SoCon Football 2022: Week 4 Power Rankings and Recaps

Photo courtesy of Robert Morris athletics

It was a lighter week of Southern Conference action, however, it was nonetheless an important weekend of football.

The week of SoCon football got started off in Champaigne, Ill, with the No. 10 Chattanooga Mocs going in search of the FCS-over-FBS upset over Illinois in their final non-conference tune-up before beginning conference play. However, what the Mocs ran into was a Illinois team that was stout on defense and a week of extra rest, and it showed, as Chattanooga was blanked, 31-0, at Memorial Stadium Thursday night.

The lone Saturday non-conference setback came from Wofford, which dropped a 24-22 decision at Kennesaw State.

The lone league clash of the weekend saw Samford and Western Carolina do battle at Seibert Stadium in Homewood, and it was the No. 21 Bulldogs that saw their surprising start to the 2022 season continue, as the Bulldogs posted a fifth-straight win in the series against the Catamounts, posting a 35-12 triumph in a game that was never really as close as many might have imagined heading into the contest.

A game that was much closer than the so-called experts might have anticipated heading into the week was the game between Charleston Southern and Furman. The Paladins needed an interception late to hold off the Bucs and get a 24-19 win to improve to 3-1 this season, as the Paladins finished out non-conference play and will now focus exclusively on league play for the remainder of the season.

While Furman had to hold on to top its Big South opposition Saturday night, both Mercer and East Tennessee State made easy work of their Big South road assignments Saturday, with the Bucs coasting to a 45-3 win in Pittsburgh over Robert Morris, while Mercer went on the road to Ernest Spangler Stadium on the campus of Gardner-Webb and came away with an impressive 45-14 win over Gardner-Webb.

With that quick overview of the weekend’s action, here’s a look at some of the details that occurred in the five non-conference games and one league game from this past weekend.

The Citadel and VMI were both off this past weekend, as both were making preparations for their travels to the Tar Heel State next Saturday, facing Appalachian State and Western Carolina, respectively.

Samford 35, Western Carolina 12

–The game between Samford and Western Carolina was easily the Southern Conference game of the week and was also the lone league clash. It was a game that the Catamounts were looking to use as a proving ground after completing the non-conference slate in positive fashion with a 2-1 mark, with the only setback having been a respectable 38-17 loss at Georgia Tech. A win over the Bulldogs would not only mark the Catamounts’ first win over the Bulldogs in Birmingham since 1969 but would also likely see the Catamounts ranked heading home to face VMI in their SoCon home opener this coming Saturday. However, it would be the hometown Bulldogs playing in Homewood that would end up being the story in what was the fourth Southern Conference game of the 2022 season. Following a week which saw the Catamounts find the end zone 11 times in the 77-21 win over hapless Presbyterian, the Purple and Gold were limited to four Richard McCollum field goals Saturday, and another trip to the Bulldog red zone was thwarted by a Samford goal line stand. While finding the end zone seemed almost impossible against the Bulldogs bend-but-don’t-break defense, racking up yards, first downs and time of possession were not as difficult as the lopsided score might indicate. In fact, the Catamounts actually out-gained the Bulldogs 453-396, while also holding advantages in first downs (32-25) and time of possession (35:09-24:51). That said, the Bulldogs posted a season-best for points scored (35) and held a SoCon foe to the least number of points since a 55-7 win over The Citadel in the spring season of 2020-21. Michael Hiers was again strong in leading the Samford offense, as he completed 24-of-30 passes for 292 yards, with four TDs and just one INT. WCU’s Carlos Davis, meanwhile, was back under center after being held out of last Saturday’s contest vs. Presbyterian for precautionary reasons after picking up a minor injury in the loss at Georgia Tech. He finished the day connecting on 29-of-44 passes for 301 yards, with a pair of INTs. Jay Stanton led Samford’s improved ground attack with 86 yards and a touchdown rushing the football on 14 attempts. Desmond Reid put up solid numbers on the ground for the Catamounts for a second-straight week, rushing for 58 yards on 15 carries, while Jaylnn Williams led the Catamounts on the ground with 61 yards on just seven rush attempts. Hiers’ favorite target through the air was Chandler Smith, who hauled in eight passes for 125 yards and a score. Samford was a +2 in the turnover battle, picking off two Catamount passes, while also recovering a WCU fumble. Isaiah Richardson and Ty Hardimon registered INTs for the Bulldog defense, and it was Richardson that led the Samford defense as a whole, recording eight tackles. Linebacker Noah Martin also contributed eight stops for the Samford defense.

East Tennessee State 45, Robert Morris 3

–East Tennessee State went on the road to Moon Township, PA, and snapped a two-game losing streak, picking up a 45-3 win over Big South member Robert Morris Saturday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium. The Bucs started the game with a big play on special teams, as Erek Campbell broke through to block a Colonials punt, and the ball was recovered by Harold O’Neal and returned 15 yards for a score to get the onslaught started. Jacob Saylors gave the Bucs a 14-0 lead on the next ETSU offensive possession on a 15-yard run, as the preseason SoCon Offensive Player of the Year would complete the day with 170 yards and three scores on 18 rush attempts. He headlined a ground attack for the Bucs that generated a total of 297 yards on the ground in the win. The 42-point win helped avenge what was a 21-9 setback to the Colonials at Joe Walton Stadium. The Bucs out-gained the Colonials, 451-194, in the game, which was powered by a ground attack that racked up a 297-32 advantage on the ground. Alijah Huzzie and Sheldon Arnold II both recorded INTs for the ETSU defense, while Stephen Scott led a balanced defensive effort with seven tackles. ETSU jumps back into SoCon play this Saturday, welcoming Chattanooga to William B. Greene Jr. Stadium for the Rail Rivalry with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m.

Illinois 31, No. 10 Chattanooga 0 (Thurs, Sept. 22, 2022)

–I’ll be the first to admit I vastly mis-judged this game, having picked the Mocs to upset the Fighting Illini, who are under the direction of second-year head coach Bret Bielema. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as the Illini had their way with the preseason SoCon title. The Illini posted a 502-142 advantage in total yards, posting a huge 338-49 advantage in passing yards. Of note in the loss for the Mocs was defensive end Devonnsha Maxwell, who recorded the 32nd sack of his outstanding career for Chattanooga. That puts him alone at second all-time in school history, and he now needs six sacks to set both the school and SoCon record for career sacks, as he would surpass Davis Tull’s impressive mark of 37-career quarterback takedowns, established from 2012-15. Illinois was led by Syracuse transfer quarterback Tommy DeVito, who completed 24-of-32 passes for 332 yards with three TDs and did not throw an INT. UTC quarterback Preston Hutchinson, who came into the contest off back-to-back SoCon Offensive Player of the Week awards, was limited to just 6-of-18 passing for 49 yards and a pair of picks. Ailym Ford was UTC’s top offensive weapon, rushing for 92 yards on 18 carries.

No. 16 Mercer 45, Gardner-Webb 14

–Mercer went on the road to face a Gardner-Webb, which was under the direction of Tre Lamb–the nephew of former Bears head coach Bobby Lamb–and the Bears improved to 3-1 on the young season, posting a 45-14 win at Spangler Stadium. In what was another lopsided win over non-conference competition, it was Mercer’s passing game that again stole the headlines offensively, with quarterback Fred Payton connecting on 15-of-23 passes for 187 yards, with three scores and no INTs. Mercer’s leafing offensive weapon in the contest also happened to be Payton’s favorite target when going to the air, as Devron Harper–a transfer to Mercer from Gardner-Webb–hauled in eight passes for 109 yards and a pair of scores, while also rushing for 66 yards and a score on two rush attempts. He had a 64-yard scoring run to open the scoring for the Bears in the contest. The 64-yard scamper came on the first play from scrimmage. The Bears held a slight, 357-331, advantage in total yards. The Bears defense also recorded three takeaways in the win, with Cameron Sims, Lance Wise, and Chris Jones all recording INTs for the Bears defense. Sims recorded a 67-yard INT return for a score with just under six minutes to play in the opening half.

Furman 24, Charleston Southern 19

–Furman had its share of struggles in a 24-19 win over Charleston Southern Saturday afternoon at Buccaneer Field. Paladin backup quarterback Jace Wilson entered the game for an injured Tyler Huff in the second quarter, and ultimately ended up engineering three touchdown drives for the Paladins. Wilson ended up registering touchdown runs of 5 and 22 yards, while throwing a 44-yard scoring strike to All-America tight end Ryan Miller, marking his seventh-straight game with a TD catch. Miller’s streak of seven games with a scoring catch is a program record for consecutive games with a scoring catch. The Paladins found themselves trailing the football game 19-10 in the fourth quarter, but rallied under the direction of Wilson, who was seeing his most significant action of the season on Saturday. Wilson’s 22-yard scoring run with 10:30 left in the game gave the Paladins the lead for good, however, an INT thrown by Wilson with just under three minutes remaining set up the Charleston Southern offense inside Furman territory at the 43. However, after the Bucs reached the Paladin 21 before Dominic Morris picked off an Isaiah Bess pass to the right corner of the end zone on fourth down, giving the Paladin offense the ball back with 2:43 remaining. The Paladins would run out the clock from there to improve to 3-1 overall on the season.

Kennesaw State 24, Wofford 22

–Wofford dropped its 14th-straight game, however, put up a valiant fight in what was a 24-22 setback at Kennesaw State. The Terriers out-gained an opponent in total offense for the first time this season, as the Terriers finished the contest holding a 393-328 in total offense, which included a 358-107 advantage in passing offense. The Terrier ground attack was never able to get going, however, as Wofford was only able to amass 35 yards on the ground, as the Owls posted a 221-35 advantage in rushing yards. The Owls improved to 1-1 this season against Southern Conference teams, having dropped their season opener, 27-17, at Samford. Wofford scored first in the contest, however, found themselves trailing 24-9 in the fourth quarter. In the final 10 minutes of the game, however, the Terriers mounted a furious rally, getting a pair of 1-yard scoring runs from Nathan Walker and Jordan Davis to make things interesting. The Terriers had the ball back at midfield with a chance for the game-winning drive, but quarterback Jimmy Weirick was sacked, and time expired on Wofford’s comeback attempt. All told, Weirick finished the contest with 358 passing yards, which breaks the school’s all-time record for passing yards, which was originally set in 1969 by Harold Chandler against Catawba. His 25 pass completions also set a new Terrier mark, eclipsing the 24 pass connections set by Jack Beeler in 1951 against Auburn. Weirick’s favorite target through the air was Landon Parker, who finished the contest with six catches for 155 yards. The 155 receiving yards mark the second-highest single-game total in Wofford history, bettered only by Jerry Richardson’s 241 receiving yards in 1956, while Richardson posted a matching 155 yards receiving in ’58.

Power Rankings following Week 4:

1. Mercer (3-1, 1-0 SoCon)–The Bears continue to impress on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Fred Payton is quietly having a huge season through the first four games of the season, having completed 63-of-100 passes for 856 yards, with 11 TDs and no INTs.

2. Samford (3-1, 1-0 SoCon)–The Bulldogs have done everything asked of them to this point in the season, and have a big game on the horizon at Furman this coming Saturday.

3. Chattanooga (3-1, 1-0 SoCon)–The preseason favorites will look to rebound from being blanked at Illinois last Thursday night when the Mocs travel to ETSU for the Rail Rivalry game Saturday night.

T-3 Furman (3-1, 1-0 SoCon)–The Paladins struggled to get past Charleston Southern, and went through the motions offensively, missing center Evan Jumper on offense, while all-conference cornerback Travis Blackshear and linebacker Bryce McCormick were absent on defense. The Paladins survived despite losing Tyler Huff, who suffered a minor upper body injury, however, is expected to miss this week’s game against Samford, however, Jace Wilson was able to help ignite a stagnant Paladin offense to lead Furman to the road win.

5. Western Carolina (2-2, 0-1 SoCon)–The Catamounts were rendered nearly helpless in the red zone in Saturday’s loss at Samford, having to settle for four field goals from Richard McCollum. Kerwin Bell’s Catamounts return home for their SoCon home opener Saturday against VMI.

6. The Citadel (1-2, 1-1 SoCon)–The Bulldogs were idle this past Saturday following their 17-0 loss at Mercer last week. The Bulldogs will step out of conference for the second time this season, facing off against former SoCon rival Appalachian State in Boone this coming Saturday.

7. East Tennessee State (2-2, 0-2 SoCon)–The ETSU Bucs snapped a two-game losing streak on the road at Robert Morris with a 45-3 win. Jacob Saylors has been good leading the ground game for the Bucs all season, as the preseason SoCon Offensive Player of the Year currently leads the SoCon in rushing, having gained 474 yards and scored six TDs on 74 rush attempts this season.

8. VMI (1-2, 0-0 SoCon)--The Keydets have had a week off and will begin conference play in-earnest Saturday with a trip to Cullowhee to take on Western Carolina.

9. Wofford (0-4, 0-1 SoCon)–Nowhere to go but up for the Terriers, who are seemingly improving offensively as the season progresses. The next chance to snap a 14-game losing streak comes Saturday at Gibbs Stadium against a talented Mercer team.

Schedule for Oct. 1, 2022

No. 13 Mercer (3-1, 1-0 SoCon) at Wofford (0-4, 0-1 SoCon), 1:30 p.m.

No. 16 Samford (3-1, 1-0 SoCon) at Furman (3-1, 1-0 SoCon), 2 p.m.

The Citadel (1-2, 1-1 SoCon) at Appalachian State (2-2, 1-1 SBC), 3:30 p.m.

VMI (1-2, 0-0 SoCon) at Western Carolina (2-2, 0-1 SoCon), 3:30 p.m.

No. 12 Chattanooga (3-1, 1-0 SoCon) at East Tennessee St. (2-2, 0-2 SoCon), 7:30 p.m.

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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