Aug. 29, 2004
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Samford University football team used a stellar passing attack and a solid defensive performance to defeat the West Alabama Tigers, 34-20, on Saturday in front of a crowd of 9,542, the sixth-largest crowd in Seibert Stadium history.
"We won the game and that's good for us, but we made a ton of mistakes tonight," said Samford head coach Bill Gray. "We also made some plays and we're going to focus on the positive. There's not a mistake that we made that we can't correct and it's always good to work on those mistakes after a win as opposed to after a loss."
With the win, Samford (1-0) opened its 2004 campaign with a victory for the third-consecutive season. The Bulldogs increased their lead in the all-time series versus West Alabama (0-1) to 8-6-1. While playing against UWA in Birmingham, the Bulldogs own a decisive 5-2-1 advantage.
Samford's offense was triggered by senior quarterback Ray Nelson and wide receiver Efrem Hill on Saturday. Nelson, a native of Mobile, Ala., threw for five touchdowns and 321 yards on 21-for-34 passing, while Hill gathered nine passes for 209 yards and three scores.
In the second quarter, the pair connected on an 84-yard touchdown pass to give Samford a pivotal 12-7 lead. On the play, the tandem tied the school record for longest pass reception. The feat was last accomplished during the 2003 season by the combination of Nelson and wide receiver Ossie Buchannon against Tennessee-Martin.
After the teams played to a scoreless first quarter, Samford notched its first touchdown of the game with 14:04 left in the second frame. Buchannon, the Bulldogs' junior from Birmingham, caught Nelson's first touchdown pass of the game on a seven-yard play from scrimmage. Buchannon finished the game with five receptions for 40 yards.
At halftime, the score of Saturday's contest was 12-10 in favor of the Bulldogs.
Samford's defense shut down West Alabama's passing attack in the first half and only allowed eight yards in the air for the Tigers. West Alabama picked up 106 yards rushing in the first half and finished the game with 182 total yards on the ground. The Tigers' Marcus Ross rushed 24 times for 95 yards and a touchdown on Saturday.
The Bulldogs' starting safety Cortland Finnegan turned in a stellar defensive performance on Saturday and picked off two passes in the first half of play. With the pair of first-half interceptions, Finnegan tied his career high with two picks in a game. Last season, the native of Milton, Fla., intercepted two passes on the road against Murray State.
In the second half, Samford's Hill gave the Bulldogs a 19-10 lead in the contest as he scored on a 40-yard pass play with 10:04 remaining in the third quarter.
"Personally, I think that I could have played better today," said Hill. "We made a lot of mistakes as a team and I think that we all could have done a better job. I played decent, but I think that I could have played better."
Hill, Samford's consensus All-American in 2003, recorded his fourth-consecutive 100-yard receiving game on Saturday. His streak dates all the way back to Nov. 1, 2003, when he grabbed 10 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown versus Tennessee Tech. The week before his streak began, Hill accumulated 95 receiving yards against Tennessee State.
Also on Saturday, Hill became Samford's career leader in touchdown receptions with 24. The previous record was 22 and was held by former Bulldog-great Tim Richardson.
"Efrem played a really good game today," Gray said. "He proved tonight that he was human because he dropped a couple of balls that he normally wouldn't have dropped, but he also made some outstanding catches. He's still our bell cow and he got off to a good start of the season tonight."
With 7:31 remaining in the fourth quarter, Freddy Young gave the Bulldogs a decisive 25-13 lead by scoring on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Then, on the two-point conversion, Young caught another pass from Nelson to up Samford's advantage to 27-13.
The Samford University football team will next be in action on Saturday, Sept. 4, as the Bulldogs travel to Atlanta, Ga., to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at noon (CST).
Ray Nelson threw for five touchdowns during Saturday's 34-20 win over West Alabama.