A quick start in either half wasn’t part of Samford’s opening football game of the season. Handling that situation like a veteran team was part of the Bulldogs’ 27-17 victory over nationally ranked No. 8 Kennesaw State on Thursday night at Seibert Stadium.
“All around, we just kept playing and never panicked," head coach Chris Hatcher said. "All in all, our guys just believed. It was just a complete team win over a really good football team and we are excited to get this one under our belts.”
Quarterback Michael Hiers, a junior college transfer who played at nearby Briarwood Christian in high school, was sensational in his first start, completing 18 of 24 passes for 289 yards with four touchdowns. His favorite target, Kendall Watson, had nine catches for 187 yards with two scores. Chandler Smith had three catches for 67 yards with two touchdowns.
Kennesaw State grabbed the momentum early by forcing a Samford punt and following with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 26-yard touchdown run by Preston Daniels.
“We started out a little slow, we just had to get rolling,” said Watson. “This is a new team. Every year is a new opportunity.”
It was an alarming start for a defense that struggled last season. This time, though, the defense buckled down, didn’t allow another point in the first half and had a fourth down stop to set up the tying touchdown. The score came on a 28-yard pass from Hiers to Watson.
Another defensive stop and a 20-yard punt return by Smith set the Bulldogs up at the Owls' 40-yard line. It took four plays to cover the needed yards with Hiers hitting Watson for a six-yard touchdown. Samford led, 14-7, at the half.
Kennesaw State didn’t go away. Instead, the Owls prospered in the third quarter, regaining the lead on a field goal and a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Xavier Shepherd.
Samford owned the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs put together a crisp eight-play, 93-yard drive to take a 20-17 lead. The drive took just 2:14 off the clock. The touchdown came on a 15-yard pass from Hiers to Smith. Hiers and Watson connected on a 48-yard pass on the opening play of the drive. The extra point was missed.
Another defensive stop led to another long, quick drive. This time, Samford used seven plays to cover 77 yards in 3:10 with Hiers and Smith connecting on a 31-yard touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs a 27-17 lead with 5:04 remaining.
Kennesaw State threatened on the ensuing drive, using a long pass play to get inside the Samford 10-yard line. Kourtlan Marsh ended the threat with an end zone interception, and Samford ran out the clock.
“It’s just exciting to see these guys have success early,” said Hatcher. “Hopefully we can build off this.”
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