Samford quarterback Liam Welch had his coming out party against The Citadel back in 2019.
The Citadel held a 21-17 lead with three minutes to go in the third quarter that sweltering September day at Samford's Seibert Stadium when Welch came off the bench to replace a struggling Chris Oladokun.
Then a junior who had thrown only five passes in the previous three games, the 6-2, 194-pounder from Augusta went 9 of 18 for 189 yards and three touchdowns over the final 18 minutes and overtime, leading Samford to a 61-55 victory in a game that took four OT periods and almost four hours to decide.
It was the start of something big.
This spring, Welch has completed 103 of 152 passes (67.8 percent) for 1,493 yards and eight touchdowns against four interceptions. He passed for a school-record 570 yards and four TDs in last week's 38-37 OT loss to VMI, hitting 37 of 59 passes.
For the season, Welch is averaging 373 passing yards per game for a Samford team that is 2-3 in the Southern Conference and scoring a league-best 36.6 points per game.
That's why coach Brent Thompson said it's not only on his defense to give The Citadel (0-4 in the SoCon) a fighting chance against Samford at 1 p.m. March 27 at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
"The one thing we've got to do is control the football," said Thompson, whose team has lost 10 straight games dating back to the last two games of 2019 and four games last fall, including three against FBS teams. "By controlling the ball, we've got to slow the pace of the game down.
"Between Samford and VMI last week, there were almost 200 snaps (189 to be exact), both of them moving extremely fast. We've got to be able to set the tempo of the game, keep control of the football and limit possessions."
The Citadel likely will have to do all that with a first-time starter at quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Darique Hampton from Goose Creek High School is set to start for Jaylan Adams, who suffered a concussion in last week's 28-21 loss to ETSU on a helmet-to-helmet hit that resulted in a targeting call and an ejection.
Hampton came on in the third quarter, hitting 4 of 9 passes for 47 yards and leading The Citadel on a 12-play, 60-yard drive capped by his own 4-yard TD run.
"I feel good about him taking over, and us being able to kind of get the game plan in his favor," Thompson said. "He's a very smart football player, he knows this offense extremely well. I don't think it's a matter of knowing it, it will just be a matter of game experience running it."
On defense, The Citadel allowed only one TD drive by ETSU that wasn't set up by a turnover or scored by the Bucs' defense. The Citadel gave up only 41 rushing yards and came up with two turnovers.
But the defense has allowed big scoring plays in every game this spring, including two first-play, 75-yard TD passes; a 67-yard TD run by Western Carolina; and a 49-yard TD pass last week by ETSU. The Citadel's secondary must have a good tackling day against Samford's receivers, and the front seven must get pressure on Welch. Samford has allowed 15 sacks in five games, and Welch has been picked off four times.
The Citadel will likely get fullback Clay Harris back off the injured list, but All-America linebacker Willie Eubanks III is doubtful.