Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina struck early in its home finale on Saturday afternoon, jumping out to a 10-0 lead over Samford in the first quarter. However, the usual aerial Bulldog attack was traded for a run-heavy, ball-control effort as back-up QB Liam Welch guided Samford to 24-unanswered points as the visitors outscored WCU 31-3 over the final three frames, spoiling WCU’s Senior Day with the 31-13 victory in Southern Conference action at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
Caleb Ferguson took the opening kickoff 72 yards for a season-long kickoff return to set-up the Catamounts with perfect field position. On the ensuing play, the first from scrimmage, redshirt senior QB Tyrie Adams connected with a wide-open Donnavan Spencer for a 25-yard touchdown pass – the third time this season WCU had scored on its opening offensive play.
WCU added a pair of career-long tying 44-yard field goals by Julian Pletz sandwiched around a 59-yard punt return for a TD by Samford’s Montrell Washington as the Catamounts held a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter. However, Western Carolina was unable to muster any additional points on the day as the Bulldog defense held the Catamounts off the scoreboard and to just 251 yards of total offense including 70 rushing yards – the fourth-time this season WCU failed to reach the 100-yard mark.
Samford (5-6, 4-4 SoCon) took the lead for good midway through the second quarter as Welch plunged in from a yard out to cap a 13-play drive with Mitchell Fineran splitting the uprights from 39 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 17-13 lead at intermission. Welch capped a 15-play drive out of the halftime locker room with a 2-yard pass to tight end Michael Vice and running back Jay Stanton shoved his way into the end zone with the help of his offensive line for a 12-yard TD to provide the final tally.
Including three double-digit play scoring drives in the second half, Samford chewed up nearly 33 minutes of the game clock while amassing a season-high 266 yards on the ground as a part of 404 total yards on the day on 88 offensive plays. It was just the second time this season that Samford had finished with more yardage on the ground than through the air in the pass-happy offensive scheme.
Playing in his final home game, WCU’s Adams finished with 204 yards of total offense including 183 yards on 14-of-30 passing with a touchdown and a team-high 21 of WCU’s 70 rushing yards. Six different receivers caught passes from Adams on Saturday led by redshirt freshman TE Clayton Bardall, posting career-highs with four receptions for 74 yards. Spencer finished with three catches for 45 yards including the 25-yard touchdown in WCU’s lone touchdown of the game, adding 17 rushing yards. Ferguson finished with 86 total yards adding 14 yards to his 72-yard kickoff return.
Taking over for starting QB Chris Oladokun in the second quarter after he lost a pair of fumbles, Welch eclipsed the century mark both on the ground and through the air, completing 9-of-19 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown while adding a career-high 105 rushing yards and a score. Kendall Watson (3-for-43 yards) and Robert Adams (2-for-46 yards) paced the Bulldog offense through the air while Stanton tallied 80 rushing yards and a score. Washington finished with 88 all-purpose yards, adding eight receiving yards and 21 on kickoff returns to accompany his 59-yard punt return for a score.
Defensively, the Catamounts were paced by linebackers Trevor Childers and reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Week, Ty Harris, as Childers recorded a career-high 16 stops and Harris a career-high 17 tackles. A.J. Rogers and K.J. Milner both recorded seven stops with Milner pouncing on a fumble, while Jayden Pauling forced three fumbles -- two coming on strip-sacks, recording 11 total yards in losses as the WCU defense tallied three takeaways on the ground. Pauling has 6.5 sacks this season to rank among the league leaders. Samford’s Nick Barton was credited with a team-high eight tackles and one of four Bulldog pass break-ups.
Western Carolina (3-8, 2-6 SoCon) concludes the regular season next Saturday, Nov. 23 as it travels to Bryant-Denny Stadium to face the Alabama Crimson Tide. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon ET / 11:00 am CT in a game that will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with an 11:00 am ET air time. Additional broadcast information will be released by the SEC Office on Monday.