SoCon Football 2021: Week 7 notebook

Chattanooga gets back into league race with rivalry win/photo courtesy of UTC athletics

Week seven left us less sure about the Southern Conference race going forward, as most of the week found us scratching our heads as to who actually is the favorite in the Southern Conference race.

Later in the week, I’ll do my best to provide some SoCon power rankings, but at this point, it’s guess work. The one thing I will say is that despite its loss Saturday, I do think East Tennessee State is the team to beat in the SoCon race.

Pardon me boys…is that the rail rivalry in Choo Choo City

Yes, I picked East Tennessee State to win the rail rivalry and move to 7-0 for the first time in school history, however, the Mocs didn’t comply, as the preseason SoCon consensus favorites moved to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in SoCon play, with a thrilling 21-16 win over the Bucs Saturday in the Scenic City.

The victory by the Mocs marked its first win over a Top 10 opponent since a win over No. 8/9 Samford, 23-21, in 2017.

Having watched the game, it was apparent that this game had everything you might expect out of a rivalry game, with a measured approach from both head coaches–Chattanooga’s Rusty Wright and ETSU’s Randy Sanders–and not surprisingly in a matchup between the opening half of play featured a good amount of sloppiness by both offensive units, penalties, turnovers and only seven points. After all, that’s kind what you get when you have two of the SoCon’s top defensive units facing off against each other in a rivalry game with a piece of a railroad at stake as a trophy.

The only touchdown of the opening came from Chattanooga Tyrell Price scored on an 8-yard scoring run on the opening play of the second quarter to give the Mocs a 7-0 lead.

While the second half featured a little more offense, it was defense that still ordered how the game would pan out. In particular for Chattanooga, it was Devonsha Maxwell who started to have a major effect on the game in the second half, recording a school-record 4.5 sacks in the game, which was reminiscent of Furman’s Bryan Dailer’s SoCon-record six sack effort against the Mocs in that very same stadium way back in 1997 against the Mocs.

The win marked Chattanooga’s third-straight win in the rail-rivalry, and put the Mocs back into the SoCon race following a loss to VMI (37-34) in overtime on the road last Saturday.

The Bucs had the better of the day offensively on the stats sheet, however, out-gaining UTC 342-317. However, Chattanooga managed a 235-160 edge on the ground, due to a strong afternoon from running back duo Tyrell Price (102 rush yds, 2 TDs) and Ailym Ford (95 rush yds, 1 TD).

The Bucs owned the aerial battle, out-gaining the Mocs 182-82 through the air. ETSU sophomore signal-caller Tyler Riddell connected on 17-of-29 passes for 182 yds, with a TD and an INT. Meanwhile, UTC’s Cole Copeland connected on 8-of-14 passes for 82 yds, with an INT.

Not to be outdone by another outstanding day from Maxwell, ETSU’s Jalen Porter, who entered the contest as the SoCon’s sack leader, finished the contest with six tackles, 2.0 TFL and a sack. Alijah Huzzie registered his first INT of the season for the Bucs defense.

Maxwell finished his day with seven tackles, five tackles-for-loss, five sacks and forced a fumble.

VMI plants it’s flag at Five Star Stadium in emphatic fashion

Chance Knox/photo courtesy of VMI athletics

In case anyone forgot, VMI won the Southern Conference crown in the spring. That reminder was delivered in emphatic fashion Saturday evening at Five Star Stadium in that odd 4 p.m. start.

In fact, nothing seemed normal for Drew Cronic’s Bears, which found themselves trailing 7-0 following a pick-six from Alex Oliver following Mercer’s first play from scrimmage, and it was an uphill climb from that point. Rashad Raymond, who was playing in place of Keydets star running back Korey Bridy, scored on an 80-yard scamper early in the second quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, VMI’s second of two 100-yard rusher’s on the day, Hunter Rice, gave the Keydets a 45-0 lead on a 1-yard scoring plunge with 12:22 remaining in the contest.

I had thought the 41-13 win by VMI over Mercer in Lexington in the spring might be a one-off in the peculiarly placed FCS season, however, it’s apparently not a good matchup for the Keydets.

The win saw the Keydets improve to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in league action, while Mercer dropped to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in league play. The Bears play just 10 games this season, and are the only team in the SoCon to do that. With a win over Point (non-Division I), this loss to VMI is a little more crucial than some might think. The margin for error is a little less than other teams in the league title race.

Mercer produced just 200 yards of total offense, getting out-gained 436-200 on the day, with the Keydets owning an astounding 306-23 edge in ground yards. Raymond led the way running the pigskin for Mercer, gaining 163 yards and scored one TD on 20 rush attempts, while Hunter Rice completed the day with 112 yards and three scores on 17 carries.

Not only were the Keydets without their top ground option, in Bridy, they were also missing leading wideout Jakob Herres, who was also out due to injury. VMI heads into an off-week before facing Samford on Oct. 30. Mercer hopes to get back on the right track against a team its 0-7 against since joining the SoCon in 2014, hosting Wofford next Saturday at Five Star Stadium.

Eight is enough….

Irvin Mulligan highlights 500-yard day for Wofford offense in loss/photo courtesy Wofford athletics

Wofford dropped a program record eighth-straight Southern Conference game since joining the league in 1997, as the Terriers were defeated by Samford, 27-24, despite dominating the game for much of the homecoming contest on a suns-lashed fall afternoon at Gibbs Stadium.

The Terriers fell to 1-5 overall and 0-4 in SoCon play, while Samford improved to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in SoCon action.

The loss also marked the Terriers’ seventh-straight loss in the series against Samford, which dates back to 2015. Wofford’s last win in the series came in 2014, knocking off the Bulldogs 24-20 in Birmingham.

The eighth-straight loss for the Terriers eclipses the seven-straight SoCon losses suffered by Wofford between the 1997 and ’98 campaigns, which had previously marked the program record for consecutive league losses since joining the SoCon in the Terriers first competitive season in 1997.

In those two seasons, the Terriers lost games to Appalachian State (L, 21-26), The Citadel (L, 3-7), East Tennessee State (L, 28-31), Furman (7-28), The Citadel (L, 14-20), Georgia Southern (L, 7-22), and Chattanooga (L, 3-31). Wofford would break that seven-game skid spanning two seasons with a 42-20 win on the road at VMI.

After claiming a 31-14 win over Mercer to start the spring season on Feb. 28, 2021, the Terriers have lost consecutive SoCon games to Chattanooga (L, 13-24), Samford (L, 31-37), VMI (L, 31-36), The Citadel (L, 24-28), VMI (L, 23-31), East Tennessee State (L, 21-27), Furman (L, 20-42) and Samford (L, 24-27).

The eighth-straight SoCon loss came on a day that saw Wofford dominate that stats sheet, out-gaining Samford 573-437 in total offense, 366-187 in rush yards, and a whopping 40:33-19:27 advantage in time of possession.

The Terriers fell behind 24-7 before mounting a furious rally, and making a change under center at the half. Bryce Corriston replaced starter Peyton Derrick at the half to try and spark the Wofford offense. It worked. The Terriers’ only points of the opening half came on an 88-yard pass from Derrick-to-Alec Holt.

The 88-yard scoring connection was the longest scoring pass in Wofford history, however, it would be Wofford’s lone offensive highlight of the opening half, as Samford quarterback Liam Welch threw scoring strikes of 28 yards to tight end Michael Vice and seven yards to Chandler Smith, while also recording a 2-yard scoring run-in the second quarter. Zach Williams added a 30-yard field goal to stake Samford to a seemingly comfortable 24-7 halftime lead.

But Wofford showed its character and grit, ultimately scoring 17 unanswered points, buoyed by the change under center. Irvin Mulligan scored on a 1-yard plunge for the lone points of the third quarter, getting the Terriers within 10. Mulligan then added a 41-yard scamper in the fourth quarter, and Walker Gliarmis’ 31-yard field goal with 4:43 remaining concluded a 15-play, 74-yard drive that took 8:03 off the clock to tie the game, 24-24.

But Samford would respond, with a nine-play, 44-yard drive to set up Williams’ game-winning field goal, as his 38-yard field goal with 1:38 remaining proved to be the winning points, giving the Bulldogs their seventh-straight in the series, with the 27-24 road win.

Furman captures SoCon Palmetto State title

Furman tight end Ryan Miller/photo courtesy of Furman sports information

For the first time since 2018, Furman captured wins over Wofford and The Citadel in the same season, as the Paladins used big plays on both sides of the football to take a 24-14 win over The Citadel in the first night game at Paladin Stadium since 2016.

With the win, Furman put itself back in the Southern Conference race, improving to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in SoCon play, while the Bulldogs fell to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in league action.

Furman used the second-longest run in school history–a 90-yard scamper from Dominic Roberto and a 58-yard scoring catch from Ryan Miller–to account for 148 of its 289 yards in the game and 14 of its 24 points–as Furman took a 17-7 lead to the locker room in the 101st all-time meeting between the two SoCon charter member rivals.

The Bulldogs dominated the stats sheet in pretty much every category, including plays (89-42), total yards (364-289) and after cutting Furman’s lead to three (17-14) on a 1-yard plunge from Citadel quarterback Jaylan Adams to open the fourth quarter, the momentum was seemingly clearly in the favor of the Low Country’s Bulldogs.

However, Furman fifth-year senior Elijah McKoy provided a game-changing play midway through the fourth quarter, batting down an Adams option pitch and recovering the fumbled football at the Bulldogs 31 to give Furman new life. Seven plays later, Devin Abrams scored from a yard out to give the Paladins a seemingly safe 24-14 lead with 3:36 remaining.

That proved to be the case, and the Paladins now host a huge game Saturday against nationally-ranked East Tennessee State, who is intent on rebounding from its first loss of the season and keeping its SoCon championship hopes alive with a win at Paladin Stadium.

Furman is 16-2 all-time against the Bucs in Greenville, having dropped games to the Bucs in Greenville in 1997 and 1979, respectively. ETSU’s lone win at Paladin Stadium came in one of Furman’s worst home defeats in school history, as the Paul Hamilton-led Bucs handed Furman a 58-28 setback on a rainy homecoming Saturday in 1997. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.

The Citadel returns to Charleston to face Western Carolina in a 2 p.m. kickoff at Johnson-Hagood Stadium.

Saturday had big scoring plays:

Furman–Dominic Roberto 90-yard TD run vs. The Citadel

Furman–Ryan Miller–58-yard scoring catch from Jace Wilson vs. The Citadel

Wofford–Alec Holt 88-yard scoring catch from Peyton Derrick vs. Samford

Wofford–Irvin Mulligan 41-yard scoring run vs. Samford

VMI–Rashad Raymond 80-yard scoring run vs. Mercer

Mercer–Ethan Dirrim 71-yd scoring catch from Carter Peevy vs VMI

Chattanooga–Ailym Ford 49-yard scoring run vs. ETSU

Chattanooga–Tyrell Price 58-yd run vs ETSU

ETSU–Jacob Saylors 54-yd run vs. Chattanooga

My Players of the Week:

Offense: Rashad Raymond (VMI)

Defense--Devonsha Maxwell (Chattanooga)

Special Teams: Zach Williams (Samford

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