Western Carolina Sends Message to SoCon with Upset of Samford!
Long delays kept college football programs across the country off the field for long hours at a time this past Saturday. Many FCS teams were recovering from guaranteed payout beat downs at the hands of elite Power 5 FBS programs. The Western Carolina University Catamounts dealt with both and still managed to shock the FCS world while serving notice that the SoCon is even more wide open than originally believed. They defeated the SoCon preseason favorites Samford at home 30-7.
The Catamounts were named FedEx Ground FCS National Team of the Week for the week two upset. Sophomore running back Desmond Reid was named SoCon Offensive Player of the Week. He rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown.
Saturday's conference clash and Catamounts' home opener was a wild one. A five-and-a-half-hour weather delay took the teams from the field early in the second quarter, but to many's surprise the more experienced, veteran squad did not take advantage of the time away from the field. Instead it was WCU, who boasted one of the best offenses in the FCS last season, that returned to the field under the lights and dominated the remainder of the contes outscoring the Bulldogs 16-0 after the delay!
The Catamounts scored 16 unanswered points after the delay, while their defense pitched a shutout. That defense was spearheaded by a six-sack performance, which never allowed quarterback Michael Hiers to relax in the pocket. Senior linebacker Jayelin Davis had 1.5 sacks to lead a sextet of defenders who were in on bringing the Bulldogs signal caller down. It also reduced the Bulldogs to a one dimensional attack. Although Heirs threw for over 300 yards there were a lot of empty calorie throws in his stat line.
Meanwhile, offensively, WCU was balanced, rushing for 284 yards and passing for 262. Sophomore quarterback Cole Gonzales accounted for 330 yards and two touchdowns in the upset victory. On the ground sophomore running back Desmond Reid was the bell cow for the WCU offense. He carried the ball 27 times for 170 yards and a touchdown. He and Gonzales, along with fellow sophomore running back Branson Adams, were instrumental in helping WCU dominate the time of possession. The Catamounts controlled the ball for over 41 minutes. Compare that to the Bulldogs who had the ball for less than 19 minutes.
This loss could not come at a worst time for Samford as they must travel to Auburn for their guaranteed money game against the SEC West member led by former Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze. That game could compound the issues. On the other side, Western Carolina sits at 1-0 in the conference and they have a favorable matchup next week against Eastern Kentucky who is coming off consecutive losses at the hands of FBS opponents. They will be battle tested but they may also just be beat up by the battles and WCU could take advantage of that.
The Citadel will travel to Chattanooga for the only SoCon action of the weekend. The Bulldogs are 0-2 after falling to Campbell University and Georgia Southern. Their offense needs to get going. They have only scored one touchdown in both competitions combined. The Mocs enter conference play 1-1 after a 27-20 home victory over Kennesaw State who has announced plans to join Conference USA next season. It was a great defensive effort by Chattanooga as they held the Owls scoreless in the first half, while junior quarterback Chase Artopoeus found sophomore receiver Sam Phillips 10 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
After next weekend conference play will really ratchet up as six of the nine teams will be playing conference matches. If these small appetizers are any indication, it should be an unpredictable year. One thing is for sure, the Catamounts are here to be seen.