The Owls' 2022 season got off to an inauspicious start on Thursday night when they squared off against Samford. KSU came in ranked #8 in the polls but Bulldogs coach Chris Hatcher and his team put no stock into that. The Samford defense stymied Kennesaw State for much of the evening and held one of the nation’s more prolific players, Xavier Shepherd, under wraps.
After having to punt on their opening drive, Samford’s defense rolled out onto the field with a mission. Shepherd and company, however, marched 80 yards in eight plays and scored the first touchdown of the night. Bulldogs fans had to be nervous. That was, after all, what KSU had done so many times last season en route to an 11-2 record. The Owls came by that #8 ranking honestly.
After that, though, the Bulldogs defense didn’t crumble and instead they buckled down. Quarterback Michael Hiers and the offense were struggling but the defense shined in the first half. After forcing a punt late in the first quarter and turning it over on downs early in the second, Hiers finally got the offense rolling.
Kendall Watson hauled in a 28-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter. On the next drive Watson would give the Bulldogs the lead with his second touchdown catch of the night, this one a six-yard pass from Hiers.
What was even more impressive than Samford’s lead was what their defense was doing to what was supposed to be one of the more deadly offenses in the country. KSU is known for their lethal triple option attack that has smothered so many teams in the past. The Bulldogs, though, were keeping the rushing attack at bay and rendering Shepherd ineffective.
Before halftime Samford’s D forced yet another punt to ensure that they would hold a 14-7 lead going into the break.
Coming out of the half it seemed as though Kennesaw State had finally turned their fortunes around. After cutting the deficit to four, the Owls defense forced a fumble and recovered the ball deep in enemy territory. Shortly after Shepherd ran in from two-yards out to regain the advantage.
Even after a missed field goal late in the third, though, Samford didn’t fold. Their defense forced another punt and Hiers led another scoring drive. His third touchdown of the night was a 15-yarder to Chandler Smith and the Bulldogs were back on top 20-17.
Yet again the defense forced another KSU punt midway through the fourth as time was starting to become a factor. A bad situation for the Owls quickly became a desperate one when Hiers connected on his fourth touchdown of the night to put the Bulldogs up by ten.
The last gasp Kennesaw State drive was thwarted by cornerback Kourtlan Marsh when he jumped in front of Shepherd’s pass in the end zone. The Samford faithful rejoiced as their Bulldogs excitedly ran to the sideline.
Defeating a ranked team, especially one as good as KSU has been, is no easy feat. Shepherd had a tough time with Samford’s defense all night, rushing for just 64 yards. He did pass for 135 yards but all that was on only five completions.
Hiers, meanwhile, was excellent as he tossed four touchdowns and threw for 289 yards. Running back Jay Stanton led the Bulldogs with 90 rushing yards. Watson too had a stellar game, hauling in nine passes for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns.
It took a total team effort to pull off the upset and everyone showed out but undoubtedly it was the defense that put on the best performance. KSU was held to just 3.1 yards per rush, an abnormally low mark for that offense.
It’s back to the drawing board for the Owls who will almost certainly tumble in next week’s rankings as they prepare for a road game at Cincinnati. Samford too has a tough FBS matchup next weekend as Georgia looms.