Furman and the Citadel had played each other 98 times before last Saturday’s matchup of Southern Conference rivals. The rivalry exemplifies so much of what we hold dear in College Football, but the vast majority of those matchups lacked one crucial component: BEER. After the Citadel decided to allow beer in Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2017, Furman finally followed suit and opened the Champions Grove Beer Garden on Saturday. Not a moment too soon for Paladian fans, who could use a tall one to wash away a 27-10 upset loss by #8 Furman at the hand of the Bulldogs.
I can’t imagine a more perfect game to start this series. First, Furman and the Citadel are perfect rivals. The South Carolina schools obviously have bad blood on the football field. But they also just dislike each other generally.
The Citadel looks at Furman as a school for the upper class, who waste time on frivolous thought experiments over more practical pursuits. Furman fans sometimes call the Cadets of the Citadel “bellhops” because of their uniforms and because they view the Cadets as West Point rejects.
Obviously, neither stereotype is true or even honestly believed in. But the barbs between the schools show just how different they are. The military academy hyper-focused on discipline contrasted with the tiny liberal arts school with strict, academic standards. While Furman is trying to distance itself from its slavery-riddled past, the Citadel has a webpage celebrating its Confederate roots in the “War between the States.”
The game also had some big stakes beyond the rivalry. Furman came into the game undefeated in the SoCon. The Paladins were also poised to get a top-8 seed in the playoffs after reaching their highest ranking since 2006. Despite beating Georgia Tech earlier this year, the Citadel, with two conference losses, desperately needed a win to stay alive in the conference.
Then, the game itself was just perfect college football (to me, at least). Misty, consistent rain pelted the players and fans in Greenville. Luckily, the teams wouldn’t have to adjust too much for the rain as they both run the triple option, something that would only happen in FCS.
It was gloriously gross. Furman and Citadel combined for 532 rushing yards in the mud. There were more rushing attempts (100) than passing yards (76). The rain contributed to the three fumbles as players just couldn’t hold on to the ball. It also contributed to one of the worst passes I’ve ever seen, which was intercepted by Furman.
Bryan Okeh with the interception pic.twitter.com/mdZ3o3KnCj— Furman Football (@PaladinFootball) October 19, 2019
I question the logic of having a wide receiver on a triple option team throw the ball deep downfield in a driving rainstorm. But the Citadel was probably practicing that play all year and, damnit, they were going to use it against their arch-rival come hell or high water.
It wasn’t about the win necessarily, it was about the weight of pride at stake in this game. And that’s why this game is perfect FCS football. Two perfect rivals, running ancient offenses, making silly mistakes, and overcoming them to ruin the other’s season.
FCS BLOOD WAS SPILT ON SATURDAY. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a blood week, the internet’s only college football podcast, the Shutdown Fullcast, created it and set out the parameters for a blood week here. Basically, a blood week is when a bunch of ranked teams get upset, turning the rankings on their head. Well that may have happened on Saturday. Here are all the upsets from Week 8 (rankings are from the Coaches Poll):
- #6 Montana got blown out by #17 Sacramento State 48-22
- The aforementioned upset of #8 Furman
- #9 Nicholls was shutout by Sam Houston State
- #11 NC A&T lost its postponed game to Florida A&M on Sunday
- #14 Jacksonville State fell at home to SE Missouri State
- #18 Youngstown State lost by 25 points to the Salukis of Southern Illinois
- Previously 1-6 Tennessee State dropped #19 Austin Peay
- #23 New Hampshire lost a big CAA matchup to #24 Delaware (which doesn’t really count but whatever).
I’m not properly ordained to officially declare a blood week. But I submit this week to the proper authorities for consideration.
I want to highlight a couple of things from one of those upsets, Sacramento State’s beatdown of Montana. First is the tremendous coaching job by first-year head coach Troy Taylor. The Hornets have not lost to an FCS team all season and now have a signature win for 2019. The victory over Montana, a Big Sky juggernaut, may be the biggest win in the history of the program. It pushed Sac St to its highest-ever ranking at 8th in this week’s Coaches Poll. As long as the Hornets don’t collapse, Taylor will get a lot of Coach of the Year consideration. But they should just give him the award for this play:
My guy not only went for it on fourth-and-six up by 20, but also went for the jugular on that play. The perfectly executed wheel route by Elijah Dotson and absolute dime by Kevin Thomson put an exclamation point on the win. The Hornets are scary right now.
The second thing that is of equal importance as the game to me is Sacramento State’s mascot, Herky the Hornet. I cannot stress how important it is for you to click this link and see how Herky’s costume has evolved over the years. Some of the costume designs are truly astonishing. In addition to the ridiculous looks, Herky has an air of mystery to him. In fact, no one is even sure why the Hornet is named Herky.
It’s one of the great things about college football that you see most often in FCS: we take pride in something weird or silly and no one is really sure why. These things just become a part of the team’s, school’s, and our own identities. They are what unite us in this sport. As Herky once told the Sacramento State school newspaper, The State Hornet, in 2017: “Herky is kind of who you want him to be . . . he’s for everybody.”