By Brian Gargone
Asst. Director of Media Relations/Football SID
Twenty-one years ago today, Dec. 5, 1992, the Bulldogs’ miraculous “dream season” came to end in a 42-17 defeat at the hands of then sixth-ranked Youngstown State in the second round of the NCAA playoffs. That 11-2 Citadel team’s only two losses came against the teams who competed for the 1992 National Championship – Youngstown State and Marshall.
The game, held at Johnson Hagood Stadium, was a week after The Citadel’s first-ever NCAA Division I-AA playoff win as the top-ranked Bulldogs routed North Carolina A&T 44-0 and two weeks after claiming its first Southern Conference title since 1961.
The Citadel was picked to finish fifth out of the eight league teams in the preseason poll and instead won a program-record 11 games, including two against Division I-A foes Arkansas (10-3) and Army (15-14), and spent four weeks as the No. 1 team in the nation.
The resilient ’92 squad, which overcame early adversity after a controversial Sports Illustrated article attempted to put a black eye on the program, won its first six games, including a 25-0 shutout of No. 13 Appalachian State in Boone, N.C.
The Citadel’s only loss of the regular season came in week seven when ninth-ranked Marshall, which was then a member of the Southern Conference, came to Charleston and beat the Dogs in front of a sellout crowd. That attendance mark of 23,025 still stands as the biggest crowd ever at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
The Bulldogs dropped to No. 6 in the polls following the loss, but more importantly fell to second place in the conference. They needed to win the rest of their conference games paired with at least two losses from the Thundering Herd in order to keep their league title hopes alive.
The Citadel did its part and collected a big 36-31 win at Western Carolina the following week, leaving the Bulldogs with a bye week as the team watched closely at the Marshall-Western Carolina game.
The Catamounts topped the Herd in a close 38-30 contest, and the Bulldogs were suddenly right back in the conference title hunt.
The following week, while The Citadel was posting a 32-14 non-conference win over Newberry, Marshall lost to the Mountaineers, putting the Bulldogs atop the conference standings and national rankings.
In front of a crowd of 21,811 (second most in JHS history), the Bulldogs dominated their military rival in a 50-0 win over VMI for the coveted Silver Shako trophy and followed up that performance with a 20-14 road win against long-time conference foe Furman in the regular season finale.
The Dogs won the outright conference title (6-1) and were subsequently awarded the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, earning the right to host a postseason game for the first time in program history the following week against No. 15 North Carolina A&T.
Jack Douglas completed three passes for 142 yards in the first half to catch the Aggies off guard and give the Bulldogs a 13-0 lead in the second quarter. Todd Lair scooped up a fumble and ran it back 65 yards for a score as time expired in the first half to give the Bulldogs a dominant 20-0 advantage.
A 66-yard punt return by Lester Smith gave The Citadel the scoring trifecta, posting points on offense, defense and special teams to lift the Bulldogs into the second round of the playoffs against Youngstown State.
Three first half scores by the sixth-seeded Penguins gave YSU a 21-0 lead before a nine-yard touchdown run by Douglas put the Bulldogs on the board before the half.
A 13-yard rush by Everette Sands which cut the deficit to seven was the lone third quarter score. A 32-yard field goal by Jeff Trinh shrunk the margin to four, but it would be the closest the Bulldogs could get on the day. An explosion of fourth quarter points on three rushing scores by three different Penguins gave YSU its final margin and ended the most successful season in Bulldog history to date.
Youngstown State defeated Northern Iowa 19-7 the following week to punch its ticket to the national championship, while Marshall defeated Delaware 28-7.
The game, held on Marshall’s home field in Huntingdon, W.Va., ended with the Southern Conference runner-up Thundering Herd gaining the 31-28 win.
Even falling two wins shy of the ultimate goal of every team, the Bulldogs gained national recognition as the roster boasted two AP All-Americans in Carey Cash and Lester Smith. Terrance Forney and Lance Hansen, along with Smith and Cash, were named to the Walter Camp All-American list, and Smith, Cash and Hansen were selected as The Sports Network’s All-Americans.
Head Coach Charlie Taaffe was voted as the Eddie Robinson Award winner (National I-AA Coach of the Year) and went on to coach the Bulldogs until 1995. During his nine-year tenure at the helm, Taaffe collected 55 wins, which still stands as the most in school history.
Following The Citadel, Taaffe went north to become the offensive coordinator of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes for two seasons before being named head coach in 1999. During his final season with the Alouettes, Taaffe’s squad broke the CFL’s all-time record for points in a regular season with 594.
The following year Taaffe returned to the states to take over as offensive coordinator at Maryland where he would find great success from 2001-05. Following a short stint at the University of Pittsburgh and two seasons with CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the former Bulldog coach made his way to Central Florida where he has been a fixture on the Golden Knights’ sideline since 2009.
Taaffe helped guide UCF to a Conference USA Championship in 2010 and the team is guaranteed at least a share of the first-ever American Conference title. The 15th-ranked Knights (10-1, 7-0) can win the league outright this weekend when they take on Southern Methodist in Dallas.
Time has not dimmed the memory of that historic 1992 season. Although the players and coaching staff have all moved on in their lives and careers, they will always look back at the season that they helped put Bulldog football on the map.
Check out the video below, which captures all of the media surrounding the 1992 Bulldog football team!