Four teams remain alive for the Southern Conference title race, with Chattanooga (8-2, 6-1 SoCon), Samford (6-4, 4-2), Furman (5-5, 4-2) and Wofford (5-4, 4-2 SoCon) all remaining alive for the Southern Conference title, with another big week slated for the league on Saturday.
The biggest surprise of this past weekend was obviously the Furman Paladins, who handed No. 20 Samford its second-straight league loss on homecoming at Paladin Stadium, as the Paladins scored a season-high 35 points en route to a 35-17 win.
An opportunistic defense, which used three turnovers to set up 14 points would prove to play a big role in the win, with Sports Network National Player of the Week Marcus McMorris playing a big part in the win, forcing and recovering an Andy Summerlin fumble in the opening half of play, which set up a six-yard scoring run for wildcat quarterback Richard Hayes III in the second quarter.
Then, McMorris’ 89-yard INT return for a score would seal the win and send shockwaves through a newly developing Southern Conference hierarchy, with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State on their way to the Sun Belt. It was a Paladin defense that survived a near 200-yard advantage in total yards (531-336) and 50-play advantage (102-51).
For Furman to win a 13th Southern Conference crown, it must win out and have Samford defeat Chattanooga in what is a monumental Southern Conference clash in the Magic City of Birmingham, AL. this weekend. The loss dropped Samford out of the Top 25, while Furman is now among those receiving votes.
The Paladins were in a similar situation just a couple of years ago in Bruce Fowler’s first season as head coach, needing only to beat Elon in the SoCon regular-season finale at home before closing the season at Florida, but the Paladins lost 41-34 to squelch those playoff hopes. The Paladins now have a chance to right the wrongs of two years ago starting with Saturday’s trip to Cullowhee.
No. 24 Chattanooga was busy taking care of No. 17 Wofford, with a 20-10 win on Saturday afternoon, notching at least a share of its first Southern Conference title since 1984, and potentially garnering the first FCS playoff invite for the first time since 1986, and only the second postseason appearance in school history. The shared Southern Conference title marks the fifth league title in school history.
The Mocs have now won six-straight games and need only a win in Birmingham Saturday to claim the SoCon’s automatic bid to the FCS postseason.
The win improved the Mocs to No. 17 in the polls this week, while dropping Wofford to No. 24.
It’s been Chattanooga’s defense and ability to run the football that has enabled the Mocs to claim eight wins for the first time since 1980. The Mocs would score all the points they needed in the first eight minutes of the game to take a 14-0 lead on TD runs from quarterback Jacob Huesman and Kendrix Huitt to take a first quarter lead, and then the Mocs would do what they have done all season, and that’s rely on their defense to carry the game out and put another game in the win column.
The Mocs would hold Wofford’s vaunted ground game, which averaged 273.4 YPG on the ground coming in, to more than 100 yards below that total in Saturday’s meeting, as the Mocs allowed the Terriers’ spread option to gain just 172 yards on the ground on Saturday.
No. 17 Chattanooga at Samford
- Chattanooga and Samford are two old rivals meeting in the “Southern Railway” game, as the two schools are separated by about an 1.5-hour car ride.
- Chattanooga has won four out of the five matchups between the two since the Bulldogs joined the Southern Conference in 2008. Samford’s last win over the Mocs came in that first season, with the Bulldogs posting a 30-7 win in Chattanooga in ’08.
- A Samford win would prevent Chattanooga from taking the title outright, and keep three teams alive for a Southern Conference title.
- A Chattanooga win clinches the SoCon’s first outright title winner since Georgia Southern in 2011, and effectively eliminates Samford from the FCS playoff disussion.
- Samford has never won a conference title at the Division level, and haven’t made it to the FCS playoffs since 1992.
- After four-straight Southern Conference road games, the Bulldogs return to the friendly confines to close out the season with games against Chattanooga and Elon.
Furman at Western Carolina
- Furman has claimed its past three games against FCS foes.
- Furman must win Saturday against Western Carolina and at home against Wofford and hope Chattanooga loses at Samford to have a chance at the SoCon’s auto-bid. Should that happen, Furman would hold the tiebreaker with Chattanooga and Samford due to the Paladins’ wins at The Citadel and at Georgia Southern.
- Furman has won 14 of the past 16 matchups in this series, including seven straight dating back to 2005.
- Furman has not made it to the FCS playoffs since 2006.
- Western Carolina snapped a 26-game conference losing streak and a 33-game losing streak do Division I opponents with a 27-24 win over Elon a couple of weeks ago. The Catamounts were 35-19 losers at Georgia Southern last week.
Appalachian State at No. 24 Wofford
- Wofford has claimed the last two meetings against the Mountaineers, including a 38-28 win in Boone last year.
- Saturday’s meeting marks the 30th between the two, with Appalachian holding a 17-12 series edge.
- Wofford needs to win out and hope Chattanooga falters on Saturday against Samford to have a chance to make a sixth appearance in the FCS playoffs in the past seven seasons. A Samford win would also make it possible for a fifth Southern Conference title for the Terriers in 2013.
- It will mark the final meeting of a great rivalry on Saturday, with Appalachian State and Wofford having claimed SoCon titles in two of the previous three seasons.
- Appalachian State is coming off a 45-6 loss at Georgia, while Chattanooga downed Wofford 20-10 last Saturday.
- Appalachian has now lost eight games in a season for the first time since 1979. A loss Saturday would give the Mountaineers nine losses for the first time since 1977.
Southern Conference Power Rankings
1. Chattanooga 8-2, 6-1 SoCon
2. Furman 5-5, 4-2 SoCon
3. Samford 6-4, 4-2 SoCon
4. Wofford 5-4, 4-2 SoCon
5. Appalachian State 2-8, 2-4 SoCon
6. Georgia Southern 5-4, 3-4 SoCon
7. The Citadel 4-6, 4-4 SoCon
The Mountaineers continued to show improvement under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield, as the Mountaineers went to the halftime break trailing just 14-6, and only getting out-gained 215-196.
Senior wideout Andrew Peacock posted a solid day catching the football, with 12 catches for 90 yards, while quarterback Kam Bryant connected on 22-of-39 passes for 221 yards.
Meanwhile, in Statesboro, GA., Georgia Southern played its final Southern Conference home game, going out in style, with throwback uniforms and all, as the Eagles were able to post a 19th-straight win over the Catamounts, including ending 12-0 against the Catamounts at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, with a 35-19 win on Saturday.
Quarterback Jerick McKinnon rushed for two scores and passed for another to lead a Georgia Southern offense that racked up 371 offensive yards en rout to the win.
Georgia Southern will close out its Southern Conference membership with a trip to Elon this weekend, and play its final game as an FCS member next weekend with a tirp to the Swamp.
Stay tuned to SaturdayBlitz.com for all the latest coverage of the Southern Conference title race coming down the stretch in the next few weeks.