BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Liam Welch threw for 443 yards and a touchdown, Jay Stanton ran for three scores, and Samford throttled No. 23 Mercer 44-20 on Saturday.

Mercer (5-6, 5-3 Southern Conference) entered needing a win against the Bulldogs combined with a VMI defeat against The Citadel to clinch its first-ever conference championship. But Samford (4-3, 4-3) raced to a 31-7 halftime lead to squash Mercer's hopes.

After Mitchell Fineran's 44-yard field goal put Samford up 3-0 with 4:02 left in the first quarter, the Bulldogs' defense forced a three-and-out. Samford went on a seven-play, 72-yard drive that ended when DeMarcus Ware ran 30 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

Another defensive stop by the Bulldogs led to an eight-play, 97-yard drive that ended with Stanton's 4-yard touchdown run. Later, Welch threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Montrell Washington and Stanton added a 7-yard touchdown run for a 31-0 lead.

Deondre Johnson scored the first of his two touchdowns for Mercer, crashing in from a yard out as time expired in the first half. Johnson finished with 158 yards rushing on 22 carries.


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