SoCon Football 2015: An Early Look At September’s SoCon Games: (Chattanooga at Samford)

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Over the past couple of seasons, the Chattanooga-Samford matchup has meant a lot in the Southern Conference race.

The two teams met in an epic clash a couple of years ago, and it was Samford who came away with a thrilling 17–14 win in that contest to help forge a three-way tie for the Southern Conference title, ultimately knocking the Mocs out of a postseason berth and allowing Furman to gain the automatic bid to the FCS postseason after Samford’s win over Elon in the regular-season finale.

A win by No. 17 Chattanooga in that game and the Mocs would have won the SoCon outright. Last season, it was the Mocs getting revenge, as Chattanooga started its prelude to the 2014 Southern Conference crown with a 38–24 win in the Scenic City.

The Sept 19 meeting between this fall will mark the 41st all-time meeting between the two programs, with the Mocs holding the commanding 27–10–3 all-time series edge.

Samford has won just twice in the series since joining the Southern Conference in 2008, winning that initial meeting between the two as SoCon foes back in ‘08, as the Bulldogs posted a 30–7 win at Finley Stadium. The only other win by the Bulldogs since the two have been league rivals came back in that meeting in 2013 in Birmingham.

The meeting this fall is so significant because both once again figure to be prime contenders for the Southern Conference title.

NOTING THE 2014 CLASH:

It would be the first game of the Southern Conference slate for 14th-ranked Chattanooga and second for Samford, as the Mocs would jump out to an early lead, and held off a furious rally to post the 14-point win, 38–24, in a crucial Southern Conference clash last season.

The Mocs were able to roll up 252 yards on the ground in the win, averaging an impressive 5.9 YPC in the win and accounted for four of the Mocs’ five TDs in the contest. Meanwhile, the Chattanooga defense was able to pick off Samford quarterback Michael Eubank three times in the contest, while the Mocs did not turn the football over in the game.

The Mocs would jump out to a 24–3 lead after Warren Handrahan gave the Bulldogs a brief, early 3–0 lead on a 19-yard field goal. The Mocs would answer with 24 unanswered points and were able to capitalize on some Samford miscues, and the scoring barrage was highlighted by a 34-yard run by senior running back Keon Williams and a 66-yard punt return for a score by senior wideout Tommy Hudson. The Mocs would carry that 21-point edge into the halftime locker room.

Samford would get on the board early in the third quarter, as Eubank connected on a 39-yard pass to get the Bulldogs down inside the UTC 20. A couple of plays later, running back Denzel Williams found the end zone on a 9-yard scamper to make it a 24–10 game with 11:14 remaining in the third.

After the Samford defense force a quick three-and-out, it would be another quick-strike drive that would cause the partisan Mocs crowd on-hand to start biting their fingernails. The Bulldogs needed just 90 seconds to cover 56 yards in six plays, highlighted by one of the catches of the season from Bulldog wideout Karel Hamilton on a 24-yard from Eubank brought the Bulldogs within a TD, at 24–17, with 8:09 to play in the third.

But the Mocs would show their championship pedigree from there, scoring the next 14 points to effectively put the game out of reach for Samford. Early in the fourth quarter, Lucas Webb intercepted his second pass of the game, and like his first pick, it would lead to the same result for the Mocs — a TD. Webb’s INT gave the Mocs excellent field position at the Samford 19.

Four plays later, Williams had his second scoring run of the night, as he posted a 7-yard scoring run with 11:21 remaining to give UTC a two-score lead, at 31–17.

The Mocs would get the ball back, and quarterback Jacob Huesman showed why he was the league’s premier quarterback, using a 52-yard option keeper off the right side to set up a 1-yard plunge by the junior signal-caller and a 38–17 lead, effectively putting the game on ice with 5:17 left. Samford would add another late TD — a 23-yard pass from Eubank-to-Hamilton with 2:08 left — setting the final score.

The win helped the Mocs get off to a 1–0 start in league play, and Chattanooga would go on to win six more times in league play to produce one of the more dominant runs through the SoCon in recent memory.

MEMORABLE MEETINGS:

Nov. 16, 2013

Seibert Stadium, Birmingham, AL

SAMFORD 17, CHATTANOOGA 14 (OT)

Short Summary:

— Samford would claim a thrilling 17–14 overtime win, putting an end to a five-game winning streak by the Chattanooga in the series and helping keep the Bulldogs alive for their first conference title as a Division I member, as well as their first NCAA FCS playoff bid since the early 1990s. To be exact, following the final game win over Elon, the Bulldogs were able to secure their first bid to the FCS postseason for the first time since 1992.

In front of a sellout crowd of nearly 9,000 fans on-hand at Seibert Stadium, the Bulldogs looked as though it would be a cakewalk, as the Bulldogs jumped out to an early 14–0 lead, on scoring catches from Karel Hamilton and Chris Cephus. Cephus’ scoring catch was one of the longest in school history, as it covered 92 yards.

But Chattanooga would rebound to tie the game on a pair of fourth quarter scores, which included a 70-yard INT return for a score by linebacker Wes Dothard, and then a 3-yard scoring catch from All-SoCon tight end from All-SoCon quarterback Jacob Huesman, tying the football game with 4:59 left. It would eventually end up forcing overtime.

Samford had a chance to win it in regulation, but Warren Handrahan’s 50-yard attempt as time expired sailed wide left.

Samford was held to a 43-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime, taking a 17–14 lead.

It looked as though the Mocs were prepared to take the win, gaining 17 yards on UTC’s first possession of overtime to get the ball down to the Samford 8-yard line, setting up the Mocs offense in a great position to win, as UTC needed just a TD to claim the outright league title.

But Samford’s defense held, and forced a Nick Pollard field goal attempt to try and tie the game. But what would have been an easy 26-yard chip shot turned into a 31-yard attempt after the Mocs somehow were flagged for a delay of game penalty.

It was just enough to affect the potential game-tying kick, which struck the left upright, allowing the Bulldogs to control their own destiny in the 2013 Southern Conference race. Samford fans rushed the field in elation, as the Bulldogs needed only a win against Elon in the final week of the regular season to secure at least a tie for the Southern Conference title.

Oct. 10, 2009

Seibert Stadium, Birmingham, AL

CHATTANOOGA 14, SAMFORD 7

— Chattanooga was able to secure one of the biggest early wins of the Russ Huesman era when the Mocs went on the road and claimed a 14–7 win over Samford, which avenged a 30–7 loss a year earlier and helped the Mocs get off to a 4–1 start after going just 1–11 a year earlier. It marked Chattanooga’s first 4–1 start to a season since the christening of Finley Stadium in 1997.

The Mocs jumped out to a 14–0 lead and held on for the 14–7 win, relying on a defense that limited the Bulldogs to just 208 yards of total offense, including a mere 43 rushing yards.

The Mocs sacked Samford quarterback Dustin Taliaferro five times in the contest en route to the win. Leading the defensive effort for the Mocs was All-SoCon linebacker Joseph Thornton, who finished with 10 tackles and a TFL, while eventual Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year Josh Beard recorded two of the Mocs’ five sacks, ending with seven tackles.

The Mocs defense also did a number on All-America running back Chris Evans, holding the Samford all-time leading rusher to 64 yards on 24 carries.

Offensively, it was Tennessee transfer B.J. Coleman who paced the Mocs, connecting on 18-of-31 passes for 249 yards and did not throw an INT in the win. His favorite target was Chris Pitchford, who hauled in five passes for 135 yards in the win.

SERIES NOTES (The Southern Rail Rivalry):

The rivalry originally began back in 1906, with Samford winning the first two meetings between the two by a combined score of 84–7. The Mocs would win four of the next five, as the two tied, 0–0, in 1909.

The rivalry between between the Mocs and Bulldogs is sometimes referred to as the Southern Rail Rivalry because of the Southern Railway, which runs through each city — two of the oldest cities in the southeast. Maybe the trophy for this game should be a giant railroad spike — just a suggestion.

The Mocs enjoyed their most success in the series, winning eight-straight in a stretch that extended from 1964–2001, while Samford has won two-straight on three occasions.

The Mocs hold an 8–3 mark in the last 11 meetings between the two, and since the Bulldogs joined the SoCon in 2008, the Mocs have won five of the seven matchups between the two. UTC holds a 7–5 lead in meetings all-time in the Magic City of Birmingham, while the Mocs also own a 20–5–2 in meetings in the Scenic City of Chattanooga.

Samford’s largest win in the series remains the 1906 win, as the Bulldogs claimed a 63–0 win in the very first meeting between the two. UTC’s largest win in the series was a 56–0 rout some four years later.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS GAME:

Quite simply, in an age without Appalachian State, Georgia Southern or Marshall, this now becomes one of the biggest games in the league year-in and year-out, as Chattanooga and Samford have both staked their claim as perennial league contenders in the two years since Appalachian State and Georgia Southern were last eligible for a title. It’s still early for other challengers to step up and contend with the Mocs and Bulldogs and this season might be that very campaign, but until Wofford, Furman and Western Carolina steps up and proves it on a more than one-year basis, these two teams have been the most consistent winners in the SoCon in the past three campaigns. Welcome to the SoCon’s new major rivalry.

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