CHARLESTON, S.C. — In 2011, The Citadel’s Ryan Sellers missed a 37-yard field goal and allowed Georgia Southern to escape with a two-point win at Paulson Stadium.
This time, it was GSU’s turn.
Freshman kicker Ryan Nowicki missed a 31-yard field goal as time expired, and The Citadel escaped with a 23-21 win over the third-ranked Eagles Saturday at Johnson-Haygood Stadium.
The Eagles (1-1, 0-1 Southern Conference) replaced four-year, record-setting veterans at snapper, holder and kicker after the 2011 season.
Against the Citadel, and with a new unit, the snap was high, and the kick was wide left.
The Eagles lost despite collecting 112 more offensive yards than the Bulldogs.
"Two weeks is painful to have to live with this, no doubt about it," said GSU coach Jeff Monken, whose Eagles are off next Saturday before returning to action on Sept. 22 against Elon. "As poorly as we played, I thought we had a chance to win. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win, we just didn’t get it done."
The Citadel (2-0, 1-0) trailed, 21-20, when it got the ball with 3 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the game, and needed a handful of breaks to get into field goal range.
"They all recalled that moment on the field (in 2011) when we had a chance to win it last year," said The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, "and I knew they would find a way to win it this year if they had the chance.
The drive started with what appeared to be a turnover on downs when Citadel quarterback Aaron Miller threw a pass on 4th-and-3 over his receivers head, but GSU’s Lavelle Westbrooks was flagged for pass interference, giving the Bulldogs a fresh set of downs.
Miller threw an incomplete pass on second down, GSU defensive tackle Brent Russell blew up the other two plays at the line of scrimmage to make tackles for loss, and The Citadel found itself in 4th-and-14.
"The defense knew we had to make something happen," said Russell. "We thought we played pretty well at the end. The Citadel just brought it to us and beat us."
Miller extended the drive again with a 20-pass to Greg Adams.
The Citadel’s Thomas Warren kicked a 37-yard field goal — the same distance as the one Sellers missed in 2011 — to put the Bulldogs ahead with 35 seconds left.
The Eagles had to get back down the field in a hurry, and J.J. Wilcox got the comeback attempt started with a 53-yard kickoff return to The Citadel’s 42.
Georgia Southern quarterback Ezayi Youyoute completed a 16-yard pass to Johnathan Bryant to set up the missed field goal attempt.
It was the first time GSU lost to The Citadel since 2006.
"We had, what, 72 yards of rushing in the second half? We’re Georgia Southern," Monken said. "If we can’t run the ball more than that, we deserve to lose. We got our butts kicked. We’ve got to block. We’ve got to block and sustain blocks, period. They beat blocks. They whipped us."
Despite the Eagles outgaining The Citadel 99-81 in the first quarter, the Eagles trailed 14-7 after 15 minutes.
The Bulldogs capitalized on two fumbles deep in GSU territory — one by Domique Swope and another when an option pitch from Youtoute bounced off the hands of Bryant — and had a pair of short scoring drives.
Rickey Anderson had a 19-yard touchdown run and Domonic Jones caught a 26-yard pass from Bulldogs quarterback Ben Dupree.
"Hold on to the ball. Hold on to the ball," said GSU running back Jerick McKinnon. "In a game like this, it’s all about who gets the time of possessions, and who gets the most possessions. You’ve got to keep the ball off the ground and hold onto it."
The Eagles finally put together a drive late in the first quarter. The 65-yard, 11-play series featured a 21-yard scamper by Youyoute and was capped off with an eight-yard scoring run by McKinnon.
After a three-and-out, by the Bulldogs, GSU handed out a heavy dose of Swope on its next drive.
Swope (26-130) carried the ball seven times for 42 yards and led GSU to the 2-yard line, where he punched it in for the game-tying touchdown.
Thomas Warren kicked a second-quarter field goal to give the lead back to the Bulldogs, and GSU’s Nowicki had a 31-yard attempt blocked by Jones as the second quarter ended to leave the Eagles trailing 17-14 at the break.
Another Warren field goal made it 20-14.
The Eagles needed an acrobatic, seven-yard run by McKinnon on 4th-and-6 to keep the go-ahead drive alive in the fourth quarter, which ended with a Youyoute touchdown. It was the first time in the game GSU led, and the Citadel took the lead back for good with a field goal 5:37 later.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.