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SoCon Weekend Recap

By Southern Pigskin Staff
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After a crazy weekend of SoCon football, four teams are still fighting for a share of the conference title.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: predictably unpredictable. That is the Southern Conference in a nutshell. Georgia Southern comes into the regular season as favorites to repeat. Then, The Citadel takes over that honor after upsetting GSU and App State in back-to-back weekends. Then, the Wofford Terriers gain the advantage, only to have the Eagles take it back. Now, there is a chance the season could end in a four-way tie for first. Because, you know, it's the SoCon.

Let’s look back at Saturday’s crazy slate of games, highlighted by two upsets that made the conference title race one big mess.

Appalachian State 31, Georgia Southern 28

The Mountaineers struggled to stop The Citadel and Wofford, the two other triple option schools in the SoCon. So what do they do against the best rushing team in the conference? Completely shut them down in the second half. Yes, the stats will say that the Mountaineers gave up 552 yards of offense. What it won’t say is how Appalachian State played their best defensive half of football this season, led by defensive back Troy Sanders’ 10 tackles and game-sealing interception on a desperation fourth-down heave from Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon. ASU quarterback Jamal Jackson and receiver Sean Price each had career days against the fourth-best defense in the nation. Jackson finished 21-of-34 passing for 383 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, while the freshman phenom had seven catches for 231 yards and a touchdown. For the third straight year, the team ranked No. 1 heading into the game lost, and the Mountaineers earned their first-ever victory on the road against a team ranked No. 1.

Georgia Southern was playing without leading rusher Dominique Swope, but had plenty of chances to win the game. As previously mentioned, they finished with 552 yards of offense, 166 of which came through the air (insert Mayan end of the world joke here). McKinnon threw for 106 yards and added 121 more on the ground, while B-back William Banks had the game of his life, rushing for 129 yards and three TDs, all of which came in the first half. But the Eagles proved to be their own worst enemy, as penalties (eight for 90 yards), miscues (two turnovers) and special teams errors (kicker Alex Hanks missed three field goals) cost them the game. With Wofford’s loss to Samford, though, they did clinch at least a share of their second-consecutive SoCon title. And they did get a shoutout during the Alabama-LSU game, so there’s that for Eagles fans.

The Mountaineers finish up the season next week against Furman – a victory would also give them a share of the conference title – while the Eagles host Howard.

The Citadel 38, Elon 24

The Bulldogs made short work of the Phoenix on Homecoming weekend, keeping their playoff hopes alive thanks to the stellar games of back Darien Robinson (career-high 178 yards, one TD) and quarterback Ben Dupree (100 yards, one TD). The Citadel shut down Elon’s offense early on, and, after a Hail Mary touchdown to end the first half, held a 24-7 lead over Elon. The lead got as big as 31-7 before the Phoenix began a furious rally, one that ultimately finished just short. Freshman James Riley, who played in place of injured linebackers Carl Robinson and Rah Muhammad, led the team with 11 tackles, a tackle for loss and half a sack, and cornerback Brandon McCladdie deserves praise for shutting down Elon receiver Aaron Mellette for most of the day, finishing with six tackles and an interception. Robinson’s six 100-yard games are the most for a Citadel back in a decade, and he moved up to no. 13 on the Bulldogs’ career rushing list, now with 1,841 career yards.

Phoenix quarterback Thomas Wilson completed a career-high 37 passes to nine different receivers in the loss, finishing with 351 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Mellette caught nine balls for 102 yards, and Kierre Brown added nine catches of his own for 85 yards and a touchdown. Linebacker Jonathan Spain led the Phoenix defense with 11 tackles, and Blake Thompson added eight tacklesof his own, but it wasn’t enough for the Phoenix defense, which struggled to stop the run once again.

The Bulldogs begin the first of back-to-back road games against rivals at VMI next weekend, while the Phoenix play host to the Samford Bulldogs.

Samford 24, Wofford 17 2OT

If you threw darts at a board blindly, you could probably be more accurate than predicting the SoCon this season. The 2012 season has been a roller coaster ride with an unexpected turn at every corner. Wofford knew Samford was a tough test, but no one could have seen Samford playing at the level they did on Saturday. If there has been a weakness for Wofford this season, it has been that they are too one-dimensional. Wofford's formula is quite simple yet hard to solve. If you can slow down eric Breitenstein, then you can beat the Terriers, something few SoCon teams have done. While the Bulldogs did not shut down Breitenstein, they limited his big play ability, and it carried Samford to a double overtime victory.

The Bulldogs were impressive, and showed why they are not to be taken lightly. Samford's offense was paced by Fabian Truss, who carried the rock 26 times for 122 yards. Truss' performance on the ground opened up the passing game for Andy Summerlin, and he took advantage. Summerlin was nearly flawless, as he went 29-of-35 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs aerial attack was led by Kelsey Pope, who had 12 receptions and found the end zone on the most important play of the game, which was a 12-yard pass that sealed the upset win for Samford.

I am big into stats, as they frequently tell a different story than just the game. For this game, one stat stood out: Wofford's three fumbles. For Mike Ayers' team, that was a shock.

"There were too many mistakes" said Ayers on the game. "They stuck to their gameplan and we stuck to ours."

The gameplan for Samford would prove victorious. With the win, Samford improves to 4-3 in conference play and 6-3 overall. With the loss, Wofford falls to 5-2 in conference play and 7-2 overall.

Wofford stays home next week to take on Chattanooga. Samford is on the road again, to play Elon at 1:30.

Chattanooga 45, Western Carolina 24

A tale of two halves seems to be a common occurrence in SoCon football, and no one is better at it than the Chattanooga Mocs. At the end of the first half, the game appeared to be a nail biter, as the Catamounts only trailed by eight going into their locker room. The first half was a sloppy performance for both teams, but when the second half came around, it was all Chattanooga. As always, quarterback Jacob Huesman stepped up when the game mattered most, rushing for two touchdowns in the second half. 

The second half was total domination by the Mocs and it showed in the stats. Chattanooga out-gained the Catamounts by over 250 yards on the ground. The ground attack was led by Kendrix Huitt, who had 139 yards and one score.

Western Carolina had three turnovers to Chattanooga's two. The Mocs also held onto the ball for almost ten minutes more than the Catamounts. It was an all-around dominating performance for Chattanooga, which continues to impress and find ways to win.

Next week, Chattanooga faces the Wofford Terriers on the road. Western Carolina is off next week.

The SoCon Weekend Recap is put together by Southern Pigskin writers Russell Varner and David England.