How far it slipped is yet to be determined.
Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges burned ETSU with his feet on the same day he became the FCS’ all-time leading passer, and the Bulldogs ruined ETSU’s championship party with a 38-27 victory Saturday at Greene Stadium.
The Bucs wound up sharing the Southern Conference football championship with Wofford and Furman. A win would have given them the outright title and the league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
Instead, they have to wait for Sunday’s selections to learn whether they’ll receive an at-large bid. The FCS playoff selection show is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
“We hope to get in,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “We’ll be watching TV and I’ll be sitting on pins and needles a little bit. We want to get in because we’re not ready to put a wrap on this season yet.
“If we don’t, we don’t and it will be a great lesson for us that when you have a chance to control your own destiny, you better control it.”
The 17th-ranked Bucs fell to 8-3 overall, 6-2 in the SoCon. Samford, the preseason pick to win the league, finished 6-5, 5-3.
“Hopefully we’re not done yet,” ETSU cornerback Domenique Williams said. “We’re going back to the drawing board and hopefully we’re still playing. I think we have a good chance. We just have to stay humble, learn from this.”
Hodges ran for touchdowns of 9, 2 and 2 yards. He also completed 40 of 53 passes for 404 yards.
On the final play of the third quarter, Hodges broke Steve McNair’s FCS passing record, and appropriately enough, it came on a throw to Kelvin McKnight, Samford’s all-time leading receiver.
Hodges finished his career with 14,584 yards. McNair, who played at Alcorn State before starring in the NFL, had 14,496. Hodges’ 4,283 passing yards this season were a school record.
McKnight caught 12 passes for 151 yards.
The Bulldogs got a huge break just inside the 3:00 mark of the fourth quarter when they were trying to add to a 31-27 lead. Hodges was under a heavy rush and heaved the ball toward the sideline as he was on his way down for an apparent 18-yard loss. As the pass sailed out of bounds, the referee threw a flag for intentional grounding.
Samford was facing second-and-28 when the call of the season came. The referee picked up the flag, saying there “was a receiver in the area.”
The call stunned what was left of the sellout crowd of 8,749. It led to a lot of hot feelings on the ETSU sideline as well.
“I certainly felt like I got punched in the gut there,” Sanders said. “And I probably told the official on the sideline a few things I wouldn’t want my parents to hear. The officials in this league do a great job. I never agree with everything they do. They probably don’t agree with everything I do. But I think they do a good job.
“It would have been nice to get that grounding penalty there and get them behind in down and distance, but it is what it is.”
A minute and a half later, Demarcus Ware’s 3-yard touchdown run put the Bulldogs up 38-27.
When Austin Herink scored on a fourth-down quarterback sneak late in the second quarter, the Bucs were up 24-14. It was the second score of the day for Herink, who also had an 11-yard touchdown on which he broke a tackle in the backfield and then was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for high-fiving fans sitting on the hill behind the goal post.
Herink finished 18 of 34 for 186 yards and an interception. He also ran eight times for 64 yards.
Quay Holmes had a 6-yard touchdown run that was set up by Tyree Robinson’s interception on Samford’s first possession. Holmes finished with 70 yards on 13 carries.
JJ Jerman’s second field goal of the day, a 39-yarder, put the Bucs up 27-24 with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter. He also had a 47-yarder to open the scoring.
PASS RUSH FADES
ETSU had a big second quarter with two touchdowns, and its offense was set up by a pass rush that bothered Hodges. The Bucs got all three of their sacks on those two possessions and then they didn’t get to him in time the rest of the day.
“Probably because they rushed the passer 54 times,” Sanders said. “That’s hard to do. It wears you out. If you don’t affect the quarterback, it’s hard to defend him, especially one as talented as we saw today.”
NOT DONE YET?
Holmes said the Bucs left the field hoping they still had more football to play.
“It would have been nice to get this win,” he said. “It would have been more of a sure thing. I think we’ll still get in. I hope so. The resume we have is a pretty good resume.”