The Citadel stormed back from 13 down in the fourth quarter to take a 21-20 lead, but a late-game 86-yard scoring drive by 22nd-ranked Georgia Southern gave the Eagles a 28-21 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
The game closed out a 21-year Southern Conference rivalry between The Citadel and Georgia Southern and featured another contest that came down to the wire. Seven of the last eight meetings between the two teams have been decided by seven points or less including the last four in Statesboro.
After falling behind 20-7, the Bulldogs (2-5, 2-3 SoCon) scored 14 points in less than two minutes to take a 21-20 advantage over the Eagles (4-2, 2-2) with 7:57 left to play.
The Citadel took over at its own 20 and used just six plays to travel 80 yards and score its first touchdown of the second half on a 13-yard Terrance Martin run. The drive was set up by a 32-yard Aaron Miller pass to Brandon Eakins who toed the sidelines to give the Bulldogs a first down at the GSU 15.
On the ensuing drive, Eagle quarterback Kevin Ellison fumbled a snap from the shotgun , and Akeem Garnett scooped it up at the 36 and took it into the end zone. Thomas Warren's 67th consecutive successful extra point gave the Bulldogs the lead with under eight minutes to play.
The score was Garnett's first of his career and The Citadel's third touchdown by its defensive and special team's units this season.
The Citadel defense was unable to find an answer for the potent Georgia Southern offense on the following drive. The Eagles earned four first downs and controlled the clock for five minutes, 59 seconds to put together an 11-play, 86-yard drive which ended with a four-yard Ellison touchdown run.
A successful halfback pass from Jerick McKinnon to Devin Scott on the two-point conversion gave the Eagles a 28-21 advantage with 1:59 left to play.
The Citadel started its final drive at its 28 and was able to convert a 4th-and-6 on its first set of downs to move the chains. A third down pass from Miller to Eakins moved the Bulldogs to the GSU 49, but four consecutive incomplete passes ended the Bulldogs' chance at topping the Eagles in back-to-back games for the first time in program history.
Georgia Southern finished with 498 total yards to the Bulldogs' 272, the second lowest total on the season behind only the 262 gained against Wofford . The Eagle offense was able to control the ball all game and finished with a time of possession advantage of 39:38 to The Citadel's 20:22.
The big-yardage plays were the story for both teams in the first half as Ben Dupree took a quarterback run 73 yards to the end zone on the first play of The Citadel's second drive to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
The touchdown was a career-long for the senior quarterback and the 29th of his career as he closes in on Stump Mitchell (31) for third place in school history. Dupree finished the game with 99 yards on nine carries, falling just one yard shy of earning his second consecutive 100-yard contest.
Georgia Southern would get on the board four minutes later to even the score on a one-yard rush by McKinnon, which was set up by a 63-yard scamper by McKinnon earlier in the drive.
A botched hold on a Georgia Southern field goal attempt resulted in a turnover on downs, but a Citadel punt gave the ball back to the Eagles, who were able to march 61 yards and score on a seven-yard McKinnon run with 9:20 left in the second quarter. Derek Douglas was able to get his hand on the extra point and blocked the kick to leave the Bulldogs down 13-7 at the half.
McKinnon finished the game with 198 yards on 32 carries to lead all runners. Ellison added another 135 to become the second rushing duo this season to top the century mark against the Bulldog defense. Ellison also completed 7 of 10 pass attempts for another 138 yards.
Following the second half kickoff, the Eagles used another sustained seven-play, 77-yard drive which included a 53-yard rush by Ellison and ended with a three-yard touchdown run by Johnathan Bryant to give the Eagles a 20-7 lead heading into the final quarter.
James Riley and Carl Robinson led the Bulldogs with 10 tackles apiece. Mark Thomas recorded the game's only sack, giving him 7.5 for his career, while Derek Douglas added a tackle for loss to move him into ninth place in Citadel history with 35.5 for his career. Justin Oxendine added another tackle for loss and leads the team with eight on the year.
The Bulldogs take next Saturday off and travel to Chattanooga on Oct. 26 to take on the Mocs at Finley Stadium. Georgia Southern also has next week off before heading to Appalachian State on Oct. 26.