Samford can beat Chattanooga. Chris Hatcher can win a Southern Conference championship.
Both of those things were proven on a cold Saturday in Chattanooga with Samford quarterback Michael Hiers throwing four touchdown passes in a 35-24 SoCon victory over the Mocs at Finley Stadium.
The Bulldogs beat Chattanooga for the first time since 2013, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Mocs. For Hatcher, it was his first SoCon title in his eight seasons at Samford and three at Georgia Southern. The Bulldogs clinched the SoCon title, the first since 2013, and the automatic qualifying bid from the conference into the FCS playoffs.
“Well, I’m excited,” Hatcher said. “Our guys have worked awfully hard and they believe. They keep finding a way to get it done. This is my 11th year in the conference and the first championship, so I’m excited. I’m very appreciative of our staff and team. They prepare hard each and every day."
Hiers came out hot in the first half, helping the Bulldogs build a 28-10 halftime lead. Samford had six full possessions and the final four ended in touchdowns. At halftime, Hiers was 29 of 38 for 232 yards with three touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown. Kendall Watson, a Chattanooga native, playing for the final time in his hometown, had touchdown receptions of 22, 16 and 5 yards in the first half.
Chattanooga opened the scoring in the second half on a 1-yard run by Ailym Ford. The momentum was quickly erased when the next play from scrimmage was an 80-yard touchdown pass in the middle of the field from Hiers to DJ Rias.
Samford didn’t score again but the Bulldogs made plenty of plays the rest of the way to preserve the win. The Mocs crawled to within 35-24 on a 2-yard scoring run by quarterback Preston Hutchinson with just over a minute left in the third quarter. The Samford defense and special teams kept Chattanooga off the board the rest of the way.
The special teams contribution came with 8:05 left when Samford cornerback Fred Flavors blocked a 29-yard field goal attempt by Aaron Sears. Flavors’ block kept the margin at two scores. Samford ran out the rest of the clock and the celebration began.
Hiers finished 37 of 47 for 353 yards with four touchdowns. Rias had four catches for 100 yards, Watson had eight catches for 66 yards and Chandler Smith had nine catches for 80 yards. Running back Jay Stanton had 18 carries for 91 yards and seven receptions for 38 yards.
Safety Isaiah Richardson had a team-best nine tackles with an interception. Nathan East had eight tackles and a quarterback hurry and fellow linebacker Nathan East had eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
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