After opening the season with a dominant win over Shorter at Seibert Stadium, the Samford Bulldogs made the five-hour drive down to Tallahassee, Florida, to take on the Florida State Seminoles in Doak G. Campbell Stadium this past Saturday. After four hard-fought, back-and-forth quarters, the Bulldogs came up short to the ‘Noles by a final score of 36-26.
After an hour delay before the start of kickoff due to inclement weather in the area, the game finally kicked off around 8:45 (EST). Florida State won the toss and elected to receive, but came out and were stalled on their first offensive drive after only moving 10 yards. A Seminoles’ punt then set up the Bulldog offense on the Samford 46-yard line.
Then, the Bulldogs would strike quick for the first score of the game, as senior quarterback Devlin Hodges connected with senior receiver Kelvin McKnight on a deep 54-yard touchdown pass that sent a shock throughout the 78,000 fans dressed in garnet and gold, a shock that not even Chief Osceola’s spear could break through. After a mishandled PAT, the Bulldogs lead by a score of 6-0 with 12:23 left to play in the first quarter.
“It’s funny because (McKnight) drew up that play,” said Hodges. “He’s been talking about wanting to score on the first play and just to see him do that against Florida State, one of the schools he grew up watching and wanting to play at, is just awesome.”
After another stalled drive by the Florida State offense resulting in a three-and-out, Hodges and the Samford offense went back to work, moving the ball 73 yards in six plays to set Samford up at the Seminoles’ 2-yard line. Then, senior running back Roland Adams drove his way through a mass of Florida State defenders and stuck the ball across the goal line to increase the Samford lead to 13-0 with 7:49 left to play in the first quarter.
After these two quick scores by the Bulldogs, the Florida State offense began to gain some traction, as junior quarterback Deondre Francois would eventually connect with redshirt freshman receiver Tamorrion Terry for a 27-yard touchdown strike, setting the score at 13-7 with 4:03 left to go in the first quarter of play.
Samford would add a field goal from freshman kicker Mitchell Finneran to set the score at 16-7 to end the first quarter.
In the second quarter, both offenses continued to hit their strides, as the Seminoles were able to get the ball into the endzone twice, once via a Francois keeper from the Samford 8-yard line, and another by way of a 17-yard touchdown pass to Terry.
The Bulldogs added a score of their own, as Hodges as the Bulldogs drove down the field deep into Florida State territory. On a second-and-5 play from the Seminoles’ 27-yard line, the talented Samford signal caller lofted a throw in the back corner of the endzone that connected with Kelvin McKnight for his second touchdown reception of the game. This score would strengthen the lead for the Bulldogs, putting the score at 23-14 in favor of the Bulldogs.
On the ensuing Florida State drive, junior kicker Ricky Aguayo missed a chip shot field goal, giving the ball back to Samford. On the very next play, Roland Adams lost a fumble that the ‘Noles were able to recover, putting them deep in Samford territory. Two plays later, Francois found Terry in the back of the endzone to cut into the Bulldogs lead by a score of 23-21 heading into halftime.
Both teams came out in the second half a bit sluggish on the offensive side of the ball. Samford’s first five drives resulted in three punts and two interceptions, while the Seminoles had to punt three times and missed a field goal in their first four drives.
Finally, Samford was able to get on the board, as Mitchell Finneran sent his second field goal of the day, a 36-yarder, straight through the uprights to put the score at 26-21 in favor of the Bulldogs.
From this point on, Florida State gained traction and momentum, which would eventually lead them to victory. On their next drive, Francois hit sophomore tight end Tre’ McKitty for a touchdown in the back of the endzone to give the Seminoles their first lead of the game.
Samford then got the ball back, desperate to drive down the field and deliver the winning score. Hodges and the rest of the offense drove the ball down to the FSU 41-yard line before Hodges threw a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by junior defensive back Levonta Taylor. This would prove to be the finishing punch to what turned out to be a spectacular battle between the two teams.
As the clock hit three zeros, the final score stood at 36-26 in favor of of Florida State.
For the Bulldogs, Hodges had a great day through the air completing 39 of his 60 pass attempts for 475 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just proud of the guys,” Hodges said. “Everyone played their heart out, the offensive line blocked extremely well and of course all the wideouts. They make my job easier and make me look a lot better than I really am. Just proud of the guys and I think it’s a big confidence boost moving on.”
Just as impressive was junior McKnight, who caught 14 passes for 215 yards and both of Hodges’ touchdowns. The Bulldogs offense outgained Florida State’s offense by a total of 525 to 454.
For Florida State, Francois threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore running back Cam Akers carried the ball 14 times for 76 yards to lead the Seminoles rushing attack.
After the game, coach Chris Hatcher praised his team’s competitiveness in an interview with Samford Athletics and said he has high hopes for the rest of their season.
“I’m very proud of the effort that our guys gave,” Hatcher said. “We played extremely hard and if we’ll continue to play hard each and every week we’ll be a force to be reckoned with in our conference, I really believe that.”
Samford falls to 1-1 on the season, while Florida State improves to 1-1. Samford will be in action this Saturday at home as they take on conference rival Mercer at 2 p.m. (CST)
Collin Reese, Staff Writer
Photos courtesy of Samford Athletics