(STATS) – Charleston Southern literally brought out the broom following its comeback victory over The Citadel in late September, proud to have swept what appeared to be the final three games in a local rivalry turned sour.
Turns out there's a little more housecleaning left to do before this series hits the shelf.
The stakes have never been higher between these schools separated by 16 miles of I-26, with Saturday's winner at Buccaneer Field not only advancing to the FCS quarterfinals but also holding some provincial bragging rights for the foreseeable future.
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Jamey Chadwell inherited a Charleston Southern program that was one season removed from going 0-11 when he took over in 2013, and the turnaround didn't take long. The Buccaneers went 10-3 in his first season at the helm, barely missed the playoffs while going 8-4 in 2014 and finished the job this season by rolling through all six Big South games and going 9-0 against FCS competition.
Arguably the stiffest FCS challenge Charleston Southern faced came Sept. 26 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel's 21,000-seat facility in the Hampton Park neighborhood on Charleston's downtown peninsula. The Buccaneers trailed by 11 at halftime and by four going into the fourth quarter before ripping off the game's final 17 points in a 33-20 victory.
It was the third win in as many tries over The Citadel (9-3) since Chadwell stepped foot on the school's North Charleston campus, and he felt like celebrating – or rubbing it in the Bulldogs' face, depending on who you ask. After Mike Holloway's 73-yard touchdown run with 3:54 remaining, Chadwell ordered a broom to be brought out from Charleston Southern's locker room. Following a Gatorade bath and a prayer circle, he made three lengthy sweeping motions with what's become South Carolina's most infamous household cleaning supply – one for each victory over The Citadel – as the Buccaneers players yelled “sweep, sweep, sweep!” at midfield.
The celebration was drenched with a dose of perceived finality from a coach who, one year earlier, emerged from the locker room in a shirt that read “Charleston, it's Southern's City” after beating The Citadel.
No future games between the schools have been scheduled, largely because Charleston Southern wants to make it a true home-and-home while The Citadel has no interest in splitting the series down the middle. The Bulldogs also have less wiggle room as a member of what will be a nine-team Southern Conference in 2016, while the Buccaneers' league slate is just six.
“There's probably not a chance that we're ever going to play again as long as I'm here, maybe while (Citadel head coach Mike Houston) is here,” Chadwell said after the September victory.
Not so fast, coach.
Chadwell turned out to be a bit premature in his thinking thanks to a crafty setup from the FCS playoff committee, which was going to offer up one familiar opponent – either The Citadel or Big South rival Coastal Carolina – to Charleston Southern for its first-ever playoff game. When the Bulldogs went on the road and beat the Chanticleers 41-38, it set up Saturday's rematch at 4,000-seat Buccaneer Field – and it's the constant reminder of that small capacity that's a big part of Chadwell's animosity toward The Citadel.
Chadwell said in September that his program feels “disrespected” by The Citadel due to his own program's smaller facilities, and that was merely an appetizer for his David-vs.-Goliath approach leading up to the matchup. The Bulldogs won five of the six meetings before Chadwell's arrival, all of which were played at The Citadel.
“There is no rivalry. Everything we're trying to do is make it a rivalry,” he said. “I've tried my best to stoke the fire. Maybe it is a rivalry. I hope it is, but when I got here there was no rivalry at all.
“I've tried to show our guys – since (The Citadel) has been the big dog for a long time – that the porch is big enough for two. Our guys know where we fit in the pecking order. If we can continue to win, hopefully we can get on the front page with them side by side.”
The polar opposite of Chadwell is the stoic Houston, who in his second season after coming over from Division II's Lenoir-Rhyne has the Bulldogs in the playoffs for the first time since 1992. When told Chadwell was excited to get another crack at the team he considers the alpha dog in Charleston, Houston delivered a response that Bill Belichick might have considered pithy.
“This is the most important game of the year because it's the next one,” he said. “They are the opponent, so we are very excited to play them.”
Whereas Chadwell is practically inviting controversy, Houston wanted little to do with discussing Charleston Southern's fall cleaning in his house 10 weeks ago.
“Anything of that nature, that outside stuff, I really don't address,” he said. “It really doesn't matter and it won't matter once the ball kicks off.
“The one thing I've always been proud of is the way our team represents itself after a game, win or lose. They conduct themselves with the utmost class, and we're going to focus on us.”
For his part, Chadwell – referring to himself in the third person – seemed to want to sweep the broom incident under the rug.
“Coach Chadwell probably could have handled it better, but I'm not going to take back why we did what we did with it,” he said. “It was for our motivation; it had nothing to do with their program.”
Chadwell did promise another unique celebration should things go his way Saturday, but he may want to spend any time used creatively brainstorming ideas instead brushing up on The Citadel's option attack. The Buccaneers limited the Bulldogs to a season-low 181 yards on 42 carries and held a 494-290 yardage difference overall, but The Citadel is quite capable of controlling the game – and the clock – on the ground.
That's exactly what the Bulldogs did against Coastal Carolina, holding the ball for nearly 38 minutes and using four different 100-yard rushers to pile up 524 yards. One of those players was fullback Tyler Renew, who hit triple digits for the third straight week after running for 174 yards in The Citadel's stunning 23-22 win at South Carolina a week earlier.
Charleston Southern held the Bulldogs to just 15 second-half rushing yards.
“It'll be a lot of the same game plan,” Chadwell said. “When you play an offense like them, they sort of dictate the way you can line up.”
The Citadel also has forced 29 turnovers, 16 more than an otherwise stout Charleston Southern defense has managed to create, and rust could be a factor for the Buccaneers. They haven't played in two weeks, and many of their regulars saw limited action in a 56-6 loss to Alabama on Nov. 21.
Charleston Southern will be playing in front of some 90,000 fewer fans Saturday than it did in Tuscaloosa, but there will still be considerably more than it's used to seeing at home games. Nearly 2,000 temporary seats will be brought in to help accommodate fans intent on witnessing the biggest college football game to hit the Lowcountry in years, and based on last September's Buccaneer Field-record turnout against The Citadel – 7,934 – there should be a heavy standing-room contingent.
Still not enough, however, to silence the Bulldogs fans who wanted the game moved downtown from North Charleston.
If there's one thing Chadwell and Houston can agree on, though, it's the potential for Saturday's game to be a seminal moment for college football in The Holy City.
“I think (the interest) speaks volume for Lowcountry football,” Chadwell said. “Whether you're a fan of us or them, how special it is to have two FCS teams in the top 16 in the country both here in the city of Charleston.”