Sept. 22, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Samford erased an 11-point Catamount advantage in the fourth quarter on Saturday afternoon as the Bulldogs rallied past Western Carolina, 25-21, in front of a Family Weekend crowd of 10,112 at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
Third quarter touchdown strikes from quarterback Eddie Sullivan to senior tight end Conner Orr from 14 yards out and senior wide receiver Jacoby Mitchell of eight yards handed WCU a 21-10 lead entering the final quarter. However, Samford got a 20-yard TD pass from Andy Summerlin to Riley Hawkins and then Fabian Truss tallied his second rushing score of the afternoon, converting on great starting field position, to provide the final tally.
WCU (1-3, 0-2 SoCon) had two possessions inside the final five minutes of the game, but was only able to manage 19 combined yards in eight plays with the last fourth down pass attempt falling incomplete with just 1:54 to play. Samford (4-0, 2-0 SoCon) was able to run out the game clock, taking a knee on three consecutive plays to secure the victory.
"It was a tough loss. I am proud of the effort our guys put forth, but we didn't come here to just be competitive. We came to win," WCU first-year head coach Mark Speir opened during his post-game media press conference. "I feel we let one slip away. Give credit to Samford as they made the plays at the end. When you go into the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead, you've got to win those."
Sullivan finished 16-of-35 for 136 yards with two touchdown passes, but also tossed a pair of interceptions that led to just two Bulldog field goal attempts, only one of which was successful. The Boca Raton, Fla., native spread the ball around to eight different receivers, while also rushing 14 times for 37 yards.
Freshman Spearman Robinson led WCU with three catches for 25 yards while Deja Alexander caught a pair of passes for a team-best 29 yards. Jacoby Mitchell, who led the SoCon entering the game in receptions per game, was limited to two catches for 12 yards, but did secure his second receiving touchdown of the year.
Western Carolina's defense set the tone from the outset of Saturday afternoon's game. After a penalty on the opening kickoff backed Samford up into the shadow of its own goal posts, the Catamounts pounced on the very first play from scrimmage.
With defensive line pressure from the blind side by Brian Johnson and from the opposite by freshman Caleb Hawkins, freshman Sertonuse Harris blitzed from the left side, sacking Summerlin and jarring the football loose. In the bottom of the pile, Hawkins corralled the ball marking the second-straight week the WCU defense had put the Catamounts on the board first.
The two squads would spend the remainder of the first half volleying salvos back-and-forth, but neither defense surrendering points. Samford missed a pair of field goal attempts from 43 and 49 yards away, while WCU misfired from 45 yards out in an attempt to unsuccessfully stretch the lead.
Western Carolina made its opening play heroics stand up through intermission, leading at halftime, 7-0.
In the second half, Samford put 10-straight points on the board to erase the one-score deficit and pull ahead for the first time in the game. The Bulldogs marched 68 yards in just three plays with Truss breaking free for a 25-yard scoring jaunt to knot the game, 7-7, with kicker Cameron Yaw splitting the uprights from 26 yards out for the 10-7 advantage.
Trailing by three, the Catamount offense came to life midway through the third quarter. Sullivan orchestrated scoring drives of 10 and 11 plays apiece to build the 11-point advantage, 21-10. WCU moved 75 yards in 10 plays to reclaim the lead when Sullivan found a streaking Orr over the middle for his first career receiving touchdown.
Then, after the defense again stiffened and forced a three-and-out by Samford, Sullivan put points on the board on an eight-yard scoring strike to Jacoby Mitchell, capping an 11-play drive. Freshman QB Troy Mitchell keyed the drive with a decisive seven-yard rush over the right end on a fourth down and short situation to keep the drive alive.
However, the consecutive fourth quarter scores and a subsequent two-point conversion by Samford helped the Bulldogs pick up their fourth-straight win of the season - and ninth consecutive win over WCU.
Truss led the balanced Bulldog attack, rushing 23 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He added a team-high five catches out of the backfield for 23 yards. Summerlin finished 22-of-32 with a TD and an interception. The receiving tandem of Kelsey Pope and Riley Hawkins both caught four passes apiece going for 57 and 47 yards, respectively.
Highlighting WCU's defensive play was the return of senior linebacker Rock Williams who posted a game-high 16 tackles including six solo stops. Courtland Carson also finished in double digits with 13 stops, while Ace Clark had 12 hits and Harris matched his career-best with 11 tackles. Clark added his second career interception in the loss, while the WCU defense came up with a combined three sacks, the most in a single game since 2010.
Western Carolina travels to Greenville, S.C., next Saturday to face the Furman Paladins (1-3, 0-1 SoCon) in a key league match-up. Kickoff from Paladin Stadium is scheduled for 1:30 pm.