Football history is being made Saturday in Birmingham when Samford hosts its first ever playoff game.
The Bulldogs (10-1) take on Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) in the second round of the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs.
Samford has been playing football for a long time, but there’s not a long line of historical landmarks associated with the program. Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher both did play for the Bulldogs. Terry Bowden was head coach at Samford before moving a few miles south to coach at Auburn in 1993.
This season has been filled with success like nothing Samford football is used to reaching. After being picked to finish in the lower half of the Southern Conference, the Bulldogs won the championship while posting one of the program’s all-time best records. The lone loss was at No. 1 Georgia.
Right in the middle of it all are two former prep stars from Morgan County. Starting at left tackle on offense is Austin Guyse (6-foot-4, 285 pounds) who starred at West Morgan.
Samford’s backup quarterback is Quincy Crittendon, who starred at Austin. Crittendon (5-11, 190) has mostly been a spectator in his redshirt freshman season behind the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in Michael Hiers, who has thrown for 35 touchdowns and 3,290 yards.
“Last year (4-7) wasn’t a good season,” Crittendon said. “This season has been completely different. It’s a different atmosphere at the games. The student section has really embraced the team. It’s even more exciting with us hosting a playoff game.”
Crittendon himself helped raise the excitement level on Nov. 19 in the last game of the regular season when he scored the game-winning touchdown in double overtime vs. Mercer. His 25-yard weaving journey to the end zone gave Samford its first conference championship since 1936 and an automatic berth in the playoffs
Video of the game-ending dash shows Crittendon stumbling into the end zone. He was quickly joined by Guyse and some other blockers. Then the rest of the team raced in to create a celebration mob that kept growing with students and fans. Eventually they lifted Crittendon to their shoulders.
“It was so emotional that I had to get down and go take a knee so I could gather my thoughts,” Crittendon said. “I have never experienced anything like that.”
What makes it so incredible was that Crittendon was in the game for just two plays. He didn’t play in the first four quarters. He didn’t play in the first overtime. He played two plays in the second overtime and became the hero of the day.
Samford’s Sports Information Department describes the ending as “a moment that could only be written in Hollywood.”
To fully understand the moment one needs to rewind to Crittendon’s days at Austin. He was The Decatur Daily’s Player of the Year in 2019 and shared the honor in 2020 with Austin teammates Jevon Jackson and Tre Shackelford.
COVID impacted recruiting dramatically for high school football seniors in 2020. Because college players were granted COVID redshirt years, there were few scholarships available.
Crittendon accepted a preferred walk-on invitation from Samford. A major reason for accepting it was familiarity with Samford head coach Chris Hatcher, who coached Crittendon’s brother Lamont at Murray State in Kentucky.
Following a freshman season, Crittendon spent last spring competing for the third-string position. By the start of fall camp, injuries had moved Crittendon up to No. 2 behind Hiers.
“It didn’t look good for me in the spring, but that changed in the blink of an eye,” Crittendon said.
Crittendon’s first college game experience came in Samford’s 33-0 loss to No. 1 Georgia on Sept. 10 in front of 92,746 fans at Sanford Stadium.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Crittendon said. “Just walking into that huge stadium with all those people was amazing. Before that game, Mom and Dad told me to enjoy the moment, and I did.”
Crittendon completed three of five passes for 47 yards. He rushed twice for nine yards.
Now fast forward through the next eight games and into the showdown with Mercer. The visitors led 17-0 after the first quarter, 17-7 at halftime and 24-20 after three quarters. Hiers led a furious fourth-quarter comeback that left the game tied at 37-37 at the end of regulation.
The first overtime period opened with Samford on offense. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown with Hiers connecting on a 21-yard pass. Mercer answered with a touchdown run to leave the game tied at 44-44.
Hiers was hit just as he released the ball on his touchdown pass. After the play, he headed to the sideline tent for medical attention.
“When he went in the tent, one of the coaches told me to start warming up,” Crittendon said.
After a few minutes, Hiers left the tent and tried throwing the football.
“He was obviously having issues and it looked like I was going to have to go in,” Crittendon said.
Meanwhile the second overtime opened with Mercer having possession and eventually having a field goal blocked. It was now Samford’s turn.
“I went into the game thinking about my family and friends who had supported me,” Crittendon said. “I thought about Mom and Dad telling me to enjoy the moment.”
On first down, Crittendon completed a pass for no gain.
“Most of our plays are RPOs (run-pass options),” Crittendon said. “Before we snapped the ball on the second play, I could tell from reading the coverage that another pass would probably be for no gain. When we snapped the ball, I just took off running.”
Three or four Mercer defenders had a chance to stop him. Two actually got their hands on him.
“If you watch us practice, our players are confident in (Quincy’s) abilities,” Hatcher later told the website 1819. “Fortunately, we caught them in the right defense, we picked up three unbelievable blocks, and he did the rest. It was really special.”
While the celebration on the field continued, Crittendon went up into the stands looking for his parents. He found his father, Quincy Sr.
“It’s the first time I ever saw my dad cry,” Crittendon said.
Chikena Crittendon, his mother, had already left the stands to go to the field.
“So I went back to the field to find her. It was difficult because people kept hugging me,” Quincy said. “I finally found her and we celebrated together.”
Austin head coach Jeremy Perkins is always proud when one of his former players has success after high school, but Crittendon’s story has a tad more meaning. Perkins played football at Samford.
“I’m really happy for all that Quincy has accomplished,” Perkins said. “He got an opportunity, worked hard and when his big chance (came), he made the most of it.”