defense held firm twice to secure the victory.
The Citadel quickly drove to the CSU 36-yard line courtesy of two Aaron Miller-Jake Stenson connections following Mitchell's field goal. Senior safety Matt Hardy then came up with a huge play, tackling Miller for a four-yard loss to force the Bulldogs into a 3rd-and-11. The Citadel could not convert, as Miller's fourth down pass was deflected away by Martrice Tucker with 1:58 left.
The Citadel forced a three-and-out to get the football back with 1:34 remaining, but went four-and-out. A crucial false start penalty on fourth down pushed the Bulldogs back into a 4th-and-7, and Miller's pass for Dalton Trevino fell incomplete, setting off a wild celebration on the CSU sidelines.
"We knew they were pretty physical and they really surprised our offensive line with how physical they were up front and we struggled early," said Chadwell on the opening 20 minutes of the game, "But we hit a couple passes and made some plays and we took advantage of turnovers. They turned the ball over, we didn't and we took advantage and that helped make the difference. That's striking the stone."
Trailing 16-0 with just over three minutes to play until halftime, senior quarterback Malcolm Dixon hit Kevin Glears for a 64-yard touchdown down the right sideline, changing the momentum of the game. Glears made an excellent adjustment to the pass to bring it in at the 30-yard line, before sprinting down the sideline for the score.
The Bucs caught a break several minutes later when Vinny Miller mishandled a Truett Burns punt, setting CSU up at the 19-yard line following the recovery by Malcolm Jackson.
With only 12 seconds remaining in the stanza, Dixon connected with Donte Sumpter for a 19-yard touchdown pass to suddenly pull the Bucs within two. Dixon made an excellent throw to Sumpter's back shoulder, and the East Carolina transfer screened off Brandon McCladie to make the catch and fall into the front left side of the endzone for CSU's second touchdown in as many offensive plays.
The Bucs delivered their best drive of the night out of the halftime break to take a 21-16 lead as Zach Frazier bulled his way into the end zone from two yards out to cap a 10-play, 75-yard march. Dixon made the key play of the drive, racing for 15 yards on 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive moving into Bulldog territory. Ben Robinson followed with a 12 yard pickup and Reyes and Frazier both had long carries leading up to the score.
The Citadel answered on its following drive, ending CSU's stretch of 21 unanswered points. Quarterback Ben Dupree opened the drive with a 21-yard strike to a diving Dalton Trevino in front of the Bucs bench to put the Bulldogs at the Bucs 41-yard line. Ten plays later, on 4th-and-1 from the CSU 3-yard line, Dupree called his own number and spun off a CSU defender and into the end zone to give the Bulldogs the 22-21 lead after a failed two-point conversion
A second muffed punt set up CSU's next score, as Miller came up empty on his diving attempt to catch the football and Kirby Broome recovered at The Citadel 25. CSU immediately took advantage of The Citadel turnover as Frazier rumbled over the goal line three plays later from 11 yards out for his second touchdown of the game to put Charleston Southern ahead, 27-22, with 1:34 left to play in the third quarter. The Bucs resorted to trickery on the ensuing two-point conversion, as the holder Broome found his fellow tight end Nathan Prater in the middle of the end zone to push the lead to seven.
Undeterred, The Citadel took the ensuing kickoff and traveled 75 yards on 12 plays to tie the score, 29-29. Aaron Miller ran for 49 yards on the drive, and came up with the big play with a 27-yard run that moved the Bulldogs inside the Bucs' 20. Vinny Miller finished the drive off, taking a pitch and going in for a four-yard touchdown to even things up and set the stage for the dramatic finish.
Chadwell was especially happy for his seniors, including captains Malcolm Dixon and Calvin Bryant. Dixon played mistake-free football and completed 7-of-16 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 15 yards. Bryant was tenacious from his middle linebacker post, posting a career-high 12 tackles to lead a CSU defense which had surrendered 49 points and 479 rushing yards to The Citadel in last year's opening day defeat.
"Those guys, it means everything to me for them because they've been through the ups and downs," said Chadwell on the efforts of his seniors in the opener. "It's been down a lot lately, but those guys, I can't be more thankful for them and what they mean to me in just the short amount of time I've been here, and what they mean to our program, and how they played tonight. They laid it on the line for Charleston Southern tonight."
Both offenses struggled to move the ball at the game's outset, and it was a special teams miscue by CSU that opened the scoring as an errant snap over the head of Burns and out of the back of the end zone gave The Citadel a 2-0 advantage at the 7:22 mark of the first quarter.
Darien Robinson set up the Bulldogs second scoring drive in the first quarter, taking the handoff up the middle for 36 yards to give The Citadel a first down at the CSU 12-yard line. Vinny Miller followed with a two-yard carry and Aaron Miller followed with a 10-yard touchdown behind the left side of the line, faking the option pitch to draw the defense and racing into the end zone untouched for the 9-0 lead with 2:22 left in the opening quarter.
CSU opens its home schedule next Saturday, hosting Shorter in an 11 a.m. kickoff at Buccaneer Field.