Cullowhee, N.C. - Corey Holloway rushed for two touchdowns and Karnorris Benson tallied a pair of receiving scores as Western Carolina powered past the Samford Bulldogs, 56-36, on Saturday afternoon in Southern Conference play at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. The Catamounts claimed their fourth-straight seasonal victory, winning their third-consecutive Homecoming game.
WCU (5-2, 3-1 SoCon), which never trailed on Saturday, scored on five of its seven second half possessions including three-consecutive touchdowns to grab a 26-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Spearman Robinson capped scoring with a 49-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on an on-side kick attempt to provide the final tally.
The Catamounts snapped an 11-game winless skid against the Bulldogs, ending a 46-year drought by scoring their first win over Samford since 1969. WCU's fourth-straight win is its longest since 2001.
Senior quarterback Troy Mitchell threw for 352 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His favorite two targets on the day were wide receiver Steffon Hill and tight end Tyler Sexton, both hauling in six receptions apiece. Hill finished with a game-high 119 yards receiving while Sexton finished with 102 -- both career-best numbers. Benson finished with three catches for 75 yards.
Redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Mathis also had a banner day for the Catamounts. A two-sport student-athlete who also plays baseball at WCU, Mathis caught his first receiving touchdown on a nine-yard strike to open WCU's third quarter onslaught. Just over two minutes later, Mathis threw a TD pass to Benson from 39-yards away.
Sophomore tailback Detrez Newsome finished with 149 all-purpose yards including 69 yards rushing and a career-high 60 receiving yards. Holloway added 50 yards on the ground with Mitchell rushing for 45 in the winning effort.
Holloway capped a 79-yard, game-opening drive for the Catamounts with his first rushing TD -- a three-yard run to give Western Carolina the early advantage. The two teams then traded field goals with Samford's Anthony Pistelli connecting from 31 yards away and WCU's Logan Howard splitting the uprights from 23 yards out to keep the margin at seven. The Bulldogs managed to knot the game at 10 with a three-yard scoring run by Denzel Williams to leave the two teams deadlocked after one quarter of play.
Western Carolina controlled the second quarter, pitching a shutout defensively and scoring 11 points to grab a 21-10 halftime advantage. Howard drilled a 42-yard field goal to push the Catamounts ahead by three, 13-10. On the ensuing possession, WCU redshirt sophomore linebacker Daniel Riddle jumped in front of a Devlin Hodges pass for the interception, returning the near one-handed grab to the two-yard line to set-up the Catamount offense. Holloway did the rest, plunging in from two yards away to make it 19-10.
Riddle was one of four Catamounts to finish with double-digit tackles, posting 11 for the WCU defense.
The Catamounts would again light the scoreboard thanks to its defense. Hodges had a third-and-short snap sail over his head and carried deep into the Bulldog backfield. The QB managed to corral the football, but then bobbled and fumbled again with the football bouncing into the end zone where he was tackled for a safety, stretching WCU's lead to its halftime margin, 21-10.
After trading punts to start the second half, the Bulldogs quick-strike offense hung six on the scoreboard as Hodges delivered a 68-yard pass over the middle to Andrew Harris to pull the Bulldogs back to within five, 21-16, after the two-point try failed.
The Catamounts would then score on their next three-consecutive possessions with Mathis hauling in a nine-yard strike from Mitchell on a drive that was spurred by a 62-yard pass-and-run by Hill. WCU's second score came on the Mathis-to-Benson TD strike on the wide receiver pass.
But perhaps the back-breaker came on a 13-play, 99-yard drive that pushed the Catamounts in front, 42-16. WCU fumbled the exchange between quarterback and running back on the very first play of the drive with Mitchell finding a way to pounce on the football to retain possession. Newsome's ground attack moved the ball off the goal line before Mitchell connected with a streaking Sexton for a 45-yard pitch-and-catch to move into Bulldog territory. Hill again came through with a big reception on a 31-yard gain to put the ball at the one-yard line before Newsome charged in for the score -- his seventh-consecutive game with a TD.
Samford responded with a 13-play drive of their own capped by a Hodges quarterback keeper on a draw play with Hodges finding Kevin Marion from 11 yards out for a second Bulldog TD to trim the margin to 13, 42-29.
Mitchell helped widen the gap with a 30-yard pass to Benson inside the game's final four minutes before Hodges again struck with a 28-yard pass to Emmanuel Obajimi. On the ensuing on-side kick attempt, Spearman Robinson grabbed the ball off the bounce and raced up the left sideline 49 yards for the final score of the contest.
Junior Trey Morgan paced the Catamount defense with 15 tackles including 10 solo stops and one for loss, adding a pass break-up. Linebacker Tyson Dickson finished with 13 stops including seven solo and one TFL and a pair of pass deflections, while Sertonuse Harris matched Riddle with 11 tackles. Defensive ends Caleb Hawkins and John McBeth combined for 14 tackles and 4.5 TFLs, both recording 1.5 sacks.
For Samford, quarterback Devlin Hodges completed a career-best 42 passes for a career-high 399 yards and three touchdowns including the scoring strikes to Harris, Obajimi, and Marion. He added 94 rushing yards and a TD. Karel Hamilton finished with nine receptions for 65 yards to lead the Bulldogs with Kelvin McKnight catching eight balls for 64 yards. Multi-purpose back K'rondis Larry finished with 167 all-purpose yards including 114 on kick returns.
All told, the two teams combined for 1,072 yards of total offense on Saturday afternoon including an aerial display of 790 passing yards.
Western Carolina travels to Chattanooga (6-1, 4-0 SoCon) in a key SoCon match-up next Saturday, Oct. 31. Kickoff from Finley Stadium is scheduled for 2:00 pm in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN3.