UTC's Ailym Ford drags a Citadel defender into the end zone
Source: UTC Athletics
FCS

SoCon Week 10 Recap and Look Ahead to Week 11

Week 10 seemed more like an appetizer for next Saturday, which has a pair of games that will ultimately decide the SoCon title picture moving forward.

John Hooper
John Hooper

There were three teams that had a bye week Saturday, as East Tennessee State, Furman and Mercer all enjoyed Saturday off, and there was a light SoCon football schedule.

Western Carolina and Wofford met in a game that had no bearing on the Southern Conference regular-season title, while league-leading Samford hosted VMI in a matchup of league undefeated and a team looking to win their first first SoCon game of the season.

Chattanooga was on the road in Charleston looking to bounce back after a 24-21 loss at Furman last Saturday and remain in the Southern Conference title race.

Western Carolina 36, Wofford 29

Western Carolina was able to snap what was a three-game losing streak by garnering its second-straight win over a feisty Wofford team, as the Catamounts scored with just 2:53 remaining and were able to hold on for the seven-point win on a rainy homecoming Saturday in the mountains of Western Carolina.

With the win, Western Carolina improved to 4-5 overall and 2-4 in Southern Conference action, while Wofford fell to 2-7 overall and 2-4 in league play. The Catamounts will have two games to try and close with its first winning record to close a season since finishing the 2017 season with a 7-5 record, as they close out the season with a trip to ETSU next week, while hosting Chattanooga in the final week of the 2022 regular season.

Wofford will close the final two weeks of the season by taking on VMI next week in Spartanburg, while closing out the season on November 19th on the road at arch-rival Furman.

Coupled with last season's 41-21 win by the Catamounts in Spartanburg, Western Carolina's 36-29 win Saturday in Cullowhee marked the first time Western Carolina has won back-to-back games in the series between the two since doing so in 1984 (31-0) and then again in Wofford's first season as SoCon member in 1996 (24-6).

Saturday's game saw what has been a record-setting Western Carolina continue to roll up yards and points, and it was the fifth game out of nine the season, in which the Catamounts have amassed over 500 yards of total offense, finishing with 515 in Saturday's home win over the Terriers. It was a balanced offensive afternoon for the Catamounts, putting up 268 yards through the air, while finishing with 247 on the ground.

The drive that proved to be the game-winning drive for the Catamounts covered a short field, as Western got outstanding field position after Wofford was forced to punt deep out of its own end zone in a driving rain. The Catamounts took over at the Wofford 40, and did most of their damage via the ground, as Desmond Reid gained 27 of the 40 yards needed on the final drive. However, it was Jalynn Williams that would run the ball across the goal line on a short 6-yard scamper with 2:53 remaining.

The Catamount defense would do the rest, holding off the pass-happy Terriers and quarterback Jimmy Weirick to snap a five-game losing skid on homecoming. Western Carolina started the day strong on their opening possession of the day, fashioning a 13-play drive to put the first points on the board of the afternoon, as Richard McCollum booted through a 33-yard field goal to give the Catamounts an early first-quarter lead.

Wofford would respond on their first drive to take a 7-3 lead, however, as Ryan Ingram scored on a 2-yard run to conclude what was a 6-play, 69-yard scoring drive to give Wofford a four-point lead with 2:50 remaining in the first.

In the second quarter, the Catamounts regained the lead, as McCollum’s second field goal of the three he connected on for the afternoon split the uprights from 36 yards out, getting the Purple and Gold to within a point of the Terriers midway through the frame. With just over a minute left, Jalynn Williams plunged over from a yard out to make it a 12-7 Catamount lead after the failed two-point conversion play.

It looked like that would be the score heading into the locker room, but the Terriers had different ideas. Wofford found the end zone for the second time in the contest with only four seconds remaining in the half, as Kyle Pinnix caught a 13-yard scoring strike from Weirick, giving the Terriers a 14-12 lead and all the momentum heading into the locker room. Wofford would get the ball coming out of the locker room with a chance to increase its lead to its largest margin of the day.

The Terriers would do just that, as Wofford Weirick led the offense quickly down the field, and Nathan Walker plunged over from 2 yards to finish off what was a quick, four play,

75-yard drive. The drive was highlighted by completions of 23 and 29 yards from Weirick. The Terriers had eyes on their third win under their new interim head coach Shawn Watson, leading 21-12 just 2:05 into the third quarter.

The Catamounts would close the third frame playing some of their best football of the day. Quarterback Carlos Davis tossed his first of a pair of scoring passes in the third quarter when he found Censere Lee on a short 8-yard scoring pass with 9:20 remaining in the third to cut Wofford’s lead to two, at 21-19. A little less than five minutes later, Davis produced WCU’s longest play from scrimmage of the day, as he launched a bomb, and speedy wideout Raphael Williams outran the Terrier secondary to haul in the 73-yard strike, helping the hometown Catamounts regain the lead, 26-21, with 4:27 left.

The see-saw affair would continue into the fourth quarter, as Wofford would regain the lead on another touchdown run from Ingram, plunging in from 2 yards to make it 29-26 lead following a successful two-point conversion. It was Wofford’s most dominating drive of the afternoon, covering 75 yards, but using 14 plays to chew up 5:24 off the game clock, and Ingram’s run came with 14:03 left in the game.

Midway through the final quarter, the Catamounts would tie the football game on what was a beautifully managed nine-play, 60-yard scoring drive, which looked like it would yield more promising results than another field goal, however, after covering 58 yards, the drive stalled at the 2-yard line and McCollum was forced to come on for the 19-yard field goal, tying the football game, 29-29, with just under seven minutes left.

After a penalty on the ensuing kickoff put the Terriers’ starting position at their own 8, the Catamount defense was able to force a three-and-out and Wofford would eventually be forced to punt out of its own end zone, and after dropping the snap in slippery, wet conditions, Terrier punter Atkins Roberts was only able to get off a 28-yard punt, giving the Catamounts a short field.

After Williams capped the drive with the aforementioned 6-yard scoring run with 2:53 remaining, the Terriers got the ball back and Wofford did get one first down on a fourth down run, but the Catamount defense came up with a big stop on the next set up of downs. In the final quarter, Western’s defense put the clamps down on the Wofford offense to just 19 yards on 17 plays in the final quarter alone, out-gaining the Terriers, 515-349, in total offense for the game.

The two quarterbacks played well throughout the day. Davis finished the contest going 16-of-24 passes for 268 yards and a pair of TD passes, and also added 78 yards rushing.

Wofford’s Jimmy Weirick, who set a school record for passing in Wofford’s win over East Tennessee State last Saturday, finished the game by passing for 269 yards and and a touchdown, with his favorite target in the passing attack being Kyle Pinnix hauling in five passes for 87 yards and a score.

It was another strong day rushing the football for Desmond Reid, who finished the contest with his third 100-yard rushing effort of the season, as he finished with 112 yards on 20 carries to lead the way for Western Carolina. Reid accounted for 157 all-purpose yards in the win, as he also had 32 yards receiving on three catches.

Chattanooga and Samford take care of business to post a pair of key league wins

League-leading and 10th-ranked Samford had its hands full on a rainy Saturday in Birmingham at Seibert Stadium, but came on strong in the second half to overcome what was a 12-7 halftime deficit to come up with a 34-15 win over VMI, who remained winless in Southern Conference play this season, and has now dropped nine-straight league games dating back to last season.

The 19-point win by the Bulldogs marked the seventh-straight win for Samford, who improved to 8-1 overall and remained undefeated at 6-0 in league play, marking the best start to a SoCon season since joining the league as an official gridiron member in 2008. The win was also the 48 th for Samford head coach Chris Hatcher, which made him the new all-time wins leader in Samford football history. The loss saw VMI fall to 1-8 overall and 0-6 in league play.

The Bulldogs almost looked as if they were caught looking ahead to next Saturday’s game against No. 14 Chattanooga in a game with all kinds of SoCon title and FCS playoff implications, as the Keydets, who were buoyed by the return of starting quarterback Seth Morgan, came out and hit Samford in the mouth in the opening half of play. That first half effort, however, saw the Keydets only able to get field goals instead of touchdowns when entering the red zone, as Jerry Rice split the uprights on five occasions, with four of those field goals coming in the opening half.

The Bulldogs would out-score Samford 27-3 in the second half to produce the big homecoming win and set up a monumental gridiron clash next Saturday in the Scenic City between a pair of Top 15 teams. SoCon reigning Offensive Player of the Month-quarterback Michael Hiers-finished by connecting on 30-of-38 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns and one INT to lead the Samford offense. It marked the fifth time this season that Hiers has had a four-touchdown passing performance.

His favorite target in the passing attack was Chandler Smith, who continues to have a huge season for the Bulldogs, as he hauled in 10 passes for 134 yards and a pair of TDs.

Kendall Watson finished the day with five catches for 98 yards, which included a 70-yard scoring catch on the final play of the third period.

VMI jumped out to a 9-0 lead on three field goals from Rice before Samford eventually found the end zone late in the opening half when Hiers tossed a short pass out in the flats to Jaylan Thomas for what was a two-yard scoring catch to make it a 9-7 game.

After VMI’s Rice hit the upright and then saw the ball come down through the uprights with 14 seconds left in the half, the Keydets carried a measure of confidence into the halftime locker room, leading 12-7.

Samford took the lead for good and needed just three plays coming out of the locker room to take the 14-12 lead, as Smith hauled in a Hiers pass over the middle and scampered 49 yards to the end zone, getting Samford started on the fast track to another win.

The win snapped a three-game winning streak in the series by VMI, as the previous two games heading into Saturday’s homecoming clash resulted in a pair of one-point wins for the Keydets.

Samford has now held an opponent without a TD for two-straight weeks, marking the first time that has happened since the 2014 season. While Samford will take on No. 11 Chattanooga next Saturday, VMI will face Wofford in Spartanburg with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff time.

Rounding Saturday’s league results, Chattanooga was able to take care of business on the road at the other half of the military representation, overcoming The Citadel, 31-21, in Charleston, and like Samford, faced an early deficit against a Bulldogs team hungry for a win.

The win by the Mocs saw them improve to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in Southern Conference action heading into next week’s crucial showdown with Samford. The loss saw the Bulldogs fall to 2-7 overall and 2-5 in Southern Conference play.

A sluggish opening quarter saw the Mocs trailing 7-3 after one quarter of play, Chattanooga would see its defense dictate the order of things in the second quarter, holding the Bulldogs off the scoreboard. Chattanooga was able to breakthrough and get the lone TD of the second quarter when Ailym Ford, who was back in the lineup after having not made the trip to Greenville against Furman last week, plunged in on a 2-yard scoring run with 12:27 remaining in the half, giving the Mocs their first lead of the day, at 10-7, and that would be the score as the two teams entered the halftime locker room.

In the second half, the Mocs began to assert their dominance, extending a 10-7 lead to 24-7, outscoring the Bulldogs 14-0 in the third quarter. Ford got the Mocs on the board first with his second scoring run of the day on a 6-yard TD run to conclude an impressive 11-play, 77-yard scoring drive coming out of the half. Late in the third quarter, the Mocs went ahead by 17 points when Camden Overton hauled in a 36-yard scoring pass from Preston Hutchinson to make it 24-7.

The Bulldogs would never get closer than 10 points the rest of the way, and after Christian Hilton hauled in a 19-yard scoring pass from quarterback Payton Derrick just a little over a minute into the final frame, Chattanooga restored order when Gino Appelberry plunged over for a 1-yard TD with 8:56 left, which all but decided the game, as the Mocs assumed a 31-14 lead.

The Citadel would tack on a score a little over four minutes later when Cooper Wallace hauled in a 14-yard scoring pass from Derrick with 4:43 remaining, setting the final margin, at 31-21.

What's Ahead Next Saturday

  • No. 13 Furman (7-2, 5-1 SoCon) at No. 12 Mercer (7-2, 5-1 SoCon), 3 p.m. (SoCon Game of the Week)
  • No. 10 Samford (8-1, 6-0 SoCon) at No. 11 Chattanooga (7-2, 5-1 SoCon), 1:30 p.m.

While the East Tennessee State-Mercer game was the de facto Southern Conference regular-season last season, deciding the one playoff participant on the final Saturday, this season it will be the penultimate week of league play that could decide so much.

If Samford wins at Chattanooga, it would snap quite a trend. The Bulldogs have not defeated the Mocs since 2013, which interestingly enough, saw the Bulldogs capture a 17-14 overtime win in a game that forged a three-way tie atop the league’s standings, with Chattanooga, Samford and Furman finishing the weekend in a tie for first place following the events that went down at Seibert Stadium in overtime on Nov. 16, 2013.

Samford’s Warren Handrahan kicked the Bulldogs into the lead on a 43-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime, giving Samford the 17-14 lead. Then on defense the Bulldogs would hold the Mocs to a field goal attempt, and Nick Pollard’s field goal attempt would connect with the left upright, handing the Bulldogs another dramatic win.

That loss would end up costing Chattanooga an FCS playoff bid, as Furman would end up being the auto bid qualifier, despite a 31-13 loss to a clearly more talented Chattanooga team during the regular-season. However, as a result of Chattanooga’s league losses to Georgia Southern (L, 23-21) and Samford (L, 17-14 OT), which were both teams that Furman defeated during the SoCon regular-season, and the fact that Furman also won at The Citadel, which accounted for one of Samford’s two league losses, the Paladins were awarded the automatic bid because the Paladins also beat Samford head-to-head.

All that to say things got really crazy in that penultimate weekend of league play some nine years ago. The Bulldogs would later have to vacate that shared title due to playing with ineligible players, which was a violation self-reported by Samford. The public infractions report released by the NCAA wouldn’t come until three years later, and you can read about that decision levied by the NCAA rules committee.

Samford has a chance to take a step closer to right the wrongs of nine years ago with a win Saturday in Chattanooga, however, it gets no closer as the Bulldogs will host Mercer in another potentially huge game on Nov. 19 in the final game of the regular-season. That could indeed once again be a de facto title game.

However, Furman and Mercer must play first and it’s the Southern Conference game of the Week. The Paladins have lost their last two to Drew Cronic’s Bears. Cronic spent a total of 10 seasons as an assistant at Furman, totaling nine yards under former Paladin and Bears head coach Bobby Lamb (2002-10) and another one season as Furman’s offensive coordinator in 2017 before moving on to become the head coach at Mercer. Redshirt Sports will have more on both of these games in the coming days in the lead up to these two monumental league clashes.