SOCON: Week 4 Review and Power Rankings

It was a wild week in the Southern Conference. A couple upsets spiced things up in the race for the conference crown. Both ETSU, with its victory over Mercer, and especially WCU’s victory over a ranked Samford team, showed just how competitive conference play can be in the SOCON. In the other conference match up, Chattanooga got back on track with a victory over VMI. The out of conference games had some surprising results as well. Wofford appeared to struggle a bit against Gardner-Webb and in one of the most surprising results, Furman traveled to Colgate and won big. The Citadel was idle.

ETSU 26 Mercer 23 (box score)

For the second week in a row, the Bucs of ETSU found themselves with a halftime lead in a game they were not favored to win. They could not hold on to the lead the week prior.   They didn’t this week either. But they persevered and retook the lead in the end.

After a quick three and out by ETSU, Mercer struck quickly with a 49 yard reception. It looked like the Bears would have a field day. But an inopportune fumble a couple plays later and a 50 yard return by ETSU put a crimp in Mercer’s plans. Four plays later ETSU scored to go up 7-0.

After trading a few punts, ETSU struck again with a field goal after a 49 yard drive. But Mercer answer right back to close the score to 10-6 after they missed the XP. The teams only trades more punts to close the half.

After trading punts again to open the second half, Mercer got to work. They scored on successive possession to go up 20-10. Wedged in between those scores, ETSU missed a 23 yard chip shot field goal. A few of these drives were marked by multiple penalties by both teams. On the day, both teams were pretty sloppy with ETSU being penalized 11 times for 119 yards and Mercer 10 times for 95 yards. Many of those were either self inflicted drive killing or drive extending penalties for the opponent.

On ETSU’s next drive they again were forced to attempt a field goal after a 13 play drive for 54 yards. They got it this time, a 49 yard boomer to close the score to 20-13 The defenses were definitely stiffing up as Mercer was also held to a field goal attempt on their next possession, which they missed from 35 yards out.

ETSU then went on an 8 play 80 yard scoring drive to tie it up with 4:41 to go in the game. Mercer tried to drive for the game winning score but was forced to punt after a couple first downs. With just over two minutes to go, ETSU was foiled in their attempt by a couple penalties and a sack. William B Greene Jr. Stadium had it first overtime game.

Mercer got the ball first and ETSU’s defense was up to the task. Mercer was forced to kick a field goal. QB Austin Herink wasted no time during the Buc’s possession and connected on a 25 yard TD pass to one of his running backs, Jajuan Stinson, for the win.

Herink had a pretty good day going 26/33 for 284 yards, and 1 TD and no interceptions. On the ground ETSU accumulated 103 yards for a 2.5 yard average. Herink was sacked three times for a loss of 15 yards. ETSU went 6/14 on third downs.

Mercer’s freshman QB Kaelan Riley also had a pretty good day going 15/22 for 257 yards, one TD and no interceptions. On the ground, Bear’s running back CJ Leggett led Mercer with 109 yards and one TD.   Overall Mercer had 149 rushing yards. Riley was sack once. The Bears went only 2/10 on third downs.

The only turnover in the game was Mercer’s fumble on their first possession. ETSU did a good job holding onto the ball with a time of possession of almost 36 minutes.

Mercer, fresh from its respectable performance against FBS ranked Auburn, probably did not expect this from ETSU. But the Bucs are good team and their road opening beat down by JMU was probably due in part to a bit of the jitters. Both teams made a couple impressive defensive stands. Far from losing much at the QB position, Mercer seems to have found a good one in Riley. But he is just a freshman and Mercer would not have lost this game last year with their veteran QB. Now at 1-3, 0-2, Mercer will have to regroup in order to remain in the hunt for the conference championship. ETSU now at 2-2, 1-1, looks to continue improving in their third year back.

Mercer hosts VMI next week and ETSU travels to Furman.

Chattanooga 63 VMI 7 (box score)

The Chattanooga Mocs have had a tough schedule to date losing to JSU, LSU and a good Tenn-Martin team. They needed a win. This game against VMI was timely. VMI has struggled all year. A blowout loss to AF, a meltdown against Div II Catawba, and a tough road loss to Robert Morris have been disheartening for the Keydets. Chattanooga made it worse for them.

The Mocs had 9 first half possessions including a late interception just seconds prior to half. They scored touchdowns on 6 on them. They had help. VMI threw three interceptions, fumbled once, and had a punt blocked. UTC’s starting field position was pretty much in the middle of VMI territory. The one bright spot for VMI came late in the second half when Duncan Hodges (must be a cousin of Devlin) connected on a picture perfect 73 yard TD pass late. That made it 42-7 at that point. VMI got a lot of QB participation with the second and third string getting reps after starter Austin Coulling left in the second after going 3/8 for 33 yards and two interceptions.

Mercifully, the MOCs possessed the ball for 23 minutes in the second half taking long drives to score only three more times.

Chattanooga’s temp QB, Nick Tiano went 25/33 for 249 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 interception. I say temp, because it is expected that the Mocs expected starter Alejandro Bennifield will return shortly. But it is probable that he may be a bit game rusty. On the ground, the Mocs tallied 148 yards on 44 rushes. For the game Chattanooga gained only 397 yards. That is a bit lower than one would expect but was due to their ridiculous starting field position. Still, they did go 12/15 on third downs.

They needed their offense to step up.

As mentioned, VMI rotated a little bit in the QB position. On the day, all three QBs went 9/19 for 136 yards, 1 TD and 3 interceptions. The Keydets only gained 28 yards on the ground. VMI did not need to face UTC’s stout defense this week. The Keydets only went 1 for 10 on third downs. Possessing the ball for only 21 minutes makes it hard to score as well.

Both of these teams are facing some issues. UTC is still adjusting to a new coach and while the Moc faithful certainly hope that they will get in gear permanently with the return of their QB, that is far from certain. And their running game is still a question mark. VMI was hardly a good test. VMI on the other hand appears to be having some serious fundamental issues. They are in total disarray on both sides of the ball. They need to persevere and rebuild from the ground up.

It does not get any easier for the Keydets. They travel to Macon to face a pissed off Mercer team hungry for their first SOCON victory of the year. Chattanooga faces an apparently rejuvenated Western Carolina team at home next week.

Furman 45 Colgate 14 (box score)

Furman’s season has been one of disappointment up to this point. Starting out 0-3 with losses to Wofford, Elon and NC State was not what first year head coach Clay Hendrix probably envisioned. But Furman looked ok in all of those games for a team as young as they are. They needed to put a game together and minimize mistakes.   Playing Colgate on the road appeared to not be the best opportunity to do that.

After trading punts to start the game, Furman caught its first break. Colgate fumbled after completing a pass in Furman territory. The Paladins went to work quickly and scored on a 61 yards pass by PJ Blazejowski. After forcing Colgate to punt on their next possession, Furman then took its time and drove 76 yards on 11 plays to go up 14-0. Colgate then gave Furman another opportunity as the Paladins forced a fumbled when the QB was sacked deep in Colgate territory. Furman scored again near the end of the first quarter.

As if this was not enough, on Colgate’s next possession, they opted to go for it on a 4th and 1 at their own 34 yards line at the start of the second quarter. Bad decision. Furman stuffed them and took over on downs.   They did hold Furman to a field goal on the ensuing drive and the score stood at 24-0 with 12:07 to go in the first half. But sometimes, when things go bad, they just get even worse. On Colgate’s next possession, they fumbled yet again and Furman’s next drive started on the Colgate 10. They scored in one play. After forcing another Colgate punt, Furman went on a 77 yard drive for another score to make it 38-0. Colgate did get it going on their next drive and went 81 yards on 11 plays to make it 38-7 at the half.

After Furman threw an interception on their first possession of the second half, the teams traded punts a few times. They then traded TDs before ending the third, but the damage had already been done. The 4th quarter saw the teams trade punts or turnovers on downs. Furman held on to their 45-14 lead for the much needed win.

Furman’s PJ Blazejowski went 13/20 for 251 yards with 3 TDs and 1 interception. The Paladins ran for 140 yards on 50 attempts. They went 7/16 on third down attempts.

The Paladin’s defense held Colgate to 283 yards of total offense. They also held Colgate to 4 of 18 on third down attempts. It is clear that Colgate’s 3 lost fumbles broke their back early as Furman capitalized on all three. The Furman defense also had 5 sacks. The teams split the TOP about even.

Colgate, who had been ranked this year, probably underestimated the 0-3 Paladins a bit, especially after Elon beat the Paladins a couple weeks ago. Underestimating Elon proved to be a bit premature as well. Furman is probably still a bit inconsistent, but they have some talent and some young talent at that. They will only get better. Oh, and Clay Hendrix has his first win as a head coach. Furman hosts ETSU next week where he will look for win number two.

#8 Wofford 27 Gardner-Webb 24 (box score)

Wofford has had some close calls this year. They had another one this week. It is true that running the option does not necessarily lend itself to racking up big points most of the time, although that does happen occasionally. But Wofford has had some issue scoring points all year. Granted it started the season against underrated Furman and Mercer teams, but they are both better than their reputation.

On Saturday Wofford got off to a slow start. The Terriers took their opening drive 55 yards in 14 plays (!) and took 6:49 off the clock to get…a field goal. The teams then traded four punts where they each went three and out every time. Wofford was passing quite a bit on these drives. Gardner-Webb got on the board at the beginning of the second quarter when they drove 55 yards in 12 plays to also score a field goal to tie it up.

Wofford answered with a 10 play 75 yard drive which ended with a 30 yard TD pass. After holding Gardner-Webb to a three and out Wofford gave the Runnin’ Bulldogs a gift with a fumble which resulted in a 53 yard scoop and score. With the score tied at 10, Wofford went on 8 play 75 scoring drive and Wofford held the 17-10 lead going into the break.

Gardner-Webb first possession of the second half ended with an interception while still in their own territory. Their defense stiffened up and held Wofford to a field goal. Now down 20-10, G-W went on a 75 yard 13 play scoring drive to close the gap to 20-17. Wofford answered back immediately again with 75 yard drive to extend the lead again. Wofford Goodson threw a 38 yard pass, and Andre Stoddard had a 26 yard run on the drive for the score.

After trading punts, Gardner-Webb started their next drive past midfield with 9:45 to go in the game. They scored on a fast 2 minute drive of 45 yards in 4 plays. With the score now at 27-24 half way through the 4th quarter, Gardner-Webb was within striking distance if they could only hold Wofford. It didn’t look good as Wofford drove the ball well and chewed up clock. After a 9 play drive and using up 5 minutes of the clock, Wofford then made it interesting. On a 1st and 10 from the G-W 34, with 2:40 to go in the game, they fumbled it away. Down by 3 Gardner-Webb wasted no time in moving down the field for a potential game winning or at least a tie score. They made it to the Wofford 33 before the Terriers defense stepped up and held them to a 4th and 12 with 1:05 on the clock. A 50 yard field goal try came up well short and left and Wofford ran out the clock.

Wofford who had averaged 87 yards through the air per game prior, upped that this game. With two QBs, Brandon Goodson and Joe Newman, they went 9/14 for 137 yards with 1 TD. Goodson threw the majority with 117 yards. On the ground, Wofford was a little shy of their 271 yard average with 235 yards on the day. Andre Stoddard was their lead rusher with 91 yards and two TDs. They went 8/14 on third down tries. Time of possession was about even with Wofford having a 2 minute advantage.

On defense the Terriers had a respectable day. They held Gardner-Webb to 270 yards total including 171 yards passing and 99 rushing. The Runnin’ Bulldogs went 5/12 on third down conversions.

Each team had one sack. Each team also had 4 penalties. Special teams on both sides were good.

Wofford seems to be underachieving a little on offense, but they continue to churn out the Ws. Like the Citadel, they are playing close games and relying on the fact they can crank out long scoring drives when needed. They also have a pretty good defense and do not give up a lot of yards or points. They are in danger only when they let teams stay close with untimely turnovers or special teams errors.

Wofford will travel to Presbyterian this coming week.

Western Carolina 38  #17 Samford 34 (box score)

WCU had gone 27 games since beating a ranked opponent. The Cats had put up gaudy offensive numbers to date. The Samford Bulldogs had as well, but they have also had issues on defense. The WCU Catamounts had a great opportunity to pull the upset.

WCU took their opening possession down the field with ease, but were eventually stopped and the Cats settled for a field goal. After holding Samford to a three and out, WCU went on an 8 play, 73 yard drive to score a TD this time to go up 10-0. But Samford answered right back with a 74 yard drive of their own to close it to 10-7.

Many expected this game to become a track meet and it looked like it just might turn into one. However, both defenses then came alive and the teams then traded five punts. But then the Bulldogs got going again with an 8 play, 97 yard scoring drive to take the lead for Samford 14-10. WCU answered back quickly behind the arm of QB Tyrie Adams. The Cats scored on a 3 play, 80 yard drive capped off by a 59 yard strike by Adams and WCU reclaimed the lead 17-14. After trading more punts WCU threatened again right before half when they drove 72 yards to the Samford 2 before fumbling the ball in the end zone. Samford ran out the clock and the score stood at half time.

After a good kickoff return to open the second half, Samford took their first possession the distance for a TD and the lead changed yet again. After holding WCU to a three and out on their next possession, Samford struck quickly on their first play with a 72 yards pass to the WCU 15. But the Cats defense knew they needed to stop them before a route began. They did and forced Samford to kick a field goal to make it 24-17 Samford.

The Cats answered right back to tie it up with a 9 play, 82 yard drive which was saved after a pass interference call negated a Samford interception. Samford also answered right back with 69 yard drive that took 8 plays to get then to the WCU 4. WCU’s defense stood up again and forced Samford to kick another field goal to again let Samford claim the lead at 27-24.

After each team punted, Adams tossed an interception in the end zone early in the 4th quarter after driving into Samford territory. Samford then moved into Western Carolina territory before being stopped and were forced to punt. With 10:54 to go in the game and down by 3, Adams went to work again. WCU took it 80 yards in 9 plays on a drive that included a 48 run by Adams. Now with 7:38 to go in the game, and WCU leading 31-27, one of those intangible things happened. The game was suspended due to lightning for 40 minutes.

After the game resumed, Samford got great field position due to a good return after WCU was penalized for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the last score. Samford started their drive on their own 48 yards line. The Cats defense stood firm though and forced a three and out. With 6:13 remaining in the game, WCU had an opportunity to ice it with a score. But the Bulldog defense then held firm and forced a three and out themselves. Deep in their own territory, the Cats punter only got the kick to midfield and a 10 yard return put Samford in striking distance. Two passes, including a 36 yard TD pass was all it took for Samford to go ahead 34-31 with 3:54 remaining.

Not to be outdone, on WCU’s next possession, Tyrie Adams completed four straight passes for the Cats to put it at the Samford 4 yard line. Some of those passes were simply phenomenal. Detrez Newsome punched it in on the next play and WCU reclaimed the lead, 38-34 with 1:33 remaining. It didn’t look good for Samford. But anyone who has followed Samford the last couple years knows how fast they can score. So they had a chance even if they had a special teams error.

And they did have one. It was a “who’s on first” for the Samford kickoff returners when the kick came and they had to just drop on the ball. Unfortunately for Samford it was on their own 1 yard line. 99 yards? Not a problem for Samford, even with a minute and a half remaining.

Devlin Hodges, one of the best QBs in FCS, completed three quick passes to get the ball to the Samford 38. After a coupe incomplete passes, he completed three more to take the Bulldogs all the way to the WCU 3 yard line! With 20 second left in the game, it looked like Samford had to just punch it in for the win. Their first rush got them to the 2. Both teams were taking all sorts of timeouts during this time as well. Hodges then tried to pass, but it was incomplete. On the 3rd and goal Hodges tried to punch it in but got only 1 more. This is when WCU thought the game was over. The WCU team and lots of fans ran out on the field. But Samford got the timeout called in time with 2 seconds remaining. With a 4th and goal at the 1, Samford, again, had to just punch it in. Well if they had any sort of reliable running game that is all they needed to do. Hodges tried to pass and a WCU defender batted it down. The Cats had their victory and the team and fans then went wild.

As expected, these teams put up ridiculous numbers on offense. WCU totaled 602 yards. QB Tyrie Adams went 19/31 for 312 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. He also had 152 yards rushing. He will clearly be the SOCON offensive player of the week. Cats running back Detrez Newsome ran for 96 as well as gaining 21 receiving, and 98 yards on kickoff returns. Overall WCU had 290 yards rushing. WCU had a slight edge in time of possession. They had 5 penalties for 51 yards. Adams was sacked 5 times.

Samford did their usual thing. They had 529 yards passing. Hodges went 39/67. He had 4 TDs and no interceptions. On the ground Samford only had 91 yards on 21 attempts. Samford was not sacked in the game. The Bulldogs had 8 penalties for 81 yards. Samford went 9/20 on third down conversion.

Wow. It was an exciting game to watch and WCU can be proud of their effort. They have issues on defense obviously since giving up 620 yards is unacceptable. But their defense made some key stops when needed so progress is happening. Right now Samford is just a bit too one dimensional to be a contender. Sure they can pass on any team who has pass defense issues, but without a reliable running game, they will be predictable. The Bulldogs also have defensive issues obviously giving up over 600 yards. As usual lately, they are relying on their offense to outscore their opponents. Their scoring drives continue to be in the two minute range, so they can execute the offensive side pretty well.

WCU will take its momentum to Chattanooga next week and try and wreck the Mocs season. Samford hosts The Citadel next week where it will be “pass” against the “run.”

Power Rankings

  1. Wofford
  2. The Citadel
  3. Western Carolina
  4. Chattanooga
  5. Samford
  6. Furman
  7. ETSU
  8. Mercer
  9. VMI

Written by 

Born and raised in New Jersey, but gravitated south to graduate from The Citadel in 1985. Served 23+ years in the USAF retiring in 2008 as a Field Grade Officer. Logged 4600+ flying hours as an Aircraft Commander and Instructor Pilot in the KC135. After retiring from active duty, worked as a Program Manager on various Air Force weapon systems. Retired completely as of May 2016. I have followed SOCON football since my days as a cadet. I like statistics, but also find value in looking at the intangibles as well, such as a team's emotions and motivation.

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