The Citadel was there the day the legend of Devlin Hodges was born.
It was Oct. 17, 2015, in Birmingham, Ala., and The Citadel had rushed to a 35-14 halftime lead against Samford, led at the time by a quarterback named Michael Eubank, a 6-5 transfer from Arizona State.
With the Samford offense sputtering behind Eubank — his final pass that day was intercepted by Citadel All-American Dee Delaney — coach Chris Hatcher turned to a little-used freshman from Kimberly, Ala.
Devlin Hodges hit 23 of 31 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown in the second half, but could not rally Samford to victory. The Citadel won by 44-25, a key point in its drive to two straight Southern Conference titles.
But Hodges has been Samford's starting QB ever since that day. And as The Citadel hosts Samford for homecoming on Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, Hodges is closing out one of the great passing careers in FCS football.
With 14,720 yards of career offense, Hodges is 33 yards behind former App State great Armanti Edwards for the SoCon record, and is tied for third in FCS history. With 13,776 career passing yards, he is second in FCS history only to former NFL star Steve McNair, who threw for 14,496 yards at Alcorn State. And Hodges' four TD passes in a 35-20 win over Wofford last week gave him 109 career TD passes, No. 1 in the SoCon and No. 12 in FCS history.
"He does it all for them, and has done it all for the last four years," said Citadel coach Brent Thompson. "We'll really be happy to see him graduate and move on."
Here are four key factors to the game:
The Citadel is actually 2-1 against Hodges, with a memorable 37-34 overtime win against Samford in 2016, and a forgettable 35-14 loss in Birmingham last year. But The Citadel defense has seen Hodges' full arsenal over that time.
Two years ago at Johnson Hagood Stadium, Hodges completed 35 of 46 passes for 280 yards and two TDs, and ran for 13 times for 94 yards and two more scores. But the Bulldogs won in OT thanks to 285 rushing yards and three TDs from Tyler Renew, a 63-yard run from Cam Jackson, a Cody Clark field goal at the end of regulation, and a Samford field goal try that bounced off the upright in OT.
Last year, Hodges strafed The Citadel secondary with 21 of 26 passing for 323 yards and three TDs as Samford raced to a 35-0 lead.
"The No. 1 thing when we've had a good game against Samford is we've kept them to short passes," Thompson said. "That's been a little challenging for us this year. There's a fine line between getting to the quarterback and dropping into coverage ... Do you drop eight or nine on the guy, or do you try to rush him and get some pressure because he's just as dangerous with his feet?"
Samford survived an 0-4 September, low-lighted by a missed opportunity in a 36-26 loss at Florida State, to stay alive in the SoCon title chase. At 4-2 in the league, Samford can still claim a share of the title (along with ETSU) and claim the SoCon's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with wins over The Citadel and ETSU next week.
"Our goal was to win these last three games and push ourselves back into the conference championship hunt with a possible postseason bid on the line," Hatcher said. "And we've done that. But that's a lot talk if we don't go out and beat The Citadel."
The Citadel will again start sophomore Brandon Rainey at quarterback in place of Jordan Black, who started the first seven games. Rainey ran for 188 yards and a TD in last week's 38-24 win at Western Carolina, but attempted only one pass.
Odds are he'll have to complete some throws to beat Samford, which held Wofford's triple-option attack to 3.8 yards per carry in last week's 35-20 win.
The Citadel is 0-3 at home, with two more chances to win at Johnson Hagood Stadium this season, against Samford for homecoming and against Charleston Southern on Nov. 29. The Citadel has not gone winless at home since 1948, when coach Quinn Decker's 2-7 team went 0-6 at home with victories at Newberry and at Erskine.
Samford 38, The Citadel 24
• Citadel linebacker Noah Dawkins has accepted an invitation to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 19 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The game is an all-star game for draft-eligible players. Dawkins, a 6-1, 215-pound senior, has 51 tackles, 12½ tackles for loss, 5½ sacks and two interception this season.
• Former Citadel linebacker Joe Crochet will sign copies of his new book, "My Winning Seasons", in front of the stadium from 10:30 a.m. to kickoff.