After suffering a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles two weeks ago, the Samford Bulldogs came home this past weekend to take on SoCon rival Mercer in front of a packed Seibert Stadium for Family Weekend. After an intense four-quarter battle in the blazing heat, the Bears would come out victorious by a final score of 30-24.
Samford’s offense received the ball first and showed early signs of the same ball movement that had given the team so much success recently. The Bulldogs’ first drive went 11 plays for 75 yards, ending in a 19-yard touchdown strike from senior quarterback Devlin Hodges to junior receiver Chris Shelling. Shelling had five catches for 96 yards and a touchdown grab on the day.
Mercer would respond on their next drive, as the Bears drove the ball down the field. Redshirt freshman quarterback Robert Riddle pushed his way into the endzone behind his interior offensive lineman for the score, tying the game at 7-7 with 3:14 left to play in the first quarter.
The next two Samford drives would result in punts, while Mercer was able to get on the scoreboard by way of a 39-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver David Durden from Riddle.
The rest of the half saw sloppy play from both sides, as each team had drives resulting in missed field goals and interceptions.
As time expired to send the game to halftime, Bears’ senior kicker Cole Fisher sent a 33-yard field goal through the uprights to put Mercer up 17-7 heading into the locker room.
After forcing a much needed stop on Mercer’s first drive of the second half, Samford’s offense drove 80 yards down the field in 14 plays to to set up a second and fourth at the Mercer 15-yard line. Hodges hit senior Kelvin McKnight in the endzone to decrease the Mercer lead to 17-14. McKnight led the Bulldogs in receiving for the day, hauling in 10 receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Mercer’s next drive ended in a 39 yard field goal off the foot of Fisher to increase the Mercer lead to 20-14 with 13:44 left to play in the fourth quarter. The Bears junior kicker finished a perfect three-for-three on the day with makes from 33, 39, and 41 yards.
On Samford’s next drive, freshman kicker Mitchell Finneran pulled a 44-yard field goal slightly to the left of the uprights for his first missed field goal of the season. That would set up the Bears offense deep in their own territory. However, on the very first play of their ensuing drive, Riddle found senior receiver Stephen Houzah for a 73-yard score to further extend Mercer’s lead to 27-14 with 9:55 left to play in the final quarter.
The Bulldogs would respond on their next drive, as Hodges was able to connect with freshman running back Antwione Sims for an 11 yard touchdown to set the score at 27-21 in favor of Mercer with 7:01 left to play in the game.
After the next two Bears’ drives resulted in a made field goal and a punt, Mitchell Finneran kicked a career long 45-yard field goal to set the score at 30-24 with 0:03 left to play.
The Bulldogs’ onside kick attempt was unsuccessful, and all Mercer needed was a knee down to escape Birmingham with an impressive win over the ninth-ranked Bulldogs.
For the Bulldogs offense, Hodges completed 30 of 41 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Hodges now has thrown for 10 touchdowns and 1,096 yards through three games this season. The two-time SoCon Offensive Player of the Year has thrown for 11,397 yards and 89 touchdowns in his Samford career. In the receiving game, McKnight led Samford with 10 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. McKnight leads the team with 30 receptions for 438 yards and five touchdowns on the year.
For Mercer, Robert Riddle completed 23 of 34 passes for 316 yards and a touchdown. The young Bears’ signal-caller also added two touchdowns on the ground. Senior running back Tee Mitchell carried the ball 23 times for 103 yards to add to what was a two-dimensional attack for Mercer in the game.
With the loss, the Bulldogs fall to 1-2 (0-1 SoCon), while Mercer improves to 2-1 (1-0 SoCon) on the season.
Samford will be on the road this upcoming weekend, traveling up to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to take on the Mocs of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. That game is set for a 6 p.m. (CST) kickoff and can be viewed on ESPN+. Be sure to follow the Bulldogs as they make their way through SoCon play.
Collin Reese, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Hattie Breece