Samford found a way to win a football game on Saturday afternoon.

Very little has come easy for the Bulldogs this season. They’ve won on the road. They’ve won in overtime. They’ve come from behind and protected leads in the final seconds. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s darn sure been fun because finding ways to win is what they do.

So, on the biggest stage thus far, in the biggest game to this point, it wasn’t surprising to see Samford find a way to pull out a 48-42 overtime victory over a Southeastern Louisiana team that didn’t bring any quit with them in a NCAA FCS second round playoff game.

It was the first home playoff game in school history, and the Bulldogs made it a memorable one.

“What a magical ride this season has been thus far,” said Samford head coach Chris Hatcher, whose team improved to 11-1 and advances to the third round to play at perennial power North Dakota State next Saturday. “I’m extremely proud of our guys each week. We just find a way to get it done. Guys are ready, when their numbers are called. We play good complementary ball. Again, what a performance by all of our players, but you’ve got to take your hat off to Quincy Crittendon. I know he didn’t start but he came in about play four. To do what he did is pretty remarkable.”

Samford actually played all but five plays without starting quarterback Michael Hiers, who is perhaps the country’s best FCS player at his position. He hurt his throwing hand on the final play of the first overtime period in the Bulldogs’ regular season finale against Mercer. He’s had two weeks to heal but practiced very little over that time. On Saturday, Hiers started, completing his first two passes for 27 yards, but came out of the game after throwing a short incompletion on his fifth snap.

What followed was a storybook performance by backup quarterback Quincy Crittendon, a walk-on redshirt freshman from Decatur. To begin with, Crittendon kept the Bulldogs moving on the drive and capped it off with a perfectly placed 16-yard scoring toss to Judd Cockett.

That was just the start of a tremendous day for Crittendon. When it was over, he was 26-of-40 for 314 yards with two touchdown passes to Cockett and one each to Kendall Watson and Jaylan Thomas. He also had 94 yards rushing, including the game-winning 10-yard touchdown run in overtime.

“He was ready when his number was called,” Hatcher said. “We had complete confidence. A couple of times during the week, we said, if Mike can’t go, are we going to change the game plan or not? No. We maybe called a few more quarterback runs than we do. Other than that, we called the same plays, and he played well.”  

Perhaps the hardest part for Crittendon was the unknown of just how much he would have to play, depending on Hiers’ ability to overcome the hand injury.

“Last night, actually, was nerve wracking, just tossing and turning, thinking about making plays if I was to get in,” said Crittendon, whose 25-yard run in the second overtime provided the game winning points against Mercer. “Once I hit the field and put the helmet on, all my nerves left and I was ready to play ball.”

Southeastern Louisiana head coach Frank Scelfo said the change affected his team’s defense.

“Two different guys, right,” Scelfo said. “When you look at what they’ve been playing with, he’s going to set the NCAA record for completion percentage. He’s such a good player. We had prepared all week long for him. Then when he went out, now, there was a big adjustment. I thought at times, we adjusted well, at times we didn’t. That’s why my hat is off to Chris and his staff to be able to get that thing going with him.”

There were plenty of times during the game, particularly in the second half when it looked like Samford was ready to pull away. The Bulldogs took a 21-14 lead into halftime, partly thanks to a tremendous end zone interception by Fred Flavors late in the first half.

Two different times in the second half, Samford built a two-touchdown lead. Both times, the Lions countered with a touchdown drive, largely because of a running game that produced 348 yards on 49 carries.

Samford was nursing a 42-35 lead late in the game when the Lions took possession at their own 11-yard line with 2:40 remaining. Southeastern Louisiana calmly moved the ball down the field, with a 44-yard pass from Cephus Johnson to Gage Larvadain gaining the biggest chunk, before tying the game on a 2-yard run by Jessie Britt with 37 seconds remaining.

Hatcher said it was a calm Samford team heading into the overtime.

“In overtime, we were very business like,” Hatcher said. “There wasn’t anybody pointing fingers. Nobody got real excited. It was just, ‘Hey let’s go out there and do our job.”

Southeastern Louisiana got the ball first, and it appeared Johnson was heading toward a touchdown. But, two yards before he reached the end zone, on what would have been a 14-yard touchdown run, Samford’s Brayden Devault-Smith punched the ball loose. The ball hit the ground and struck the pylon before defensive lineman Seth Simmer picked it up.

The Bullldogs gained 15 yards on two runs by Jay Stanton and another by Crittendon. The Samford quarterback then touched off the wild celebration by bursting in from 10 yards out.  

“We went into the drive thinking about a field goal, but we kind of moved the ball instinctively,” Crittendon said. “We got a little closer, so we got the call and executed it.”

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