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.
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.