The approach has been the same for Samford football head coach Chris Hatcher and his team through what has been a special season.
Each game is the biggest game of the season, he says weekly.
Why? His reasoning, as a football coach, is because that’s the only game his team plays that week.
It’s certainly been a successful approach, considering the Bulldogs are 8-1 overall and the lone unbeaten team in Southern Conference play. And it does make sense.
This week, the first-place Bulldogs head to Chattanooga to play a UTC team that is sharing second place in the SoCon standings with two other teams. A Samford win on Saturday gives the Bulldogs, at worst, a share of the conference title. This one, by any stretch of measurement, not just coach speak, is actually the biggest game of the season for the Bulldogs, at least to this point.
“You [can] definitely tell the intensity, the increased sense of urgency, what the implications are based on the outcome of the game,” said receiver Kendall Watson, who is a Chattanooga native. “I can’t sit here and act like it’s not a little more important feeling going through the week.”
To say Chattanooga has been unbeatable for the Samford football team is not entirely accurate. The Bulldogs have beaten the Mocs 10 times and tied three other games in the 46 meetings between the football programs. Since the teams became Southern Conference mates, Chattanooga is 11-2 against Samford. Hatcher’s teams are 0-6 against Chattanooga.
“They’ve had our number for quite some time,” Hatcher said. “I believe they had our number before I became head coach. The past few times we’ve played them, we have not matched up well, we have not played well and they’ve played extremely good. No two teams are ever the same, every year is a different year. I don’t know if it adds any more anxiety or pressure, because we have so many new players on our team. It’s the next game that’s up.”
Truth is, this Samford team is equipped to bust a streak, not just because it’s a team filled with talent. This Samford team is a mature group, that includes many contributors that filled needs through the transfer portal or junior college signings. They’ve quietly gone about winning football games throughout the season.
“Our demeanor hasn’t changed,” Hatcher said. “If you’re up big, they just go play the next play. If you’re down, they just go play the next play. If you came out and watched us practice, you would probably leave there thinking, ‘What are these guys doing?’ We’re just very business-like in what we do. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low. From that consistency standpoint, I’ve been really proud of the team. We expect that again this week.”
The Bulldogs are facing a Chattanooga team that wins games with the running game on offense and a salty, opportunistic defense. Running back Ailym Ford is seventh in the country in FCS rushing yards per game at 118.6. He’s rushed for 10 touchdowns. The Mocs’ defense leads the SoCon in sacks (27) and turnover margin (plus-9). The Mocs have 10 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
It’s strength against strength when it comes to turnovers. Samford has the second least turnovers lost this season with three interceptions and seven lost fumbles. Quarterback Michael Hiers had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 27-to-3.
“We know it’s a big game, but they’re all big games,” Hatcher said. “You’re getting closer to your goal. Just like when you get in the last couple minutes of a close game in the fourth quarter, you got to be on point a little more. We know what’s at stake. I haven’t even told the guys, but they know. They read what you guys put out there. Again, they have had our number, but, hopefully this year will be different.”
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