SoCon Football 2022: Season Recap (part 1)

Samford vs. NDSU/FCS quarterfinals (photo courtesy of Samford athletics)

Season of Redemption

By John Hooper

There was an urgency as the 10 head coaches and media descended upon Asheville and the Grove Park Inn on a particularly hot week in mid-July, and that urgency was about re-establishing some respect for one of the most prestigious conferences in all of FCS football.

The previous two FCS playoff editions have only included one team to represent the Southern Conference in the FCS postseason, and while the league produced at least four teams worthy on inclusion to the 24-team field in 2022, however, the league only had two teams selected to the postseason, with one of those teams being seeded.

While the league was deserving of more, it was hard for the SoCon to gain even a morsel of respect throughout the season. Four teams ended up separating themselves as being part of the league’s upper hierarchy–Samford, Furman, Chattanooga and Mercer–were four teams that maintained the league’s strength and kept the SoCon in national conversations throughout the season.

Ultimately, the two teams chosen to represent the SoCon in the FCS postseason were teams picked to finish No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, at media day in mid-July.

Samford came out of nowhere and was the team that ended up being the one last standing, however, for the second-straight season, the SoCon bowed out of the postseason with a quarterfinal loss in Fargo, with the Bulldogs dropping a 27-9 contest to No. 3 North Dakota State in the Fargo Dome. East Tennessee State was a 27-3 loser at No. 1 and eventual national champion North Dakota State last season.

The destination of the loss for the SoCon’s Samford was the same place that seasons have ended several times before. In fact, Friday night’s 18-point loss by the Bulldogs at FargoDome. It marked the sixth time since 2011 that a SoCon team has seen its season end in the postseason at North Dakota State.

For Samford, its 11-2 season will be one that will be remembered for a long time around Homewood, AL., and it marked the second-most wins in a season in program history, which is second to only the 1991 campaign, which saw the Bulldogs finish off the campaign with 12 victories during that particular campaign.

The Bulldogs went through Southern Conference play by finishing a perfect 8-0 against league competition, marking the first Samford team to capture an outright conference title on the gridiron since 1939. With its 8-0 league mark in 2022, the Bulldogs join some pretty elite company in terms of teams that have finished a SoCon regular-season undefeated with an 8-0 league mark. It marked just the 10th time in 101 seasons that a team has finished the conference slate at 8-0. In the modern era of the league, the Bulldogs became the eighth team to complete the feat, joining The Citadel (2016), Appalachian State (2008, ’09 and 1995), Marshall (1996), Georgia Southern (8-0) and Wofford (2003).

What makes the season even more amazing for head coach Chris Hatcher and the Bulldogs is that some, including myself, had Hatcher on the hot seat coming into the season. Hatcher silenced the naysayers with an emphatic run through the Southern Conference, and while not as dominating as some 8-0 runs through the league in past seasons, the Bulldogs did manage to find a way to win every time out in league play, displaying an uncanny ability to win ball games throughout the season, and ended the season with one of those thrilling victories, claiming what was a 50-44 double-overtime win over Mercer.

The Bulldogs finished the regular-season with an 11-0 record against FCS competition, with the only regular-season loss for the Bulldogs coming in the second week of the season at No. 2 Georgia, as Chris Hatcher went up against his pupil, Kirby Smart and his second-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. Kirby Smart, who was given his first job in coaching by Hatcher at Valdosta State, ended up posting a 33-0 win over the Bulldogs.

Samford had gotten the season started off with a bang a week earlier, posting what was an impressive win over No. 8 Kennesaw State, 27-17, on a Thursday night in Homewood. That would end up commencing what would be one of the most memorable seasons in Samford football history.

The Bulldogs, who were picked to finish sixth in both the media and coaches’ poll, would go on to win 11-straight games before eventually falling in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. In fact, the Bulldogs were the No. 6 seed when they entered the 2022 FCS playoffs.

While Samford had a magical run, it wasn’t the only team in the Southern Conference that ended the season with a smile on its face after a successful campaign.

Though Clay Hendrix’s Furman Paladins fell in heartbreaking fashion in the second round of the FCS playoffs to No. 5 seed Incarnate Word, the Paladins had put together what was a breakthrough season. For head coach Clay Hendrix, the 10-win campaign was by far his best since arriving in Greenville as the Paladins’ head coach in December of 2016.

Furman quarterback Tyler Huff (photo courtesy of Furman athletics)

Let by dynamic quarterback Tyler Huff, the Paladins won its most regular-season games (10) since 2005 and claimed their most Southern Conference victories since 2001 (7).

The Paladins fell only twice during the regular season, with setbacks to No. 6 Clemson (L, 12-35) and No. 16 Samford (L, 27-34), however, like Samford, Furman had an ability to win close games. The Paladins even out-gained Clemson, 384-376, in their trip to Tiger Town. That signaled a turnaround season for the Paladins.

While Furman and Samford’s storybook seasons were something to be celebrated for the league, both Mercer and Chattanooga, who carried the banner for the league’s return to glory for much of the season until folks started to realize that both Samford and Furman were the league’s two strongest teams, ended the 2022 campaign with a feeling not too unlike the one that both ended the 2022 campaign.

It was particularly disheartening for the Mocs, who for a second-straight season, were picked to win the Southern Conference, however, for a second-straight season faltered down the stretch of the campaign and ended up missing out of the FCS postseason entirely. Chattanooga would lose three of its final four games of the regular season, completing the campaign with a 7-4 overall record and a 5-3 mark in league play. The final nail in the Mocs coffin in 2021 was The Citadel, who handed the Mocs a 24-21 setback in the Scenic City.

In 2022, it was another three-point defeat on the road to Western Carolina (L, 29-32) that spelled doom for head coach Rusty Wright’s Mocs, as UTC’s streak of missing out of the postseason reached six seasons. A big reason why Chattanooga has failed to make the postseason or live up to preseason expectations since last making the playoffs in 2016 is due in large part to how Chattanooga has finished each of the past six campaigns. Not counting the COVID season of 2020/21, the Mocs have not finished out their final four games with an above .500 mark since 2016.

Mercer’s season also came down to the final game of the season, with the 2021 campaign and the playoff and Southern Conference title hopes for head coach Drew Cronic’s Bears coming to an end in Johnson City, Tenn, with a 38-35 loss to East Tennessee State last. While no SoCon title was on the line when the Bears headed to Birmingham for the regular-season finale against Samford. Although it would end up yielding what was a record-setting day for Bears wide receiver Ty James, Mercer couldn’t make the most of a late-game opportunity and would end up dropping 50-44 overtime decision to the Samford Bulldogs.

Mercer was the toast of the SoCon for much of the early portion of the SoCon season, however, after traveling to Chattanooga, the Bears found it tough treading for much of the remainder of the season. In fact, following the 41-21 loss in the Scenic City, the Bears lost their mojo and ended up like Chattanooga, ended up losing three out of their final four games of the season to close out the campaign with a 7-4 overall record.

While both Chattanooga and Mercer saw their share of struggles down the stretch, it was Western Carolina, who for a second-straight season, saw the 2022 season as an overwhelming success. The 2021 season saw the Catamounts rebound from an 0-6 start to the season to finish out by winning four out of its last five games.

After Western Carolina suffered early Southern Conference losses on the road at Samford (L, 12-35,) and Mercer (L, 6-49), it would have been easy for the Catamounts’ season to have gone downhill from that point forward. However, to the credit of Kerwin Bell’s football team, they rallied to a 6-5 record, which included a 4-4 league mark. In fact, WCU’s electrifying offense and its improving defense were able to keep people coming back to E.J. Whitmire Stadium throughout the season, as the Catamounts once again paced the league in average attendance.

Cole Gonzales came into his own as the season progressed, eventually overtaking Carlos Davis as the starting signal-caller by season’s end and he looks like he will be the starting moving forward for the Catamounts.

Western Carolina’s defense was a much improved unit, finishing fifth overall in the SoCon in total defense (390.5 YPG).

Expectations will be even higher for Kerwin Bell’s club entering the 2023 campaign, especially after how the Catamounts managed to close the 2022 campaign, which was by defeating Wofford (W, 36-29), East Tennessee State (W, 20-17) and No. 17 Chattanooga (W, 32-29) in succession to close out the campaign.

Former Wofford head coach Josh Conklin (photo courtesy of Wofford athletics)

Three coaching changes would be made at the end of the 2022 SoCon football season, however, none came quicker than Josh Conklin, who resigned a little more than 24 hours prior to Wofford’s Oct. 8 contest at league-leading Samford. The Terriers had lost 15-straight games when Conklin decided to step down, and it didn’t look for interim head coach Shawn Watson with a trip to league-leading Samford on the immediate horizon.

However, while the losing streak would reach 16 with a 28-14 road loss to the Bulldogs, to the Terriers’ credit, they would end up finding confidence again under Watson. It’s one of the reasons Wofford Director of Athletics Richard Johnson wasted little time in naming Watson as the head coach moving forward following the conclusion of the season, removing the interim tag.

For a team that it took nearly an entire 12 quarters to score its first points of the season, the Terriers would almost make a 180-degree turn offensively under the leadership of Watson.

After a respectable 14-point loss to the eventual league champion, the Terriers rallied over the latter half of their league slate, winning games against The Citadel (W, 31-16), East Tennessee State (W, 48-41), and VMI (W, 34-16) were part of a turnaround story that would see the Terriers finish 3-8 overall and 3-5 in league play, which was good enough for a seventh-place finish in the final league standings.

In the process of accomplishing all of this, quarterback Jimmy Weirick, who had spent most of his career with the Old Gold and Black trying to get healthy, had an injury-free season, and ended by setting a single-season school-record with 2,479 passing yards to go with 12 TDs and seven INTs. Weirick ended up completing 187-of-322 passes in his final season as the Terriers signal-caller.

VMI and The Citadel engage in another classic in Lexington (photo courtesy of VMI athletics)

When VMI and The Citadel squared off in the “Military Classic of the South” on Nov. 19, it would turn out to be the end of the road for both VMI’s head coach Scott Wachenheim and The Citadel skipper Brent Thompson.

It was a disappointing season for both The Citadel and VMI. However, while Thompson was on the hotseat coming into the season, it came as a bit of a shock when Wachenheim announced his resignation just after the conclusion to the season, which had seen the Keydets finish winless in league play following a 26-22 loss to bitter rival The Citadel, as the Bulldogs kept the Silver Shako for a second-straight season.

The Keydets had finished 1-10 overall and 0-8 in SoCon play following the setback to the Bulldogs. It was especially disappointing considering the past two seasons proved the Keydets could indeed compete at the top of the Southern Conference, winning the league during the spring season of 2020, and then followed that up with a 6-5 finish in 2021, which included tying for fourth place overall in the league standings with a 4-4 record.

However, massive losses on both sides of the football to the transfer portal over the past couple of seasons, and in-season injuries to three different quarterbacks wouldn’t allow Wachenheim’s run-and-shoot offense ever find a rhythm, and that resulted in the Keydets ranking 114th out of 123 in total offense this past season, averaging 285.5 YPG.

The massive number of players that either during the season, or following the season, that entered the transfer portal was probably the most decisive factor in Wachenheim deciding that he could do all he could do in leading the Keydets.

When Wachenheim decided to move on following the season, the Keydets athletic administration moved quickly to find his replacement. In eight seasons as VMI’s head coach, Wachenheim led the Keydets to a 24-62 record, which included leading the Keydets to their first SoCon regular-season crown since 1977, and a first-ever FCS playoff invitation in the spring of 2020.

VMI made some waves with its hire to replace Wachenheim, however, naming former Richmond, Liberty and Delaware head coach Danny Rocco as its head coach on Dec. 3, 2022. Rocco has a resume that is decorated with winning, claiming four Big South titles during his time in Lynchburg, while winning a combined three CAA titles in his time coaching in the CAA at both Richmond and Delaware.

In Charleston, meanwhile, head coach Brent Thompson knew he probably needed to lead the Bulldogs to a winning season after posting below .500 seasons in each of the previous two campaigns. Obviously the Bulldogs fell well short of that six-win mark, as The Citadel finished with just a 4-7 record for the second-straight season under Thompson, who likely secured his future at least for one more campaign after knocking off Chattanooga, 24-21, to conclude the 2021 season.

For Thompson, who led the Bulldogs to a Southern Conference title in his first season on the job back in 2016, as he led the Bulldogs to a 10-2 overall record, including a perfect 8-0 mark in Southern Conference play, and finished out his seven years in the Lowcountry with a with a 36-43 overall record, which includes a 27-29 record in Southern Conference play.

The Bulldogs never lived up to their hype under Thompson, which is something that Mike Houston had brought back to the Lowcountry and to The Citadel during his short two-year tenure as the head coach.

There is plenty of optimism surrounding The Citadel’s football program, however, with the recent hiring of Maurice Drayton this past week. Drayton will be returning to the Lowcountry after spending the past seven seasons as an assistant in the NFL. Drayton has served as the special teams coordinator at Green Bay (2021) and the Indianapolis Colts (2016-17), and was most recently the assistant special teams coordinator with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Drayton, who has served as an assistant on The Citadel’s staff in two different stints previously, has logged a total of 14 years in the Lowcountry as both a player and assistant coach for the Bulldogs. Drayton played for the ‘Dogs from 1994-98, and was a two-year starter at cornerback, finishing his career with 145 tackles, 17 pass breakups and three INTs.

The low point for the Bulldogs’ 2022 season was a 31-16 mid-season loss at Wofford, which for the Terriers, snapped the second-longest losing streak (16-straight losses) in the FCS at the time. It was at the point the beginning of what was surely the end for Bulldogs head coach Brent Thompson.

The high point of the season for Bulldogs fans was obviously how it ended, which was with a 26-22 win over arch-rival VMI in the Battle for the Silver Shako.

The Citadel quarterback Graeson Underwood found freshman wideout Christian Hilton for a 51-yard scoring strike with just 3:37 remaining, and that proved to be the game-winning points, as the Bulldogs garnered a four-point win to keep the Silver Shako in what was a hard-fought win by the Bulldogs in Lexington.

The Citadel’s other two Southern Conference wins came against East Tennessee State (W, 20-17) to open Southern Conference play before posting a surprising road win over Western Carolina (W, 34-21) later on in the season.

The Citadel was one of the few teams remaining that ran an option offense with all the changes made by officials to the rules regarding blocking during the off-season.

One of the primary problems that presented itself to the Bulldogs during the 2022 season was inconsistencies at the quarterback position, with Thompson having played three different quarterbacks during the 2022 campaign. Wofford transfer Peyton Derrick would begin the season as the starter before giving way to freshman Ahmad Green and finally walk-on Graeson Underwood before the season ended.

ETSU vs. Mississippi State (photo courtesy of Mississippi State athletics)

For defending champion East Tennessee State and its new head coach George Quarles, the 2022 season was one which would be a forgettable one, as the Bucs went from first to worst in the final Southern Conference standings in 2022.

The Bucs finished the season by finishing just 3-8 overall and 1-7 in Southern Conference play, and that came as a bit of a surprise since ETSU entered the season with a total of 14 returning starters, as seven regulars returned on both sides of the ball for the 2022 campaign. Among the returnees on the offensive side of the football were all-conference quarterback Tyler Riddell, preseason SoCon Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Saylors at running back, and star wide receiver Will Huzzie.

The Bucs also returned four of five starters along the offensive line, as well as players likes defensive lineman Jalen Porter and defensive back Alijah Huzzie on the defensive side of the football.

The George Quarles era would at least get started well, with a 44-7 win over Division II Mars Hill to commence a new era of football in the Tri-Cities.

However, that joy turned to concern a week later in Charleston, as the Bucs had missed opportunities in the red zone en route to a 20-17 loss at The Citadel to open Southern Conference play.

Things got no easier when Furman paid a visit to William B. Greene Jr. Stadium a week later for the SoCon home opener, as the Paladins avenged a heartbreaking four-point loss (17-13) from a year earlier in Greenville to dampen Quarles’ first league home game, as his alma mater handed he and his new employer a 27-13 loss.

The Bucs would only garner two more wins the rest of the season, defeating both non-conference member Robert Morris (W, 45-3) on Sept. 24 on the road, while claiming their one and only SoCon win a week later in Lexington, VA. over VMI (W, 44-21).

In many ways, the 2021 season was much like the 2019 campaign for ETSU football, which saw the Bucs close the season in similar fashion coming off a Southern Conference title a year earlier, as ETSU also went 1-7 in league play in ’19, which immediately followed that magical run to the title in 2018.

One of the few bright spots for Quarles and the Bucs during the 2022 campaign came with the performance of running back Jacob Saylors, who finished out the campaign by rushing for a league-best 1,307 yards and 15 rushing scores, and finished tied for the league lead in scoring, with 16 total touchdowns during the 2022 campaign.

The FCS Playoff selection process and its obvious flaws

Samford quarterback Quincy Crittendon (photo courtesy of Samford athletics)

When Furman closed out the season with a 63-28 victory over Wofford, and Samford finished off a perfect Southern Conference season by getting a 50-44 walk-off overtime win over Mercer, following a 25-yard touchdown scamper from freshman quarterback Quincy Crittendon, and finally with Chattanooga dropping a 32-29 decision in the final week of the regular-season at Western Carolina, it meant the Southern Conference had gone from potentially matching its most playoff bids in league history (4), which was accomplished in 2016 (The Citadel, Wofford, Chattanooga and Samford), to a league that would most likely have that total number of teams cut in half due to the results that played out on the final weekend of the regular season.

It also meant the SoCon, which had two teams that had a combined one loss to FCS competition, while the other two losses had come against No. 1 Georgia and No. 7 Clemson, respectively, should have been seeded when the FCS selection process played out less than 24 hours following the conclusion of league games on Nov. 19.

However, that would not in fact, be the case, with 10-1 Samford only receiving a No. 6 seed, and Furman not being seeded at all, despite out-gaining FBS national title contender Clemson, 382-376.

Based mostly on prestige alone, North Dakota State received the No. 3 seed, despite losing one more game than the Bulldogs did, with Samford’s FBS loss coming to Georgia, while NDSU suffered setbacks at home to FCS South Dakota State (L, ) and an FBS loss to a 5-7 Arizona team. Clearly, there’s no way to say the Missouri Valley Conference was that much better than the SoCon this season to warrant overlooking the fact that Samford went unbeaten in the SoCon, while the Bison did not.

In fact by comparison, the Missouri Valley Football Conference ended up receiving as many bids to the FCS postseason as the Southern Conference did, but those two bids went to two of the best teams in the country. Still, placing the SoCon in the same bracket as NDSU again didn’t make much sense. The Bulldogs shouldn’t have been bracketed with a team that had one more loss. The more logical choice would be to have put the Bulldogs in a bracket with South Dakota State, which had only one, or to send the Bulldogs to Bozeman to face No. 4 seed Montana State in the FCS quarterfinals.

Either of those destinations for Samford would have made more logical sense because both the Jackrabbits and Bobcats had no FCS losses, with setbacks coming against both FBS power conference foes, with SDSU dropping a contest at Iowa early in the season, while Montana State also lost only once the entire season, and that came against Oregon State back in September.

With that said, I am also aware of the fact the SoCon is trying to rebuild its brand. The biggest problem for most of is not even the fact that the SoCon only got two teams, but its more the fact that the two teams it got should have been seeded. The CAA’s five FCS playoff qualifiers to the 24-team playoff field was a glaring mistake from the FCS selection committee, and that’s even more than getting the seeds wrong between Montana State and North Dakota State.

New Hampshire, Richmond, Elon, William & Mary and Delaware were all selected to play in the FCS 24-team playoff. It was notably apparent that Samford belonged as a higher seed team than William & Mary, and also Furman should have also been seeded after the Tribe, who went 10-1 in the regular-season with only one loss coming against Elon, which was dispatched by Furman, 31-6, at Paladin Stadium in the opening round.

Adding even more question marks to the selection process was the fact almost every CAA member had an easier matchup than Furman in the opening round. In fact, Elon, who played every other team in the CAA that made the postseason, beating three of those four, had to play on the road at Furman to open the postseason. Meanwhile, Delaware hosted St. Francis, while Richmond opened with Pioneer League champion Davidson and New Hampshire hosted Patriot League at-large qualifier Fordham.

Both Delaware and Richmond got lopsided opening round wins, with the Spiders blanking the Wildcats, 41-0, and Delaware was able to blowout St. Francis, 56-17. All of that to say there needs to be a complete overhaul of the FCS playoff selection process.

Ultimately, three of the last top four seeds would remain by the time the field was narrowed to four teams, and the No. 3 seed–North Dakota State–was aided by Incarnate Word’s 66-63 quarterfinal win at Sacramento State to host a playoff game for a third-straight week.

The Bison would fall behind the Cardinals, 16-0, in the penultimate game prior to Frisco, however, used some squandered opportunities and some untimely turnovers by the Cardinals to score 24 unanswered points, and were able to hold on for the 35-32 to make it back to the national title game, where the Bison will look to win their 10th FCS title in a 12-year span when they face No. 1 South Dakota in a rematch of the mid-season Dakota Marker game, which saw the Jackrabbits hand the Bison its only home loss of the season, 23-21. This time, of course, the two teams will meet on a neutral field in Frisco, TX, to decide the national champion on Jan. 8.

NDSU no doubt deserves their props for doing what they have done as a program, but this was a two-loss NDSU team that shouldn’t always be given the benefit of the doubt in a year with the Missouri Valley Football Conference was notably on a down year.

Ultimately, the major argument is between the SoCon and CAA. I think the results are largely in favor of the SoCon being the better league this season, and I think we will see the SoCon replace the CAA as a power league again in the FCS landscape in the very near future.

Overcoming the loss of James Madison will be much like what the SoCon–or should be from a national perception–of what the SoCon had to overcome losing Appalachian State and Georgia Southern following the 2013 campaign. However, we all know there is a much more skewed media bias towards certain leagues in the FCS than say the FBS. It is what it is.

Memorable Games That Defined the SoCon Regular Season

Kendall Watson vs. Kennesaw State (photo courtesy of Samford athletics)

12. Samford 27, No. 8 Kennesaw State 17–One of the key forerunners for a successful return to prominence for Southern Conference football in the 2022 season was the game between Samford and No. 8 Kennesaw State, as the Bulldogs got a huge, 27-17, win on the opening Thursday night of the season. The win was one of the bigger FCS wins of Chris Hatcher’s tenure as the head coach of the Bulldogs, and though the Owls didn’t move on and have the kind of successful season we are accustomed to seeing them have, it didn’t take away from the magnitude of just how big a win it was for the Samford football program. It appeared KSU might squeeze out what would be an important win on the road, taking a 17-14 lead following 10-unanswered points in the third quarter on a 38-yard field goal by Noah Robertson and a 2-yard touchdown by quarterback Xavier Shepherd, which overturned a 14-7 halftime deficit for the Owls. However, new starting quarterback Michael Hiers would toss a touchdown passes of 15 and 31 yards to Chandler Smith, helping the Bulldogs to close out what was a memorable 10-point win to open the 2022 season.

The Citadel place-kicker Colby Kintner vs East Tennessee State (photo courtesy of The Citadel athletics)

11. The Citadel 20, No. East Tennessee State 17–In what was maybe the biggest upset of conference play and ended up being one that would end up being a bad omen for defending Southern Conference champion East Tennessee State, as The Citadel posted what was a surprising 20-17 victory over the Bucs on what was a 39-yard walk-off field goal from Bulldog place-kicker Colby Kinter at Johnson-Hagood Stadium. The win would mark the highest-ranked foe the Bulldogs had defeated since Brent Thompson’s first season in charge in 2016, when the Bulldogs knocked off the fifth-ranked Chattanooga Mocs. Unfortunately for Thompson, it would end up being his final season as the head coach of the Bulldogs. The Citadel jumped out to the early lead as the result of a Kintner 36-yard field goal and a Tyler Cherry 17-yard scoring catch from Peyton Derrick, taking a 10-0 second quarter lead. However, the Bucs got on the board late in the first half, as ETSU signal-caller Tyler Riddell found Will Huzzie for a 2-yard scoring strike to make it a 10-7 game with a little over a minute remaining in the opening 30 minutes of football. It would remain the margin as the two teams enter their respective halftime locker rooms. The Citadel went back ahead by 10 on a 5-yard run by Nkem Njoku with 3:01 remaining in the third quarter, however, ETSU would score 10 unanswered points on a 56-yard scoring run from Jacob Saylors late in the third quarter, and a Tyler Keltner 28-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, tying the game, 17-17. The Bulldogs took the final 3:05 off the clock and used nine plays to cover 75 yards, with Derrick able to put together a 9-play, 75-yard drive to set up the game-winning 39-yard field goal from Kinter as time expired.

Furman wideout Joshua Harris vs. East Tennessee State (photo courtesy of Furman athletics)

8. Furman 27, No. 18 East Tennessee State 14— If Furman’s statement wasn’t made loud enough by its performance in out-gaining (384-376) the fourth-ranked Clemson in what was a respectable 35-12 loss in Tiger Town last Saturday, it made yet another, perhaps more resounding statement in its most recent outing against No. 18 and defending Southern Conference champion East Tennessee State in its Southern Conference opener, defeating the Bucs, 27-14, before a capacity of 9,836 fans on hand Saturday night at William B. Greene Stadium. The win marked the fourth win in the last five outings at William B. Greene Stadium, and with the win, the Paladins snapped ETSU’s nine-game home winning streak at Greene Stadium, which dates to March 21, 2021, when Furman came away with a 17-13 win. The Paladins ended the night holding what was a 409-352 advantage in total yards, with Furman’s defense imposing its will upon the game in the second half, holding the Bucs to just 104 yards of total offense in the latter half of play.

Samford quarterback Michael Hiers vs. Furman (photo courtesy of Samford athletics)

10. No. 16 Samford 34, Furman 27--In a word, the word to describe the matchup between the two best teams in the Southern Conference in 2022. Bizarre. That’s because the Paladins and Bulldogs played a game that would have the backdrop of controversy that would linger surrounding it long after the game had been played. While an officiating decision didn’t decide the outcome of the contest, it certainly did change the momentum of a game that Furman led 10-0 before an officiating decision that would prove consequential for the crew, which was selected to arbitrate the contest by the league office, and it would be the league office that would issue a reprimand on Monday of the following week. It was the first time in SoCon history that it had issued a reprimand against a gridiron officiating crew. That said, despite the decision rendered by the officiating crew following an unheard of “double-review” and a 15-minute stoppage of play, Samford won the game on its merits, playing an excellent football game on both sides of the ball. Jaylan Thomas rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 16 Samford converted a pair of Furman turnovers into 14 points, as the Bulldogs snapped a three-game losing streak in the series against the Paladins, with a 34-27 Southern Conference triumph before 9,507 fans at Paladin Stadium. Things looked good through a little over a quarter of action in Saturday’s SoCon showdown between Furman and No. 16 Samford, as the Paladins held a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, however, Samford found its offensive momentum midway through the second quarter, and out-scored the Paladins 34-7 to double up the score, leading 34-17 entering the fourth quarter. The Paladins were without injured starter Tyler Huff, who missed the game with a dislocated elbow, and Jace Wilson stepped in under center and delivered a solid performance despite the setback. Wilson would finish the contest completing 38-of-59 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns and no INTs.  Wilson also rushed for 38 yards on 14 attempts and got sacked three times. All told, the sophomore from Missouri City, TX., accounted for 367 yards of total offense. Samford quarterback Michael Hiers, who was the reigning Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Week, finished the contest connecting on 29-of-38 passes for 228 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and an INT.

Rail Rivalry between Chattanooga and East Tennessee State (photo courtesy of ETSU athletics)

9. No. 10/12 Chattanooga 24, East Tennessee State 16–This rivalry game has some deep roots, and the matchup on the opening day of October figured to have SoCon title implications on it, however, it instead was a playoff survival game for the Bucs, who had gotten off to an 0-2 start in Southern Conference play. Things looked pretty good for the defending champ Bucs after one half of football, however, it would be the preseason favorite Mocs, who would seemingly take command of the game in the second half to get the win. The Bucs would allow 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. In taking a 13-0 lead to the break, it looked like the Bucs might be getting ready to celebrate a season-altering type win, out-gaining the Mocs 190-68 in the opening half of play. Two Bucs field goals were the result of UTC special teams miscues, which gave the Bucs the ball in the red zone twice, however the Mocs defense was able to rise to the occasion and hold the Bucs out of the end zone on both occasions, including in the fourth quarter to preserve a one-point lead. At halftime, Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright and staff made the necessary adjustments, and the UTC offense would come alive, posting 271 yards of total offense, while limiting the Bucs to just 44. The Mocs ended the game with a 339-234 advantage in total offense. The Mocs also held decisive advantages in first downs (23-11) and passing yards (221-90). The battle of the league’s two best running backs saw UTC’s Ailym Ford hold the slight edge in rushing yards, finishing the contest with 101 rush yards and two TDs on 28 attempts. ETSU’s Jacob Saylors, who was the SoCon’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year, who currently leads the Southern Conference with 560 yards and six rushing scores, finished the day with 93 yards on the ground. The loss almost certainly assures ETSU won’t be returning to the FCS playoffs this fall, as few would have guessed the Bucs would find themselves now just playing for pride with three weeks remaining in the month of October. Perhaps the most telling stat at the end of the game was third down conversions. The Mocs finished the afternoon converting 9-of-16 in the penultimate down, while ETSU was just 1-of-14. Through the first five games of the 2022 season, the Bucs have converted at just a 27% clip on third down. That currently ranks them 110th overall in the FCS in third down conversion percentage this season. The Bucs got a 36-yard scoring run from Brandon Irby, which was followed up by field goals of 32 and 33 yards by Tyler Keltner to enter the half with a 13-3 lead. Irby’s 36-yard run was the longest rush of his career. The Mocs’ first points of the game didn’t even come until a little over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, as Andrew Southard connected on a 37-yard field goal to finish off a 13-play, 54-yard drive. In the fourth quarter, the Mocs offense would come to life, as they exploded for 21 points. Ailym Ford got the Mocs within three with a 9-yard scoring scamper with 14:22 remaining. Following another stop by the UTC defense, the Mocs took their first lead of the day when Preston Hutchinson found Jamoi Mayes on an 11-yard touchdown with 10:38 left. That would give the Mocs their first lead of the rainy afternoon at William B. Greene Stadium, as the Mocs assumed the 17-13 lead. ETSU was forced to punt back to the Mocs midway through the fourth quarter, however, Trace Kelley’s punt hit off the back of Mocs return man Chris Houston, and ETSU pounced on the loose ball inside UTC territory. However, the Bucs had to settle for a third Keltner field goal, matching his career-high total at Vanderbilt, as he knocked through the 31-yard field goal to make it a 17-16 game. The Mocs would grind the will of the Bucs in the process on the next drive. UTC covered 75 yards in 12 plays, however, more importantly took almost six minutes off the game clock, as Ford capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring plunge over the top to increase the Mocs lead to eight points with just 1:10 left.

Western Carolina rallies vs. Furman (photo courtesy of Western Carolina athletics)

8. Furman 47, Western Carolina 40–There was no lack for offense in the game between the two teams that wear purple as their primary color, and for a second-straight season, the game between Furman and Western Carolina proved to be one of the most thrilling encounters on the Southern Conference gridiron for the entire season. Despite holding what was a 44-20 lead entering the fourth quarter, the Catamounts would put together a furious fourth quarter rally to make the game interesting coming down the stretch and would actually have a chance to win the football game. Highlighting an afternoon that saw the two teams combine for 1,183 yards of total offense and 87 points, it was Furman running back Dominic Roberto that once again feasted in Saturday’s Battle for Purple Supremacy. In last season’s 43-42 loss to the Catamounts, Roberto rumbled for 196 yards and four scores on 24 rush attempts. This year, Roberto bettered that and then some, finishing with a career-high 252 yards and two scores on 25 attempts. He also hauled in a 20-yard TD pass—the first scoring catch of his career—and now has totaled 448 yards and seven touchdowns (6 rushing) in the last two meetings with the Catamounts. This time, his efforts resulted in a victory. In addition to Roberto, the Paladin ground game, which churned out 426 yards on the ground, outgaining the Catamounts, 426-229, Devin Abrams rushed for 92 yards on 19 rush attempts. Rounding out the ground attack for the Paladins was quarterback Tyler Huff, who rushed for 63 yards on five rush attempts. In addition to Huff’s 62 rushing yards, the graduate transfer from PC, also connected on 7-of-10 passes for 66 yards and three scores, without an INT. His favorite target in the passing game was once again Ryan Miller, who caught three passes for 27 yards, with two of his catches going for TDs. The senior from Jackson, TN, has hauled in touchdown passes of 13 and 14 yards, respectively, Saturday, as he hauled in touchdowns No. 22 and No. 23 in his Furman career, ranking second in program history. With his three catches Saturday, Miller now has a SoCon-best 45 receptions this season. He needs four more scoring catches this season to surpass Chas Fox’s 26-career TD catches, which he established from 1982-85. Defensively, the Paladins were led by linebacker Evan DiMaggio, who posted 10 tackles, while redshirt senior cornerback Travis Blackshear and redshirt junior both had seven tackles and a tackle-for-loss. Rounding out a trio of Paladins with seven tackles was Ivan Yates, who also added three pass breakups. Furman had some big plays as a part of its special teams unit in Saturday’s win over Western Carolina, which included a 97-yard kickoff return for a score to open the second half by Wayne Anderson Jr., a pair of Ian Williams field goals of 37 and 38 yards, respectively, a pair of blocked kicks—a PAT by Matt Sochovka and a blocked 27-yard field goal attempt by Sochovka—to round out what was a solid performance. The Catamount offense was clicking on all cylinders Saturday, despite seeing Carlos Davis go down with an injury in the third quarter, as he had to be replaced by backup Cole Gonzales, but it didn’t matter, as the two Catamount QBs led an offense that out-gained Furman 691-492 in the contest, which included a 462-66 advantage in passing yards.  It marks the first time the Paladins have been out-gained in total yards in a game this season. The Catamounts also held a 12-play advantage in total plays (79-67), however, the Paladins held an eight-minute edge in time-of-possession (34:00-26:00). The 691 yards of total offense by the Catamounts is the most total yards in a single game ever allowed by a Paladin defense, eclipsing the 672 surrendered in a 46-13 loss at LSU back in 2013. The 462 yards passing by the Catamounts Saturday marked the fourth-highest total for passing yards ever allowed by a Paladin defense. Western Carolina quarterbacks combined to complete 30-of-44 passes for 462 yards with four TD passes and just one INT. Davis finished the contest by connecting on 18-of-27 passes for 209 yards, with a pair of TD passes and one INT. The 462 passing yards were the most by a Southern Conference team this season. In addition to his 209 yards passing on the day, Davis also led the Western Carolina ground attack, posting 104 yards 11 rush attempts. Also adding to the ground yardage was TJ Jones, who rushed for 67 yards and a TD on 12 attempts, while Jaylynn Williams finished with 58 yards on 12 rush attempts. Cole Gonzales came into relieve an injured Davis in the third quarter and finished with a noteworthy performance in his young career, as the freshman signal-caller connected on 12-of-16 passes for 253 yards and a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes. Censere Lee led the Catamounts in receiving, as he hauled in five passes for 164 yards and two scores, while All-SoCon wideout Raphael Williams was able to haul in 10 passes for 102 yards and a score. Rounding out the big-play receiving options for Western Carolina quarterbacks on Saturday was David White Jr., who caught two passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. Lee was able to haul in TDs of 42 and 69 yards in the fourth quarter to make things especially interesting down the stretch, while White accounted for a 75-yard scoring catch in the second quarter. Defensively, Western Carolina was led by Va Lealaimatafao, who posted 10 tackles, while All-SoCon safety Andreas Keaton added nine tackles and half-a-tackle-for-loss.

Chattanooga wins showdown against Mercer (photo courtesy of Chattanooga athletics)

7. No. 8/10 Chattanooga 41, No. 11 Mercer 21–In what many billed as the game of the year between the 10th-ranked Chattanooga Mocs and the 11th-ranked Mercer Bears, however, six turnovers spelled doom for the Bears in what was a game that saw Mercer commit six turnovers. Chattanooga got off to a fast start in a game that would see Mercer never really threaten the Mocs. The Mocs got on the board quickly with a 32-yard field goal from Aaron Sears to take an early 3-0 at the 12:38 mark of the opening quarter. On Mercer’s ensuing offensive possession, Bears quarterback Fred Payton was picked off by UTC’s Kameron Brown and he returned the pick 53 yards for a touchdown to make it a 10-0 lead with 11:55 left in the first quarter. Chattanooga would increase its lead to 17-0 in the opening half of play when Mocs wideout Jamoi Mayes hauled in what was a 34-yard scoring strike from Preston Hutchinson to increase the Mocs lead to 17-0 in the opening quarter. The Mocs lead would grow even more when Mocs star running back Ailym Ford darted around the corner and into the end zone from 10 yards out to give the Mocs a 24-0 lead with 12:25 remaining in the first half. Mercer would finally get on the board for the first time in the contest following what was a 39-yard touchdown pass from Fred Payton to wideout Devron Harper, as the Bears cut the Mocs lead to 17, at 24-7, with 11:24 to play in the opening half. The Mocs offense responded, however, using 12 plays to cover 72 yards and set up another Aaron Sears field goal, as the Mocs took their lead back to three scores. The Bears did manage to cut the score to 13 points when Payton threw a 14-yard scoring pass to get the Bears to within 13 points, 27-14, at the half. The Mocs put a damper on any thoughts of a comeback on their opening drive of the third quarter, when Preston Hutchinson hooked up with freshman wideout Sam Phillips for a 53-yard scoring strike to make it a 34-14 advantage with 12:12 remaining in the third quarter. The Bears would get back to with 13 points one more time in the contest when Harper hauled in a 3-yard pass from Payton with just under seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, however, the Mocs closed out the huge win by using a Hutchinson 3-yard scoring pass to Jay Gibson with just under 12 minutes remaining to cap what was a thrilling 41-21 win over the Bears.

Furman quarterback Tyler Huff leads Paladins to a win over Chattanooga (photo courtesy of Furman athletics)

6. No. 24 Furman 24, No. 6 Chattanooga 20–Chattanooga couldn’t continue its victory train in Greenville, as Furman ended up posting what was a 24-20 win over the Mocs in what was evidence of a league that often sees its best teams beat up on each other. Unlike most leagues in FCS football these days, the Southern Conference actually sees every team play each other during the regular season. The win was one of significance for a Furman team that has struggled to gain any national attention for its worksheet so far through eight games coming into Saturday. However, without a bad loss coming into Saturday’s tilt with top 10 Chattanooga, Furman went about changing that narrative itself, dictating it with what it did on the field and not with what was said about its lack of quality wins or wins against a non-qualifying North Greenville. Put simply, Saturday’s game proved, at least for now, something some of us already knew and at least for now, proved the nay-sayers wrong. For anyone that has taken in a Furman game against FCS competition this season, it came as little surprise that most of the drama would once again be ironed out in what was a frenetic fourth quarter. After all, the last time the boys were back in town, Western Carolina struck like lightning to the tune of a 20-3 fourth-quarter explosion that nearly fried Furman’s Southern Conference title hopes, however, Ivan Yates’ tackle of Catamount wideout Censere Smith at the Paladin 5 as time expired kept the Paladins from experiencing the ultimate letdown after holding a 44-20 lead as the quarter began only to hold on for a 47-40 win. Against Samford, it was Furman that had to do the coming back, but ran out of time in a bizarre game that changed on a dime, or rather, a lengthy review of a play that was overturned but ultimately shouldn’t have been reviewed. After Furman ran to a 10-0 lead against the No. 16 Bulldogs, it saw Samford change the game following the controversial decision levied by the game officials, and following a 34-7 run, the Bulldogs had a 34-17 entering the final 15-minute frame. After out-scoring Samford 10-0 in the fourth quarter, the Paladins suffered their first FCS loss in heartbreaking fashion. And when Furman led 24-13 entering the fourth quarter Saturday, few expected anything but the game to come down to the wire. After Preston Hutchinson ran it in on a five-yard scamper following a 12-play, 80-yard drive, it seemed like all the momentum was on the side of the Mocs. Furman’s bid for an upset and potential attention-grabbing win for the FCS playoff committee seemed to be severely in question. Hutchinson’s tough run came with almost an entire quarter of football left. Thirteen minutes to be exact. The feeling of the win slipping into the slipping into heartbreaking defeat was almost palpable on this latest homecoming Saturday in beautiful Paladin Stadium. Memories of the 1997 loss to East Tennessee State, the ’98 setback to The Citadel, and the ’10 setback to Chattanooga—all occurring on homecoming and all in come-from-behind fashion—became one montage of a nightmare that was occurring two days before All Hallows Eve. After Ty Boeck intercepted Tyler Huff on a 3rd-and-13 play on the ensuing Furman offensive possession, things got even more dicey. Following Boeck’s 11-yard return, the Mocs offense set up just inside Furman territory at the Paladin 46. Chattanooga drove all the way to the 5. However, Furman’s defense held. Instead of going for it on a 4th-and-1, the Mocs had nearly 10 minutes of game clock and all three timeouts. Surely Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright there would be at least another opportunity to kick at least one more field goal. It was all too tempting pass up a sure three with a chip shot field goal from Aaron Sears. However, it might seem less tempting to Wright in the aftermath of what was Furman’s sixth blocked kick of the season, which came via Jack Barton, keeping the margin at four. But you know what they say about hindsight. Barton’s block was just the beginning of the pivotal plays that had to be made by Furman’s defense, and a few by its offense in order to scramble way what was Furman’s most meaningful home win since a 34-14 triumph against No. 6 Wofford on Oct. 6, 2018. Furman could muster just 18 yards in five plays as the Mocs defense grew in confidence as the game progressed. Five-straight runs had managed to grind a valuable 3:41 off the clock. The Paladins had to punt the ball back to the Mocs, and in doing so, Paladin punter Ryan Leavy somehow managed to avoid a heavy Mocs punt rush to almost miraculously not to have one of three Mocs block the punt. He provided a slight hesitation move to the right to get off an important 11-yard punt. It was another big play that might get lost in a myriad of minor details, which helped Furman thwart fourth-quarter disaster and maintain a precious fourth-quarter lead. With 3:13 remaining, the Mocs had the ball back at the Furman 40 following the short punt, which was even better field position the Boeck INT had afforded UTC on the previous offensive possession. But Furman’s defense, with its backs against the wall once again, once again weren’t interested in loosening their grip on a precious fourth quarter lead. After a five-yard fain on first down by Hutchinson, the talented transfer threw behind intended receiver Jamoi Mayes on 2nd-and-5 from the Paladin 35. On third down, Barton got his big paw up again, deflecting a Hutchinson pass, which fell to the ground just beyond the line of scrimmage harmlessly to the ground incomplete. It brought up 4th-and-5, and there was no more time for conservative play-calling for Wright and the Mocs…It was go time. On 4th-and-5, Hutchinson’s pass intended for Kendall Toney was broken up at the last second by a diving Chizik, which ultimately turned out to be the game-winning play for the Paladin defense.

Samford wins outright SoCon title at Chattanooga (photo courtesy of Samford athetics)

5. No. 9 Samford 35, No. 11 Chattanooga 24–For the first time since the 2013 season, Samford was able to clinch the Southern Conference title by taking down Chattanooga, 35-24, in the Scenic City, and that suddenly put the Mocs playoff hopes in jeopardy for a second-straight season. Samford got another big day from the frontrunner for SoCon Offensive Player of the Year, in quarterback Michael Hiers, who connected on 37-of-47 passes for 353 yards with four touchdowns and no INTs. Hiers also added a rushing score, and helped the Bulldogs generate 474 yards of total offense on an impressive 93 total snaps. That was 17 more snaps than the Mocs. The Mocs actually had more yardage, rolling up 507 yards of total offense, with Ailym Ford eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career, as he rushed for 144 yards and a pair of scores on 24 rush attempts. Ford scored on runs of 41 and 1 yards, respectively. Preston Hutchinson completed 24-of-37 throws for 320 yards, with a pair of picks and added a rushing TD. One of Hutchinson’s INTs led directly to a Samford touchdown in the first half of play. The Mocs went into the halftime locker room trailing the contest 28-10, but got within 11 points, at 28-17, when Ford plunged in from a yard out to make it a 28-17 game with 10:35 remaining in the third quarter. However, the Bulldogs would respond with what equated to a deflating score just 18 seconds later. On the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing offensive possession, Hiers found wideout DJ Rias for an 80-yard touchdown, making it an 18-point Samford lead once again, at 35-17. Chattanooga would get on the board one more time in the game, as Hutchinson finished off a 9-play, 70-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring run to make it a 35-24 game with just 1:16 remaining in the third quarter. That would turn out to be the final points for either team of the game.

Furman’s defense allows Paladins to pick up big road win at Mercer (photo courtesy of Furman athletics)

4. No. 13/16 Furman 24, No. 11/14 Mercer 13–Furman posted its second monster win over a ranked foe, when the Paladins went on the road to post a 24-13 win over the Mercer Bears in a battle of top 15 FCS programs. The win all but clinched a playoff bid for the Paladins, while the loss by the Bears likely meant the one-time favorite to win the league needing a win in the final weekend of the regular season on the road at SoCon and FCS unbeaten Samford to clinch an FCS playoff bid. While Furman’s Tyler Huff posted another winning performance under center on offense, it was Furman wide receiver Joshua Harris, who hauled in five passes for a career-high 146 yards, including a 56-yard scoring catch in the third quarter, which helped No. 13 Paladins 23-13 win over No. 11 Mercer on a Homecoming Saturday at Five Star Stadium. The win also marked Furman’s fifth-straight win, as well as the fifth-straight road win. The five wins in a row on the road account for the longest road winning streak for Furman’s football program since a combined five-game winning streak between both the 1989 and ’90 seasons, respectively. Furman’s eight regular season wins marks the first time the Paladins have accomplished that feat since 2019 and just the second time since 2006. Not to be outdone was the performance by the Furman defense, which put forth arguably its most complete performance of the season, holding a Mercer offense, which came into the game averaging 40.0 PPG to just 13.0 PPG. The Paladins finished the night holding a 460-316 advantage in total offense, and limited a ground attack by the Bears, which averaged 203 YPG on the ground coming in to a total of 57 rushing yards for the game. Huff had yet another big day leading the Paladin offense to a win, accounting for 369 yards of total offense, which included 293 passing yards and another 76 yards on the ground. He showed plenty of moxie for the Paladins this season, with plenty of athleticism to go with that moxie. The Ocala, FL, native connected on 19-of-31 passes for 293 yards with a TD and an INT, while rushing for 76 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. His 7-yard scoring run late in the opening half, coupled with Furman’s seventh blocked kick of the season, allowed the Paladins to take a vital 10-7 lead into the halftime locker room. In addition to Huff and Harris, Paladin All-American tight end Ryan Miller again turned in a solid Saturday afternoon in a Paladin uniform, as he hauled in four passes for 42 yards, while Dominic Roberto showed what he could do as a receiving threat out of the Furman backfield, hauling in three passes for 65 yards. He added an additional 69 yards rushing on 16 attempts. Though the Paladin defense failed to come up with a forced turnover in the contest, they managed to keep Bears talented quarterback Fred Payton out of his comfort zone for much of the evening, as he completed 29-of-41 passes for 263 yards, with two TDs and no INTs, but was sacked a season-high five times. Coming into Saturday’s contest, Payton had been sacked a league low six times all season.Leading the Furman defense in Saturday’s Road win was linebacker Braden Gilby, who finished with 11 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and a sack. Reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Month Hugh Ryan added eight tackles and a tackle-for-loss, while Jalen Miller added an identical eight tackles and a tackle-for-loss. Mercer’s Devron Harper had an outstanding afternoon catching the football and became the major big play option for the Bears after fellow talented wideout Ty James was ejected in the first half of the game for targeting after delivering a hit on Furman punt returner Cally Chizik late in the opening half of play. Harper finished the day by hauling in 14 passes for 192 yards.

Catamounts cancel Chattanooga’s playoff plans (photo courtesy of Western Carolina athletics)

3. Western Carolina 32, No. 15 Chattanooga 29–Chattanooga’s playoff fate would ultimately be decided on the final weekend of the regular-season, with a Southern Conference loss–this time to Western Carolina–which sealed the Mocs’ playoff fate. The 32-29 regular-season finale win for the Catamounts was another incremental step for a program that continued to move forward under second-year head coach Kerwin Bell, as the Catamounts managed to close out the campaign with three wins to end the campaign, and finished the campaign with a above .500, 6-5 overall record. On the flip side, the Mocs, who opened the season as the Southern Conference favorites, closed out the campaign by missing out on the postseason for a second-straight season, while also completing the campaign title-less. Chattanooga completed the regular season with a 7-4 overall record. Trailing by five points in the final six minutes of regulation, WCU freshman quarterback Cole Gonzales drove the Catamounts into the UTC red zone, utilizing a pair of big plays, which included a big 17-yard pass play to Censere Lee and a 24-yard run by Desmond Reid. With the ball down to the 6-yard line, the Mocs star-studded defense held the Catamounts out of the end zone on three-straight plays, with all of those being Gonzales rush attempts. On fourth down, TJ Jones got the football and plunged over from a yard out to give the Catamounts a 30-29 lead. On the two-point conversion play, Gonzales found tight end to Ajay Belanger for the two-point play and a 32-29 Catamount advantage with just 53 seconds remaining. The Mocs would advance the ball across midfield on their ensuing drive, however, after reaching the WCU 42, the Catamount defense would force four-straight incompletions, clinching WCU’s first winning season since 2017.

Furman demolishes Wofford in regular-season finale (photo courtesy of Furman athletics)

2. No. 13 Furman 63, Wofford 28–In a game that could have been a ripe opportunity for a Wofford upset of a Furman team that could have been looking towards the 2022 postseason, it was seemingly a prime opportunity for the Terriers to come to Paladin Stadium and steal a game in the rivalry series against the unsuspecting Paladins. However, that would not be the case for a Furman team looking for its most regular season wins since 2005, as the Paladins scored their most points in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry since 1920, as the Paladins posted a 63-28 win over their arch-rival on the final day of the regular season. The win would all but lock up the Paladins’ first FCS postseason appearance since 2019. Furman quarterback Tyler Huff completed 21-of-22 passes and accounted for 335 yards of total offense four touchdown responsibilities (2-passing, 2-rushing), as the 13th-ranked Paladins finished off their first nine-win regular-season in 17 years. Wofford came out and took it to Furman, scoring on its first two possessions of the game, as quarterback Jimmy Weirick threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Landon Parker on the opening possession and Nathan Parker plunged in from a yard out to conclude the Terriers’ second-straight 75-yard scoring drive, as the visitors from Spartanburg assumed a 14-7 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the opening quarter of the Deep South’s oldest rivalry.  Furman had a touchdown that sandwiched the two Terrier scores, as Ryan Miller hauled in his 26th career and school-record tying TD from Luke Shiflett on a short, 2-yard scoring pass on its first drive. Furman would tie the football game on a 4-yard rumble from Dominic Roberto 3:57 left in the opening quarter. On Wofford’s next offensive possession, it would be the Paladin defense that would turn the tide of the football game, as Ivan Yates delivered a vicious hit on Wofford quarterback Jimmy Weirick, forcing him to fumble and the ball was recovered by Alex Maier at the Terrier 21.Four plays later, Huff pulled off a beautiful play-action pass, fooling the entire Wofford defense and he lofted a perfect pass to a wide-open Ryan Miller for a 10-yard scoring connection in the back of the end zone to make it a 28-14 game with 13:41 left in the half. Wofford was able to garner one first down on its next possession, but would eventually be forced to punt, and following a 56-yard bomb by Parker, the Furman offense were faced with rare bad field position to start its next drive, taking over at its own 16. The Paladins, though, would put together one of its best offensive drives of the day as a result, with Huff leading the Paladins on a seven-play, 84-yard scoring drive, which would be capped by an 18-yard strike to Joshua Harris and 35-14 Furman lead with 8:20 remaining in the half. Furman’s defense would once again set up the offense with excellent field position, as the Paladins got heavy pressure on Weirick and this time Cally Chizik delivered the bone-crushing hit, causing the ball to be underthrown, and picked off by Furman’s Micah Robinson at the Terrier 28. It took Furman just four plays and Huff ran it in from three yards out, capping Furman’s sixth-straight scoring possession and making it a 42-14 game with 5:41 left in the half. Wofford battled back to cut Furman’s lead to 21, when Weirick engineered the Terriers’ third 75-yard scoring drive of the day. He finished off the drive with his second scoring strike of the game, finding senior Devin Matthews for a 22-yard scoring strike with 1:36 remaining in the half, making it a 42-21 game. Huff made his only mistake of the game on Furman’s next offensive possession, as he threw his only incompletion of the day, which resulted in Wofford’s lone interception and turnover gained of the contest, as the Ocala, FL., native saw his pass intercepted by David Powers and the Terrier offense would take over at the Paladin 40 with 1:02 remaining in the half. The Terriers drove the ball to the Furman 21, but had to settle for a Bridger Jones 38-yard field goal attempt, however, Furman defensive end Jack Barton broke through the line to deflect his fourth kick of the season and eighth overall for the Paladin special teams (7-blocked FGs/1blkd punt), and the ball was returned 33 yards by cornerback Travis Blackshear to run out the time in the opening half, as the Paladins assumed a 21-point lead heading into the half. The Paladins would receive the opening kickoff of the second half, needing only seven plays to cover 65 yards, as Huff ran it in for his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon, this time finding paydirt from seven yards as he rushed straight up the middle to increase Furman’s advantage to 49-21. Kendall Thomas added a 1-yard scoring run later in the quarter to make it a 56-21 with 4:08 left in the frame. Fittingly, Furman’s final score came from what is believed to be a first in program history, which is an addendum to the blocked kick scenario—something that has become an “old reliable” for the Paladin special teams this season. Nose guard Cameron Coleman bull-rushed the middle and overpowered Wofford center Anthony Garcia and got big paw up to block Bridger Jones’ field goal attempt, and Paladin All-SoCon cornerback Travis Blackshear was able to scoop up the loose ball and race 65 yards for the score with 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter to give the Paladins a 63-21 lead with 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Despite Ty James’ career day, Samford finishes SoCon unblemished with win over Mercer (photo courtesy of Mercer athletics)

1. No. 9 Samford 50, No. Mercer 44 (OT)–It was potentially the best game of the Southern Conference regular-season, as the game between Samford and Mercer had just about everything. Mercer needed a win to have a shot at a potential FCS playoff bid, while a Samford win ensured the Bulldogs an unbeaten season in the Southern Conference and an 10-0 regular-season mark against FCS competition. It was a day that for Mercer, which would see offensive records fall, yet the Bears still managed to come up short in overtime in a six-point road loss in Birmingham. The win by the Bulldogs ultimately would be enough to garner the Bulldogs a seeding in the FCS playoffs, while the Bears were left out of the 24-team FCS playoff field without a “good win.” Mercer would generate a program record 695 yards of total offense, eclipsing the previous program record of 625 yards of total offense generated by the Bears in the season opener against Morehead State. Wide receiver Ty James was the star of the Mercer offensive show in the contest, as he hauled in 13 passes for 351 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The performance by James was both a SoCon single-game receiving record, as well as a school single-game receiving record. Not to be outdone was Mercer quarterback Fred Payton, who finished the day by setting a school-record with 514 passing yards in what would turn out to be his final game as the Mercer quarterback. He finished the contest completing 30-of-51 throws and tossed three scoring strikes. The game would be decided in the second overtime by an unlikely hero for the Bulldogs, as starting signal-caller Michael Hiers had gone out of the game with an injury on the previous offensive series for the Samford offense. Enter Bulldogs backup quarterback Quincy Crittendon. On the second offensive possession of overtime and following an apparent hand injury to the starter Hiers on his 21-yard scoring toss to Judd Cockett on the initial overtime possession, Crittendon wasted little time in providing the game-deciding play, as he raced 25 yards to the end zone on the first play of the second offensive possession, giving the Bulldogs a thrilling 50-44 walk-off win. The walk-off win for the Bulldogs was set up as a result of a Fred Flavors blocked field goal of a Devin Folser 38-yard attempt, keeping the score tied 44-44. In the first overtime session, Cockett hauled in the aforementioned 21-yard scoring pass from Hiers to stake Samford to the early, 44-37, overtime lead. Mercer matched the score on its first offensive possession in the extra session, as Al Wooten scampered 19 yards for a touchdown to tie the game, 44-44. That would set up the drama that would unfold in the second overtime session. The Samford did its job to stop the prolific Mercer offense when it mattered most in the contest. Near the end of regulation, and with Samford clinging to a 37-34 lead, the Bears had the football and a 1st-and-goal at the Samford 2-yard line with less than a minute remaining in regulation. The Bulldogs stopped Mercer on three-straight plays, however, a pass interference penalty the Bears a fresh set of downs. But the Bears stopped the Bears on three-straight plays again, forcing what would be a 20-yard Devin Folser field goal attempt, which he easily knocked through with seven seconds remaining to tie the game, 37-37, and ultimately forced overtime. In the Samford win, Bulldogs quarterback Michael Hiers connected on 43-of-55 passes for 454 yards, with four touchdowns and no INTs.

SoCon in the Postseason:

Furman All-American tight end Ryan Miller vs. Elon (photo courtesy of Furman athletics)

FCS Playoffs (1st Rd)/Nov. 26, 2022 No. 11 Furman 31, No. 12 Elon 6--For the first time in 17 years, Furman hosted an FCS playoff game when it welcomed the Elon Phoenix to Paladin Stadium two days after Thanksgiving for an FCS playoff battle between a Southern Conference team and an Elon team that to its credit, had played all the other teams involved in the FCS playoffs within its own league, going 3-1 against those teams. Furman, which might have been undervalued and could have very well been a seeded team, got a tough opening round foe, with the Phoenix paying a visit to Paladin Stadium. However, playing in its first home playoff game in 17 years, the day would belong to Clay Hendrix’s Furman Paladins, who rolled up a 31-6 win over visiting Elon. The win by the Paladins helped them secure 10 wins in a season for the first time since 2005 when the Paladins completed the campaign with an 11-3 overall record. It was also Furman’s first home playoff game since playing Nicholls State in 2005, and the Paladins improved to 12-7 all-time in the FCS Playoffs at Paladin Stadium. The win over the Phoenix also snapped what had been a four-game losing streak to Elon in Furman’s home venue. The story of the game was Furman’s defense, which was able to make Elon’s balanced offense one-dimensional, as the Paladins held the Phoenix to just 77 rushing yards on 28 rush attempts, sacking Elon quarterback Matthew McKay on four occasions in Saturday’s win. It marked the third time this season that the Paladin defense has been able to hold an opponent without a touchdown, as the Phoenix joined both North Greenville (W, 52-0) and VMI (W, 41-3) in that distinct company.  The point total by Elon also marked the fewest ever allowed by a Furman defense in its 37-game playoff history. Furman ended the contest with a slight advantage in total yards, owning a 391-315 advantage in total offense, which included holding a significant 251-77 edge in rushing offense. The Paladins, which did have an impressive and balanced effort in the opening round playoff win, and it was led as usual by quarterback Tyler Huff, running back Dominic Roberto, and All-American tight end Ryan Miller. Huff finished the contest by connecting on 16-of-26 passes for 140 yards and one TD, while he was Furman’s second-leading rusher, finishing with 93 yards and one TD on only 10 attempts. Roberto also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season for the Paladin ground attack, as he finished the day with 98 yards on 23 attempts. The redshirt junior running back now has 1,061 rushing yards this season. For Miller, it was another big day catching the football, as he added his 28th-career TD catch to add on to his school-record. His 30-yard catch in the first quarter marked his 12th receiving score of the season. All told, Miller finished the game with nine catches for 74 yards to go with his first-quarter scoring grab. On the defensive side of the ball, Furman’s effort was once again a collective one. Linebackers Braden Gilby and Bryce McCormick added seven tackles apiece to lead the way, while Furman reserve defensive lineman and Lehigh transfer Xavier Stephens added 2.5 of Furman’s four sacks on the day, as he finished the contest with four total stops. Graduate senior defensive lineman Matt Sochovka added five stops, half-a-sack and a pass breakup. And though Furman didn’t block a field goal in Saturday’s win, it found a way to blow up a play on special teams, as Furman All-SoCon cornerback Travis Blackshear leveled Elon’s talented place-kicker Skyler Davis on an attempted fake field goal in the second quarter, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by safety Kam Brinson. Brinson’s fumble recovery marked his nation-leading fourth fumble recovery of the season. Elon was led by quarterback Matthew McKay, who finished the contest completing 20-of-40 passes for 238 yards and rushed for 53 yards on 11 attempts.

Quincy Crittendon leads Samford to another walk-off win (photo courtesy of Samford athletics)

FCS 2nd Rd/Dec. 3, 2022 No. 8 Samford 48, No. 17 Southeastern Louisiana 42 (OT)

Samford got its playoff march underway in style, as the Bulldogs were able to capture what was a thrilling, 48-42, second round playoff victory over Southeastern Louisiana, allowing a SoCon team to move on to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs for a second-straight season. For the second-straight game, Samford’s hero was an unlikely one, as Quincy Crittendon started the game and went the whole way, as he was called into action for an injured Michael Hiers under center. All he did was lead the Bulldogs to a thrilling 48-42 overtime win over the Lions in the friendly confines of Seibert Stadium. The win saw the Bulldogs improve to 11-1 overall and move on to face North Dakota State in Fargo in the Final Eight of the FCS playoffs. Quincy Crittendon, who rescued Samford with a game-winning, 25-yard touchdown against Mercer a week earlier to help the Bulldogs squeak out a 50-44 win over Mercer a couple of weeks earlier. Crittendon completed 26-of-40 passes for 314 yards, and four touchdowns, while adding 94 yards on the ground, which included the game-winning touchdown, as Samford held off a Southeastern Louisiana team that had defeated Idaho, 45-42, a week earlier in Hammond. Kendall Watson led Samford’s receiving efforts in the contest with 110 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. Judd Cockett was also significant in helping Samford secure its 11th win over an FCS foe on the season, as he hauled in four passes for 90 yards, including a pair of scores. Crittendon helped Samford to an early 7-0 lead when he connected with 12:19 left in the first quarter, giving the Bulldogs the 7-0 lead. SLU then hit back with consecutive scores to take a 14-7 lead on a pair of scoring runs in the first quarter. Samford answered with 21-consecutive points to regain the momentum, which included taking a 21-14 lead into the locker room at the half. The Bulldogs doubled up the Lions when Cockett hauled in a 48-yard bomb from Crittendon early in the third quarter, making it 28-14. The Lions hit back with a pair of Cephus Johnson III scoring runs of 26 and one yards, respectively, to tie the game, 28-28. Jaylan Thomas hauled in a 25-yard scoring pass from Crittendon, and a Stanton 2-yard scoring run seemed to give the Bulldogs a comfortable two-score cushion. But the Lions scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 8:26 of regulation to force overtime, with the game tied, 42-42. Samford elected to go on defense first in the game, and the game would change when Brayden Devault-Smith dislodged the football from the Lions running back, and the ball went through the back of the end zone for a touchback. On Samford’s offensive possession, Crittendon scampered 10 yards for a score on the fourth play from scrimmage, giving Samford its first playoff win since 1991.

Furman season ends at Incarnate Word (photo courtesy of Incarnate Word athletics)

FCS 2nd Rd/Dec. 3, 2022, No. 7 Incarnate Word 41, No. 11 Furman 38

Furman saw its 2022 season come to an end on the road in San Antonio, TX, as seventh-seeded Incarnate Word handed the Paladins a 41-38 loss at Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium. The win meant Incarnate Word moved on to face second seeded Sacramento State in the FCS quarterfinals, while the Paladins saw what a remarkable 2022 season end with a 10-3 overall record. It looked as if it might be a great day to be a Paladin early in the contest. On the opening drive of the game, Furman would get first glance at UIW’s prolific offense and Walter Payton Award finalist and quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. It didn’t take long for Cally Chizik to send a message from the Paladin defense to Scott and the Cardinal offense after picking off the talented UIW signal-caller and returning it 36 yards for a score to give Furman a 7-0 lead just four plays into the contest. UIW went to work on its second drive and went about tying the football game, using nine plays to drive 75 yards, scoring on somewhat of a fluke pass play from Scott to wideout Darrion Chafin for a 21-yard scoring strike. Facing a heavy rush, Scott, who was falling backwards, lofted the ball up towards the end zone and Chafin hauled it in for the score to even the score, 7-7, with 10:51 remaining in the opening half. Furman was forced to punt on its first offensive possession of the contest, and when UIW’s offense got the ball back, it wouldn’t take them long to assume its first lead of the day. Scott’s second touchdown toss was his longest completion of the day, finding Chafin behind the Paladin secondary for an 80-yard pitch-and-catch, giving the Cardinals the 14-7 lead with 7:23 still remaining in the first quarter. The Paladin offense would put more points on the board on the ensuing possession, getting their only field goal of the day from Ian Williams, who connected on a 49-yard field goal with 6:01 left in the opening frame, cutting UIW’s lead to four points, at 14-10.On the third play of UIW’s next drive, Chizik would pickoff a Scott pass for the second time of the day, returning it 33 yards all the way to the UIW 5. On the second play of the drive, Dominic Roberto plunged in from a yard out to make it a 17-14 lead with a little over two minutes left in the first quarter. The second quarter would belong to the Cardinals, outscoring the Paladins 14-0 to take a seemingly commanding 28-17 lead into halftime locker room. UIW quarterback tossed TD passes three and four of the opening half, as he first found Chafin on a 27-yard strike before hooking up with Taylor Grimes on a circus catch in the back of the end zone, capping an 88-yard drive, with 42 of those yards coming on the touchdown connection between Scott and Grimes. Late in the half, Furman’s defense was finally starting to slow Scott and the UIW offense. With a chance to increase the margin even more and the Cardinals driving deep inside Paladin territory, with the ball resting at the Furman 3 and facing a 4th-and-1 play with under a minute remaining in the second quarter. Instead of opting to kick the short chip shot field goal, Cardinal head coach G.J. Kinne took a timeout to draw up a play. The Paladin defense was equal to the task, as a short pitch to wideout to Taylor Grimes was stuffed short by Furman linebacker Bryce McCormick, allowing the Paladin offense to run out the clock and take a small measure of momentum into the halftime locker room. Furman got the ball on the opening possession of the second half, however, Paladin quarterback Tyler Huff threw his first of two INTs of the day, as much like Chizik intercepted Scott on the fourth play of the game, UIW’s Brian Mayes returned the favor on the fourth play of the second half, picking off Huff, only his INT wasn’t returned for a score, but it did give the Cardinals the ball deep inside Furman territory at the Paladin 30.Furman’s defense was beginning to gain confidence, however, and would hold the Cardinals to just three points, which kept the Paladins hopes for a second half comeback very much alive. After UIW initially got the ball down to the Furman 18 on a 12-yard run from Marcus Cooper, and eventually got all the way to the Paladin 1. However, on a 3rd-and-goal play, Furman strong safety broke through the line and brought down Scott for a loss of three and forced UIW to settle for the three this time around, and he trotted on to knock through the 22-yard field goal and give the Cardinals a 31-17 lead. A defensive battle began to take shape in the third quarter and for the first time all day, the UIW offense was struggling to find the success and points that they were in the opening half. With just under seven remaining in the third, Huff and the Paladin offense took over the football. The graduate transfer from Presbyterian College would help engineer a 10-play, 52-yard drive, which he capped with an 11-yard scoring run on a 4th-and-4 play with 3:28 left in the third quarter. Furman was back in the football game, trailing just 31-24. Things would get even more interesting in the fourth quarter. After the Cardinals went back up by double digits once again following a 43-yard field goal by Mohr just a little less than a minute into the final quarter, giving UIW the 34-24 lead. After the two teams exchanged punts, Furman got the football back with just over 10 minutes remaining. It wouldn’t take the Paladins long to make things really interesting, getting to within a field goal when Huff found wideout Joshua Harris behind the UIW secondary for a 50-yard scoring strike to get Furman to within a field goal, at 34-31.On a 2nd-and-6 play on UIW’s ensuing drive, Cardinals running back Marcus Cooper was tackled by Braden Gilby, and it was Furman’s All-SoCon middle linebacker, who not only forced the football free, and it would be Bryce McCormick who recovered the fumble to set up the Furman offense in outstanding field position at the UIW 32.On the first play, Huff rushed 12 yards up the middle to get the Paladins a first down at the UIW 20. Another 13-yard scamper on 3rd-and-8 got the Paladins a first down inside the 10. Three plays later, Huff called his own number once again, and Furman took its first lead since holding a 17-14 lead early in the second quarter, as following Axel Lepvreau’s PAT, Furman held a 38-34 lead with 6:55 remaining. Furman’s defense would hold UIW on downs on the Cardinals next possession, despite the Cardinals moving the football 50 yards in 12 plays. Furman’s offense took over the football at their own 20 with 2:59 left. Furman only took 27 seconds off the clock, however, forced UIW to use all three of its remaining timeouts before having to punt deep out of their own end zone, ensuring UIW would get excellent field position. Furman’s drive used three plays, and was plagued by two huge penalties, which come on a holding call following a 19-yard run by Dominic Roberto on first down, and then a false start on the next play. Losses of three and four yards by Roberto on back-to-back carries meant the Paladins would lose a combined 15 yards on the possession compared to where it took the ball over, ending up at their own 5 and forcing Ryan Leahy to punt deep out of his own end zone. Furman would give the ball back to the Cardinals with 2:32 remaining, as they took the ball in great field position at the Paladin 25.On 3rd-and-10 on UIW’s ensuing drive, Scott lofted a pass to the back left corner of the end zone, which wideout Kole Wilson ran under and caught for a 32-yard touchdown, giving the Cardinals the lead back, 41-38, with just under two minutes remaining. When the Paladins got the football back at their own 25, they would have 1:54 on the clock and the luxury of all three timeouts. Huff and the Paladins moved the ball quickly, aided by a pass interference penalty and a holding penalty against the Cardinals to get the ball down to the UIW 32 with 1:32 left and all three timeouts. However, on first down, Huff’s pass was intended for All-American tight end Ryan Miller intercepted by a diving Eliott Davison, who provided the perfect safety over the top coverage, essentially ending any comeback hopes for the Paladins. After gaining one first down on a Scott 15-yard run up the middle, in which the Paladins were trying to rip the football free, the Cardinals ran out the remainder of the clock en route to holding on for the 41-38 second round win.  Incarnate Word would go on to beat Sacramento State (66-63) on the road before seeing the season come to an end in Fargo, with a 35-32 loss at No. 3 North Dakota State on the doorstep of the national championship game.

NDSU tight end Joe Stoffel hauls in TD pass vs Samford (photo courtesy of NDSU athletics)

FCS Quarterfinals/Dec. 9, 2022, No. 3 North Dakota State 27, No. 6 Samford 9

Quincy Crittendon started in place of an injured Michael Hiers, however, things wouldn’t pan out quite the same way as they did in the previous two outings for the Bulldogs with Crittendon under center, as No. 3 North Dakota State handed Samford a 27-9 season-ending setback at the FargoDome in the FCS Quarterfinals. It left the SoCon absent of having a representative in the FCS semifinals for the 10th-straight season. The last time a SoCon team represented in the FCS semifinals was in 2012, when Georgia Southern fell, 23-20, in the semifinals to North Dakota State. Michael Hiers, who was the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year, did manage to play in the second half for the Bulldogs, and finished the contest connecting on 22-of-30 passes for 227 yards with one touchdown. His one TD toss on the night gave him 36 for the season, which tied a single-season record, which was previously established by 2018 Walter Payton Award winner Devlin Hodges in 2016. Crittendon finished by connecting on 8-of-17 throws for 52 yards. Chandler Smith finished out with a strong performance against the Bison, hauling in six passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, while fellow wideout Kendall Watson finished the contest with a respectable eight catches for 73 yards. North Dakota State’s offense was led by quarterback Cam Miller, who finished the evening connecting on 15-of-18 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the Bison were led by cornerback Courtney Eubanks, who finished out the contest by registering 10 tackles, while fellow defensive back Dawson Weber registered the lone INT for the Bison defense in the contest. NDSU finished the contest holding a slight 360-336 advantage in total offense. The Bulldogs held a 279-194 in aerial yardage, while the Bison held a sizable 166-57 edge in ground yards. The game would be scoreless until the second quarter, with a number of big hits from both defensive units highlighting the early going. NDSU would be the first to find its way onto the scoreboard in the contest when Bison tight end Joe Stoffel hauled in a 2-yard scoring pass from Cam Miller with just 1:25 remaining in the opening half to give NDSU a 7-0 lead. The Bison would get the ball back once more following a short Samford punt with 25 seconds remaining at midfield. Following runs by Miller, which gained a total of nine yards on two rushes, and a personal foul penalty by Samford’s Tyriq Hardimon, allowed the Bison to take a two-score lead into the locker room when Griffin Crosa connected on a 44-yard field goal as time expired to make it a 10-0 NDSU lead as the two teams headed for their respective locker rooms. NDSU opened the second half with an impressive, seven-play, 82-yard drive, which would be capped by TK Marshall’s 7-yard touchdown run to put the Bison on top 17-0 with 10:57 left in the third quarter. Later in the quarter, Miller’s 1-yard scoring plunge put NDSU ahead 24-0 to complete a 12-play, 63-yard scoring drive. Early in the fourth quarter, Zach Williams connected on a 28-yard field goal to get the Bulldogs on the board, at 24-3, with 12:08 left in the game. The Bison pretty much made the game academic on the ensuing drive, using nine plays to cover 71 yards and it culminated with Crosa’s second field goal, as he connected on a 22-yard effort with 6:04 left to increase NDSU’s lead to 27-3. Samford would score its only touchdown of the game on the next drive, as Hiers connected with Chandler Smith on a 40-yard scoring strike with 3:53 remaining. The two-point conversion was no good, leaving the score at 27-9.

Final Power Rankings for 2022:

  1. Samford (11-2, 8-0 SoCon)–The best team deserves the top spot.
  2. Furman (10-3, 7-1 SoCon)–The Paladins exceeded expecatations.
  3. Western Carolina (6-5, 4-4 SoCon)–Hard to argue with WCU’s positioning based on how the Catamounts finished the season.
  4. Chattanooga (7-4, 5-3 SoCon)–Mocs disappointed again down the stretch.
  5. Mercer (7-4, 5-3 SoCon)–Bears still have work to do to break through and be the program they aspire to be.
  6. Wofford (3-8, 3-5 SoCon)–Terriers were a breath of fresh air under Shawn Watson during the second half of the season.
  7. The Citadel (4-7, 3-5 SoCon)–Bulldogs finished strong under Brent Thompson, but welcome in Maurice Drayton and a new era in 2023.
  8. East Tennessee State (3-8, 1-7 SoCon)–George Quarles era got off to a forgettable start in Johnson City.
  9. VMI (1-10, 0-8 SoCon)–Keydets are back to square one and hope Danny Rocco can get things turned around quickly…Adding a grad program will help immensely.

–Stay tuned for part 2 in the coming weeks as I review all the all-conference and All-America teams and start to look at the incoming classes and take an early look to 2023 in SoCon football. Merry Christmas everyone!!!

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.

3 thoughts on “SoCon Football 2022: Season Recap (part 1)

    1. Thank you for the kind words…It took a lot of time to put together, but it was worth it with the product the SoCon gridders gave me to write about this season…What a fun season!

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