BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The Samford Bulldogs are about to begin a three-game home stand that will likely play a large role in determining whether they can repeat as Southern Conference champions.
Samford (2-2, 1-1 SoCon) will meet first-year league member Mercer (4-1, 1-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game took on extra importance for the Bulldogs after they fell to Chattanooga 38-24 last week for their first conference loss of the season.
"We told the players, 'What are you going to do to turn things around and get us back on the winning track?' " Samford tight end and slot receivers coach Trent McKnight said. "I think they've responded really well."
Samford went 6-2 in SoCon play last year and shared the title with Furman and Chattanooga. The Bulldogs got off to a good start in conference play this season with a 63-21 victory over VMI.
The Bears defeated VMI last week 27-24 for their third consecutive victory. Mercer was led by freshman wide receiver Chandler Curtis, who compiled 181 all-purposes yards and scored two touchdowns, including one on a 23-yard reverse.
Curtis, who was named the SoCon freshman of the week for the second consecutive game, also has scored two touchdowns this season on kickoff returns. He ranks fourth nationally with a kickoff-return average of 33.6 yards.
Saturday's game will be the 21st meeting between these two teams, but the first since 1941. Mercer discontinued its football program following the 1941 season, then reinstated it last year.
Alabama A&M vs. Grambling State, 1 p.m.
Alabama A&M is trying to put together a two-game winning streak for the first time since starting the 2012 season 6-0.
The Bulldogs (2-3, 1-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) are 7-15 over their past 22 games with no back-to-back victories during that span. They are coming off a 42-20 victory over Mississippi Valley State.
Grambling (2-3, 2-0) went 1-11 last year and lost the first three games of this season before winning consecutive games again Jackson State and Prairie View A&M.
Jacksonville State vs. Tennessee-Martin, 3 p.m.
Tennessee-Martin might be in last place in the Ohio Valley Conference, but Jacksonville State coach John Grass said that is misleading.
UTM (1-4, 0-2 OVC) led in the fourth quarter of two of their losses and dropped those games by a combined total of six points.
"They'll definitely feel like their backs are against the wall being 0-2 in the conference and losing some close games early," said Grass, whose Gamecocks are 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the OVC. "We are going to be dealing with an upset football team, and we will get their best."
West Alabama at West Georgia, 1 p.m.
West Georgia coach Will Hall faces his former team when the Wolves (4-0, 0-0 Gulf South Conference) play West Alabama (3-1, 0-0)
Hall went 25-11 the past three seasons at West Alabama. The Lions won the GSC championship under Hall in 2012 and shared it with North Alabama last year.
West Alabama enters the game ranked No. 22 in Division II, while West Georgia is 24th.
North Alabama vs. Western Oregon, 6 p.m.
The challenge for North Alabama (3-0) will be to contain the Western Oregon passing game. The Wolves (2-2) are averaging 32 points per game behind quarterback Ryan Bergman, who has already thrown for 1,236 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
UNA is coming off a 31-29 victory over Valdosta State. The Lions won the game on a 54-yard field goal by Taylor Pontius as time expired.
The 1994 UNA national championship team will be honored between the third and fourth quarters of Saturday's game.
Tuskegee vs. Fort Valley State, 1 p.m.
Tuskegee takes on Fort Valley State in a matchup of two teams still undefeated in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Tuskegee (2-2, 1-0 SIAC) rolled up 516 yards in total offense last week in a 44-3 victory over Lane. Fort Valley (3-1, 2-0) edged Benedict 33-30 on a 40-yard field goal by Juan Serna with 2 seconds remaining.
Stillman at Lane, 2 p.m.
After starting the season 0-2, Stillman (2-2, 1-1 SIAC) is seeking its third consecutive victory.
Jovontae Thurmon scored three touchdowns last week — two of them in the fourth quarter — to help lead the Tigers to a 34-20 victory over Kentucky State.
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