Saturday, September 30, 2017

Paladins pile up offense to beat ETSU

For the second consecutive week, big plays on offense plus big sacks on defense equated to a big win for Furman Saturday. The Paladins piled up 609 yards of total offense and had six sacks in a 56-35 win over ETSU at Paladin Stadium.
Furman had 28 first downs, ran for 308 yards, and passed for 301 in amassing the 12th-highest output of total yardage in a single game in school history. It's just the third time that the Paladins had more than 300 yards rushing and passing in the same game and the first time at home. The last time Furman pulled off that feat was a 662-yard performance (332 passing, 330 rushing) in a 56-35 win at Chattanooga in 2005.
"At the end of the day, you've got to score points and I thought we were really productive," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I thought P.J. (Blazejowski) played really well just managing the game and hitting throws.
"I still just want us to finish games a little better."
The Paladins' defense collected six sacks Saturday, one week after a five-sack performance at Colgate. After netting 12 sacks last season and 8 in 2015, Furman has a Southern Conference-best 17 sacks this year.
While ETSU's Austin Herink completed 24-of-37 passes for a school-record 434 yards, the Bucs had just 22 yards rushing on 28 attempts. Herink took a beating all day as Furman also had nine quarterback hurries.
"I kind of thought the key to the game for us would be to stop the run, which we did and made them one-dimensional," Hendrix said. "Do you give up more yards than you want to throwing? Yeah, you do, but we had a number of sacks and we hit (Herink) a bunch. They couldn't run the ball and I thought that was the difference in the game."
It was easily Furman's most consistent game offensively. That was evident on the scoreboard as the Paladins (2-3, 1-1) scored 14 points in each quarter.
While Furman dominated statistically much of the day things were well in doubt in the first half. After stopping Furman on a 4th-and-1 deep in its own territory in the second quarter, ETSU (2-3, 1-2) put together a nine-play, 95-yard drive. It was capped by a three-yard touchdown run by Blake Rodgers as the Bucs pulled even at 14-14.
Two plays later, ETSU recovered a fumble and returned it to the Furman 21-yard line. While a controversial pass interference call on third down gave the Bucs a first down at the 2-yard line, the Paladins held ETSU to a 31-yard field goal. That gave the Bucs their only lead at 17-14 with 6:22 left in the first half.
Furman answered with the first of four consecutive touchdown drives.
P.J. Blazejowski hit a wide-open Andy Schumpert for a 30-yard score to put the Paladins back in front 24-21 with 4:02 left in the first half. After a three-and-out, Furman got the ball back at its own 30 with 2:36 left.
After Blazejowski connected with Logan McCarter for a 51-yard gain to ETSU's 5-yard line, Darius Morehead scored from three yards out as Furman took a 28-17 lead into halftime.
"I think the series of the game was when we turned it over then held them to a field goal," Hendrix said. "Then we responded with two scores before the half. That's how we've got to win games."
The Bucs got the ball to start the second half, but Furman's defense forced a three-and-out capped by Dru Seabrook's sack on third down. With the Paladins facing 4th-and-2 on their ensuing drive, Kealand Dirks took a handoff 32 yards for a touchdown.
Furman capped the 28-0 run when Blazejowski found McCarter standing all alone at midfield. After the catch, McCarter raced to the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown as the Paladins led 42-17. It's the fourth consecutive game that Blazejowski has thrown a touchdown pass of at least 61 yards.
McCarter capped his career-high day of seven catches for 178 yards receiving with a 47-yard kickoff return of an ETSU onside kick in the fourth quarter.
"It was just kind of one of those days where I was blessed to have opportunities to make plays," McCarter said. "All over our offense, there are guys that will make plays. I guess today was just one of my days."
Blazejowski completed 17-of-22 passes for 301 yards with no interceptions. Dirks finished with 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Morehead ran for 97 and two scores.
When it came to sacks on defense, Furman spread the wealth. Jonah Tibbs, who had 1.5, Jordan Willis, Tyler Voyles joined Seabrook in collecting their first collegiate sacks. Joe Farrar and Alec Hanff (0.5) were in on the other two.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Furman returns to SoCon play against ETSU

Furman senior noseguard and captain Jaylan Reid. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Coming off a lopsided road win at Colgate, it's nothing but Southern Conference games the rest of the way for Furman's football team. That begins Saturday when ETSU (2-2, 1-1) makes its first trip to Paladin Stadium since 2003 for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
After resuming football with the 2015 season, ETSU returned to SoCon play last year. An 0-6 Furman team traveled to Johnson City, Tennessee last year and left with a 52-7 win.
It might not be that easy this time around.
The 45-point defeat last year was part of a five-game SoCon stretch where the Bucs lost every game by at least 30 points. This season, it's been a different story as ETSU has ridden a bit of the momentum it created by upsetting an FCS-playoff bound Samford team in last year's season finale. The Bucs were the only team to shut down the Bulldogs' prolific attack last season in a 15-14 win.
That's one of ETSU's four consecutive SoCon games that have been decided by eight points or fewer. Last Saturday, the Bucs rallied from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Mercer, 26-23, in overtime. The prior week, the Bucs saw a 10-point third quarter lead disappear in a 31-25 loss to The Citadel.
ETSU is led by junior quarterback Austin Herink, who's started every game since football resumed two years ago. Herink is third in the SoCon with 205.8 yards passing per game. He's thrown six touchdowns and just two interceptions this year.
"East Tennessee State has played well lately. They're very well coached, spread the field on offense, and throw it around, so that will be a challenge for us defensively," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Billy Taylor, their defensive coordinator, has been a long-time Southern Conference guy who's been successful wherever he's been, and (head) coach (Carl) Torbush, that's where he made his name as a coach (defense)."
After being close in its two FCS losses this season, Furman (1-3, 0-1) put everything together in a 45-14 win at Colgate last Saturday. The Paladins raced out to a 38-0 second quarter lead to cruise to the win.
Quarterback P.J. Blazejowski threw a touchdown pass of at least 61 yards for the third consecutive game against the Raiders. He currently leads the FCS in yards per completion (19.83) and yards per attempt (10.72).
Burch retires due to neck issue
Furman's defense set the tone at Colgate forcing three turnovers and recording five sacks. It did so even as injuries at linebacker continued to mount leading into the game.
After losing senior captain Dillon Woodruff for the season due to broken leg in the opener, sophomore Alex Burch stepped in at middle linebacker and made a game-high 12 tackles and a sack the following week against Elon. Unfortunately for Burch, his first career start would also turn out to be his only one.
Burch sustained what was like a neck stinger versus Elon and experienced numbness in his extremities afterwards. It's an issue that Burch has dealt with this season, but became more evident following his first full game of action.
Hendrix said after a series of tests were performed, doctors recommended to Burch that he consider no longer playing football.
"I don't think it was something where they said, 'you can't play,' but they just felt like in the interest of him and his future that was something he should consider," Hendrix said. "He and his folks talked about it before he made the decision. I certainly support him.
"He will remain with us and we will use him in some capacity to help the program. He will actually be a senior next year academically."
Tyler Voyles replaced Burch in the lineup the next week at N.C. State. Just a couple of days before the Colgate game, Voyles began experiencing back spasms in practice. That left true freshman Reynard Ellis to become Furman's fourth different starting middle linebacker this season and he responded with 16 tackles and one sack. Fellow true freshman Elijah McKoy made his first career start at weakside linebacker, in place of injured senior A.K. Olusanya, and had seven tackles and two pass break-ups.
"(Inside linebackers coach) Ken Lamendola did a phenomenal job of getting them ready to go," Hendrix said. "That Colgate offense is a little quirky because they're reading all kinds of guys."
Voyles is expected to return against ETSU, backing up Ellis and McKoy.
Whiteout set
Saturday's game is designated as a "Whiteout" contest that will see the Paladins wear their all white uniforms that are typically fashioned on the road. Fans are invited to wear official "Whiteout" t-shirts, which are available at the Furman University Bookstore and at Paladin Stadium on Saturday.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Men's soccer rebounds with shutout of VMI

Connor Hubbard has four goals this season. Photo courtesy of Furman.
By Forest Stulting

After suffering its first two losses of the season last week, the Furman men's soccer team bounced back in its Southern Conference opener Tuesday. The 18th-ranked Paladins downed VMI 4-0.
That runs Furman's winning streak in the series to 31 consecutive games.
“It was nice to start out conference play like that, get a shutout and a win,” Paladins coach Doug Allison said.  “It was essential to get three points to start conference play.”
Furman (7-2) jumped out to an early lead, scoring three goals in the first half by Kevin Edelmann, Josiah Baker and Drew Mostoller.
It was the second straight game the Paladins netted four goals.
“We had 29 shots, so that's exciting. We're going forward well,” Allison said. “Different guys are scoring, that is nice.”
The Paladins also registered their fifth shutout behind goalkeepers Ben Hale and Jonathan Smith.
Furman’s backline surrendered four shots on the night. With two players out due to injury - Dylan Rowe and Cam Robinson - it was a big bounce back after giving up five goals against Gardner-Webb the last time out. That was the first time since 1996 that Furman allowed at least five goals in a match.
“To get that shutout was good,” Allison said. “Those are very experienced guys (Rowe and Robinson). Getting those guys back would be nice. They're definitely a piece of the puzzle on our defense. We played a lot of players and some guys got their first experience in college soccer, so that's nice.”
Even with the 4-0 victory, Allison stressed that the Paladins cannot take any opponent lightly.
“There are no easy games,” Allison said. “It’s always tough in our league because you play each other twice.”
Next up the Paladins go on the road to face UNC Greensboro Saturday at 7 p.m. The Spartans (3-4-2, 0-0-1) were picked to finish third in the SoCon.
“They’re always tough,” Allison said. “It's always been a big rivalry. It’s usually a fairly aggressive game. They’re very athletic and I am looking forward to playing them.”
The Paladins opened the season with six consecutive wins for its best start since 2007 when they won the first seven. The highlight came when Furman won at then No. 4-ranked Denver, 1-0, in double overtime. That snapped Denver's 37-match regular season undefeated streak.
Those early wins propelled the Paladins into the Top 25, reaching as high as No. 8.
Schedule change
Furman's match at ETSU is now set for 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Defense sets tone for turnaround

Furman coach Clay Hendrix is dunked with water after recording his first
 win as head coach Saturday at Colgate. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman's defense quickly atoned for prior struggles while also setting the tone for last Saturday's 45-14 win at Colgate.
In starting the season 0-3, the Paladins found themselves trailing from the beginning each week. Each of those first three opponents had touchdowns on opening drives, all of which lasted at least 10 plays and at least 69 yards.
But on Saturday, Colgate took the ball first and went three-and-out. That was just a sign of things to come. None of the Raiders' first seven drives lasted more than four plays or went longer than 37 yards. Those seven drives ended on three punts, three fumble recoveries by Furman and a turnover on downs.
That initial spark by the defense carried over to the offense as the Paladins scored touchdowns off all three of those turnovers. Furman's average starting field position in the first half was its own 47-yard line. By the time Colgate put together its first sustained drive, it trailed 38-0 late in the second quarter.
"Our defense did a phenomenal job of getting us the ball in really good positions to move it and score," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "(Forcing turnovers) was something we'd not done a good job of to this point, but it's something that we've emphasized.
"It makes it easier to play offense when you can do that."
First-quarter goose egg
Furman held an opponent scoreless in the first quarter Saturday for the first time since last Oct. 15 at ETSU. Just like at Colgate, the Paladins led 21-0 after one quarter that day before going on to a 52-7 win.
Ellis shines in first start
Thanks to multiple injures at the linebacker position, true freshman Reynard Ellis made his first collegiate start and played like a veteran. After Ellis' 16-tackle performance (which included a sack), he was named honorable mention STATS FCS National Freshman of the Week. Ellis' tackle total was one shy of the highest in the FCS last week.
Stacking sacks
Ellis was one of five different Furman defenders with sacks Saturday. It was the first time the Paladins had five sacks in a game since Aug. 30, 2014 against Gardner-Webb.
After a 12-sack season last year - and eight sacks in 2015 - Furman has 11 sacks thus far this season.
In addition to Ellis, sophomore Alec Hanff and true freshman Parker Stokes recorded their first collegiate sacks Saturday.
Home run balls
Part of the appeal of Furman's new offense is the ability for a receiver to break open on a deep throw. In the Colgate game, it happened for the third week in a row. After 77- and 71-yard touchdown bombs over the previous two weeks, quarterback P.J. Blazejowski hit a wide-open Cam Burnette on a 61-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring Saturday.
Blazejowski leads the FCS in yards per pass attempt at 10.72.
Over the previous three seasons combined, Furman had just one offensive play longer than 65 yards.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Paladins rout Colgate for Hendrix's first win

Reynard Ellis (31) had 16 tackles in his first collegiate start Saturday
 in Furman's 45-14 win at Colgate. Photo courtesy of Furman.
A Furman team in need of a victory traveled to Colgate Saturday and found the winning formula. Touchdowns by five different Paladins plus sacks by five different Paladins equated to a 45-14 rout as Clay Hendrix earned his first win as a head coach.
Furman entered Saturday's game at 0-3, but just a couple of missed opportunities away from being 2-1. Against Colgate, the Paladins made those plays they'd been missing.
“It feels great to get that first victory,” Hendrix told afterwards. “I could not be prouder of our kids. They came in and played really well.
"Defensively I don’t know if we could have played much better against a productive, hard-to-defend offense. They just set the tone for the entire game, and offensively we did a good job of capitalizing on it in the first half.”
It was evident a defensive turnaround was in order from the start. After allowing a touchdown drive of at least 69 yards on the opening possession to each of its first three opponents, Furman's defense opened Saturday's game with a three-and-out.
In fact, by the time Colgate reached 69 yards of total offense it was 38-0 Furman late in the second quarter.
The teams traded punts to begin the game before the Raiders had a long pass into Furman territory. However, Aaquil Annoor forced a fumble on the play and Joe Farrar recovered. Two plays later, P.J. Blazejowski fired a 61-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Cam Burnette.
That began a run of of six consecutive scoring drives for the Paladins (1-3).
After Ridge Gibson capped an 11-play, 76-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown, Chinedu Okonya forced a fumble on a sack that Chris Washington recovered. That set up a Blazejowski-to-Antonio Wilcox six-yard touchdown and Furman led 21-0 after one quarter.
There was no let up from the Paladins in the second quarter. After a 29-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins, it was a Washington sack and forced fumble that was recovered by Okonya. On the next play, Thomas Gordon scored on a 10-yard reverse.
Furman put together its longest drive on its next possession. The Paladins' 12-play, 77-yard drive lasted 5:27 and ended on Blazejowski's third touchdown pass. The seven-yard toss to Darius Morehead gave Furman a 38-0 lead with 3:26 left in the first half.
Blazejowski, who didn't play the fourth quarter, completed 13-of-20 passes for 251 yards with one interception.
"It's fun to get out here and play a complete game," Blazejowski told the Furman Sports Network in Saturday's postgame. "Our defense and special teams played really well, and we did some really good things on offense too.
"It's a good first win, but the preparation for next week starts now."
Colgate (1-3) got on the board with 15 seconds left in the first half after a controversial roughing the passer penalty on a fourth down incompletion extended the drive.
Wilcox finished the Paladins' scoring with a two-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter.
Due to continuing injuries at the linebacker position, true freshmen Reynard Ellis and Elijah McKoy each made their first collegiate start Saturday and led Furman's defensive effort. Ellis had a game-high 16 tackles, including a sack, while McKoy posted seven tackles and two pass break-ups.
"I'm just glad I was able to help my team out. I've been working hard and coach has been teaching me a lot," Ellis said. "It feels good to come out here and show it to everybody."
Furman returns to Southern Conference action this rest of the season, beginning at home next Saturday against ETSU at 1 p.m.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Paladins go to Colgate seeking first win

Furman quarterback P.J. Blazejowski. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman travels to Colgate looking for its first win of the season Saturday at 1 p.m. The two schools have many similarities. Each are small, private schools with outstanding academic reputations.
While Colgate (1-2) has a win this season - at then-No. 23 ranked Cal Poly - there's also a similarity on the football field that could provide the storyline Saturday. If the game is tight heading into the fourth quarter, who's going to step up and make plays to finish off a win?
Even though it hasn't allowed a point in the third quarter this season, Colgate's been outscored 30-3 in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Furman has been outscored 24-9 in the final quarter. That's despite outscoring N.C. State 3-0 last week in the fourth when the Wolfpack had things well in hand.
Perhaps more disconcerting for Furman is its opening quarters. Opponents have a combined 42-6 advantage in the first quarter this season. Unfortunately for the Paladins, this is not a new development.
Since the start of the 2015 season (25 games), Furman's been outscored 203-88 in the first quarter.
"There's been a lot of big plays left out there that haven't been made," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We haven't played particularly well, but I don't think it's been a lack of effort.
"We all want the same things, we just have to realize there's some things we have to do to get there."
For Furman to be successful Saturday it will have to deal with the leading tackler in the country. Colgate linebacker T.J. Holl has racked up 43 tackles this season to lead the FCS at 14.3 tackles per game.
After getting picked apart by Elon's freshman quarterback two weeks ago, Furman's defense gets a shot at another freshman Saturday as Grant Breneman has secured Colgate's starting quarterback job. In his first start last week, Breneman was 6-of-23 passing for 56 yards in Colgate's 33-10 loss at Buffalo. However, Breneman rushed for a team-high 68 yards on 14 attempts and he's averaging a team-high 67.5 yards rushing per game in his two games.
Colgate leading rusher James Holland (181 yards), who rushed for 732 yards and 16 touchdowns as sophomore in 2015, is not expected to play against Furman because of an undisclosed injury. The Raiders will also likely be without injured defensive end Pat Afriyie due to injury. Afriyie, the 2016 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, has 24 sacks in his career.
Linebacker losses
Entering the 2017 season, linebacker was a position of concern for Furman with the graduation of Carl Rider and Byron Johnson. Three games into the season, it's grown more worrisome because of injuries.
Starting middle linebacker and team captain Dillon Woodruff suffered a career-ending broken leg in the opener. His replacement, sophomore Alex Burch, didn't play against N.C. State due to an undisclosed injury and is questionable Saturday. Senior weakside linebacker Adekunle
Olusanya suffered a dislocated elbow against N.C. State and will miss at least three weeks.
The injuries have opened the door for Elijah McKoy and Reynard Ellis to see quite a bit of playing time. McKoy had 20 plays against Elon and made eight tackles. Ellis saw most of his action last week and had six tackles at N.C. State. The are two of 24 freshmen that have seen game action for Furman this season.
Tuning in
The game is scheduled for live streaming over the Patriot League Network ( Saturday's radio broadcast will be carried over the Furman IMG Sports Network, headed up by flagship station Fox Sports 1440.  It will also be streamed through and via the Tune-In and iHeart applications.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Women's soccer team ready for SoCon play

Furman senior forward Molly Dwyer has a team-high
five goals this season. Photo courtesy of Furman.
By Forest Stulting

After an overall successful run through its non-conference schedule, the Furman women's soccer team will open Southern Conference play Friday when the Paladins host VMI at 7 p.m.
The Paladins (4-2-1) are coming off a 2-0 victory over Kennesaw State in their last non-conference game. Coach Andrew Burr said it was his team’s best performance of the year.
"Our problem has been those two-minute runs where we lose focus," Burr said. "I thought Sunday was the first time when we had 90 minutes of total focus, where everybody was ready. It was just dominant from the opening whistle."
Those lapses of focus attributed to Furman's two defeats - a 3-2 loss to UAB and a 2-0 loss to Presbyterian which snapped the Paladins' 11-game winning streak in the series.
While Furman's non-conference schedule has wrapped up, there's still stiff competition between junior Allie Cutler and sophomore Kellsey Weaver for goalkeeping duties.
"We’ve got a great battle going on at the goalkeeping spot. It’s anybody’s spot right now, which I love," Burr said. "Allie does a really good job of being a vocal leader, and that creates a sense of confidence for our players. Kellsey played a good bit of minutes in the goal for us last year, so she has some real experience."
Furman’s backline, which allows only 6.6 shots per game, is anchored by senior Quinn Lombard and junior Virginia Poe.
The Paladins bring a dynamic attack on offense, one that's only improved in recent years.
"We’ve got some real crafty players offensively," Burr said. "We’ve got 6-8 players that can score. In the days of (all-time leading scorer) Stephanie DeVita, if you marked her, you had a chance of beating Furman. Now you’ve got 6-8 kids to try to mark, and it’s going to be real difficult for teams to defend.”
Furman has four players that have tallied at least three goals. Led by senior forward Molly Dwyer with five. Sophomore Amanda Baker has found the net four times, while sophomores Treva Aycock and Caitlyn Reilly have three goals apiece. A total of 10 Paladins have scored goals this season, and Furman has 20 goals in its four wins.
Sophomore Claudia Murphy and senior Rachel Shah have five and four assists, respectively, and Jenny Allen has netted two goals to lead an impressive midfield. One that Burr thinks is one of the Paladins’ strengths.
"We are getting really good leadership and are all on the same page," Burr said.
After facing the Keydets on Friday, the Paladins will host UNC Greensboro Sunday at 2 p.m. Sunday will be a rematch of last year's SoCon championship, which Furman claimed.
The following weekend, Furman will hit the road for just the second and third times this season. The Paladins play at Mercer on Friday, Sept. 29 before moving on to Charleston to face rival The Citadel on Sunday, Oct. 1.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Football notebook: Slow starts hinder Paladins

Photo courtesy of Furman.
Despite shaving more than five minutes off the clock in a scoring drive to open Saturday's game at N.C. State, Furman still trailed 14-3 after one quarter. It was an all-too-familiar feeling for the Paladins, who've been outscored 42-6 in the first quarter this year.
Grayson Atkins' 46-yard field goal capped the opening drive and gave Furman its first lead in a first half this season. The Wolfpack didn't trail for long though. Ryan Finley opened their first possession with four consecutive completions to get to midfield. Nyheim Hines then ran four consecutive times, totaling 30 yards, to set up Jaylen Samuels' two-yard touchdown run.
Every Furman opponent this season has scored a touchdown on its opening possession. All three of those drives have been lengthy tone-setters, each lasting at least 10 plays. For a team trying to get over the hump of learning how to win, constantly playing from behind makes it particularly difficult.
"We're just falling short a lot of times where we have a chance to make a play," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said following Saturday's game. "We had one today go right through our hands that they caught (on third down) for a first down.
"There's just too many times where we're not doing what we're coached to do."
Pass defense troubles
Finley entered the game leading the Atlantic Coast Conference having completed 74 percent of his passes. That mark only went up on Saturday, as the N.C. State junior was 22-for-27 for 231 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Finley's current 75.6 completion percentage ranks eighth-highest in the FBS. No quarterback who's attempted at least 123 passes has completed a higher percentage.
While the Paladins may not face many quarterbacks like Finley the rest of the way, pass defense still looms as a concern. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 76.6 of their passes against Furman this season, which ranks last in the Southern Conference.
After Elon freshman Davis Cheek completed 26-of-35 passes for 301 yards in a 34-31 win at Furman on Sept. 9, Cheek was 8-of-17 for 145 yards against Charleston Southern on Saturday. Cheek was 2-of-10 for 22 yards in the season opener at Toledo.
Linebacker losses
One thing not helping Furman's pass defense is losing linebackers to injury every week.
After losing starting middle linebacker Dillon Woodruff for the season to a broken leg in the opener, sophomore Alex Burch stepped in and made a game-high 12 tackles against Elon. After getting injured in practice last week, Burch was replaced by junior Tyler Voyles Saturday.
"We're hopeful Alex can return soon, but we don't know," Hendrix said.
Starting weakside linebacker A.K. Olusanya had his arm in a sling after Saturday's game due to a dislocated elbow. He will miss at least three weeks. Olusanya's backup, freshman Elijah McKoy, was also shaken up during the game but was able to return and is fine.
The Paladins also lost 6-4, 272-pound freshman defensive tackle Jordan Harris to a foot injury.
"I think it's going to keep him out quite a while, maybe for the season," Hendrix said.
Getting in the boxscore
With the injury situation at linebacker and how Saturday's game progressed, a number of Paladins made their collegiate debut. Furman has played a total of 25 freshmen this season, and at one point Saturday had seven of them on the field defensively.
As a result, 29 different Paladins recorded at least one tackle, led by Aaquil Annoor with 13.
Offensively, 12 different Paladins had at least one carry.
"That will be a good experience for them to get out there and play in that environment," Hendrix said.
Turnovers prove costly
While Furman's five committed turnovers in three games isn't an especially bad total, the bad part has come afterwards. Opponents have scored four touchdowns off those turnovers. The only one that didn't result in points came with 2:43 left Saturday as N.C. State simply ran out the clock.
"We've also only gotten two turnovers in three games," Hendrix said. "It's hard to win games when you don't get turnovers and it's hard to lose games if you don't turn it over. Today, we turned it over and didn't get any."
Deja vu all over again
The first three games in the tenures of the last two Furman football coaches have been eerily similar.
In Hendrix's first game as head coach, the Paladins lost a close Southern Conference road game at Wofford, 24-23, on a failed two-point conversion in the final minute. In Bruce Fowler's first game as head coach in 2012, Furman lost a close SoCon road game at Samford, 24-21, on a field goal in the final minute. Since 1975, those were two of only three times Furman opened the season with a SoCon game.
In the second game for each, Furman suffered heartbreaking, high-scoring losses at home - 47-45 in triple-overtime to Coastal Carolina in 2012 and 34-31 to Elon this year. The third game for each were lopsided losses at ACC schools - 41-7 at Clemson in 2012 and 49-16 to N.C. State on Saturday.
Least penalized team in country
Stats can change very quickly this early in the season, but a couple of national ones stick out for Furman. With just six penalties in three games, the Paladins lead the country in fewest penalties per game. Furman is second nationally in fewest penalty yards per game at 23.67.
The Paladins are No. 22 nationally and second in the SoCon in third-down conversion percentage at 47.6. Citadel leads the FCS at 61.2 percent.
At the other end of the spectrum, Furman ranks 121st (out of 123 FCS teams) with 2.3 tackles per loss per game.
Career longs
Jon Croft Hollingsworth's 71-yard punt Saturday was his career long. It was also the sixth-longest in Furman history and longest since Ray Early's 82-yard effort at Wofford in 2012. ... Andy Schumpert's 71-yard touchdown catch Saturday bested his previous career long catch by 26 yards. ... Triston Luke's 45-yard run Saturday is a career-long, topping his previous 44-yard run at Wofford two weeks ago.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

N.C. State cruises past Paladins

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina State used a nearly perfect balanced offensive attack to defeat Furman, 49-16, Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium. The Wolfpack (2-1) ran for 242 yards and threw for 248 in rolling up 490 total.
Facing one of the most heralded defensive fronts in the country, the Paladins were limited to 2.8 yards per carry as N.C. State collected eight tackles-for-loss. Furman ran 47 times for 133 yards, including a career-long run of 45 yards by Triston Luke.
"I think the toughest thing for us was our inability to run the ball at them. I knew it would be a challenge, but I hoped we could do a little better job of it," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "If we can't do that, so much of the other stuff really doesn't matter.
"I knew we had to play a near-perfect game. We were making some plays, but we just couldn't make enough."
For as lopsided as the final score was, things got pretty interesting late in the second quarter.
After allowing touchdowns on each of N.C. State's first three drives, Furman sophomore linebacker Donavan Perryman's first collegiate sack helped force the Wolfpack's first punt.
While the kick pinned Furman deep in its own territory, the Paladins made the defensive stand pay off. P.J. Blazejowski hit tight end Andy Schumpert for a 17-yard gain on 3rd-and-5. On he next play, the two connected on a bomb that resulted in a 71-yard touchdown catch. That helped cut N.C. State's lead to 21-13 with 2:35 left in the first half.
Connecting on a home run ball to cut the lead to eight going into halftime could've been a big confidence boost for the Paladins. But N.C. State didn't allow that that scenario to play out.
Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley completed 7-of-7 passes on an 11-play, 76-yard drive that took just 2:11 and was capped by Jaylen Samuels' one-yard touchdown run. That pushed N.C. State's lead to 28-13 with just 18 seconds left in the half.
"That was big, ... We were kind of hanging in there in the first half and it was manageable, but we just couldn't get stops. Then we finally got a stop and we responded," Hendrix said. "We kind of self-destructed after that."
The teams traded punts to open the second half, but Furman's was partially blocked giving N.C. State the ball at the Paladins' 49. Four plays later, Nyheim Hines took a pitch, ran into a congregation of players and squirted out unscathed on his way to a 28-yard touchdown to help make it 35-13.
"Our protection was terrible. We were lucky we didn't get them all blocked," Hendrix said. "I'm sorely disappointed in that."
That score began a run of three Wolfpack touchdowns in less than five minutes of game time. Furman drove past midfield on its ensuing drive before P.J. Blazejowski - under immediate, immense pressure - threw a screen pass that was picked off by Shawn Boone, who returned it 47 yards for a touchdown.
Three plays later, Blazejowski was under a heavy blitz and slipped away from a few defenders before he was hit from behind and fumbled. N.C. State recovered and two plays later, Dakwa Nichols scored on a nine-yard run to make it 49-13.
Furman's lone score of the second half came on a fourth quarter field goal by Grayson Atkins. The freshman from Boiling Springs made all three of his attempts, including a pair of 46-yarders.
"It feels good to get our second-straight home win and get a lot of guys involved in the run game," N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. "(Furman's option) is a difficult offense to defend, but I'm proud of our guys for not giving up a touchdown in the second half."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Furman finally returns to N.C. State

Photo courtesy of Furman.
In a Furman football season filled with nostalgic storylines, another chapter gets written Saturday when the Paladins travel to N.C. State for a 12:20 p.m. kickoff.
The last time Furman faced the Wolfpack was in 1985. A senior offensive guard named Clay Hendrix and the rest of the Paladins rolled past the Wolfpack 42-20.
While Furman's challenge Saturday is obvious, having a head coach who's been a part of wins over FBS (then Division I-A) teams can't hurt. As a player, Hendrix didn't know anything but wins over the "big boys."
During Hendrix's freshman season in 1982, the Paladins defeated South Carolina 28-23. A year later, Furman topped Georgia Tech 17-14. In 1984, it was the first of back-to-back wins in Raleigh as the Paladins won 34-30.
That made Furman's lopsided win in 1985 all the sweeter. An N.C. State team with future NFL quarterback Erik Kramer and wide receiver Haywood Jeffires could not have been overlooking the Paladins after getting beat the year before. The victory gave Furman an 8-4-4 edge in the series - and a 7-2-1 record in Raleigh - that hasn't changed since.
After those back-to-back losses, N.C. State went into a mode of "if you can't beat him, hire him and don't schedule them for a few decades." Furman went on to finish as the FCS runner-up in 1985 and coach Dick Sheridan left to take the head coaching job at N.C. State. Hendrix went with him as a graduate assistant.
"I'm looking forward to going back. We had two great wins up there, then I spent about 16 months there before coming back here as an assistant," Hendrix said of returning to Raleigh Saturday. "We're excited about going back there to play. It will be a great environment and a great challenge."
Reality says that none of Furman's past success against FBS competition will be a factor Saturday. Hendrix pointed out this week that while he was one of 10 senior starters on that 1985 team, a total of 18 freshman played for Furman in last Saturday's 34-31 loss to Elon.
The financial gap between FCS and FBS programs, especially Power-5 schools like N.C. State, is also much greater now than 32 years ago. That gap continues to grow.
N.C. State (1-1) is coming off a 37-20 win over Marshall. Junior quarterback has completed 74 percent of his passes this season for 756 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other side of the ball, the Wolfpack feature one of the most heralded defensive lines in the country, led by senior Bradley Chubb. Chubb entered this season with 16 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in his career.
After facing a Southern Conference rival in Wofford to open the season, Furman played a team it was likely favored over on paper in last week's home opener. So, the Paladins should enter Saturday's game loose with not a whole lot of pressure.
There should be some self-instilled pressure to play well for an entire game. If there's any silver lining with the 0-2 start is that Furman had chances to win despite not playing consistently well, according to Hendrix.
"We've played okay. I wouldn't say we've played poorly, but we certainly haven't play well," Hendrix said. "Having the opportunity to win both of them is encouraging. ... If we can start executing at the level that we expect, then we've got a chance to be a pretty good football team.
"One thing I've stressed to the team is when you keep getting opportunities you need to take advantage of them. That's a little bit how life is."
The Paladins will need to cash in on every opportunity that presents itself to have a shot Saturday and on down the road. They must also be able to create their own opportunities.
"We aren't here as a staff because things had been going great in recent years, but I feel like we've laid a really good foundation," Hendrix said. "It's a nine-month foundation, but we just need to continue that and stay the course and find a way to win.
"For us, it's just going and expecting to play well and playing well. If you do that - I don't care who you're playing - you give yourself a chance."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Changing the mindset" a key for Paladins

Thomas Gordon heads to the end zone on a 77-yard touchdown reception
 against Elon Saturday at Paladin Stadium. Photo courtesy of Furman.
While both units are dealing with consistency issues, Furman’s offense and defense have shown promising signs considering the newness of both systems. Two games into new coach Clay Hendrix’s tenure, the Paladins have shown focus in terms of a lack of concentration penalties, getting plays in on time and not wasting timeouts.
The biggest reason for Furman being 0-2 and not 2-0 appears to be not being able to finish games, which is something that may not be considered enough when talking about the chore list for rebuilding a program. I don’t believe it’s a killer instinct issue, it’s a not knowing how to win close games issue.
Saturday’s 34-31 loss to Elon marked the second time this season that Furman lost a close game in which it led in the fourth quarter. This is not a new trend.
During last year’s 3-8 season, the total margin of Furman’s eight losses was 84 points. The total margin of Furman’s three wins was 87 points. The Paladins lost four games by seven points or fewer last season. They held a fourth quarter lead in three of those.
Perhaps Hendrix and his staff's biggest challenge is turning around a culture of acceptance that the football program has fallen into. Hendrix said it may be an issue of getting used to losing games.
“I had a lot of people tell me how well we played last week (at Wofford),” Hendrix said. “We played hard and we did some good things, but we didn't play real well. If we played real well, we would've won the football game.
"It's all about changing the mindset, and it's not going to change overnight."
While Hendrix has been pleased the fight his team has shown in coming back late at Wofford and rallying from a 21-0 first quarter deficit against Elon, he knows that's not enough to consistently win.
"They've got to understand that fighting and hoping's not enough. If you combine that we execution, you'll have a chance to be pretty good," Hendrix said. "Right now, we're just lacking the execution part.
"I think our kids have bought in to what we're doing. ... I'm disappointed, but not discouraged."
• Making his first collegiate start in place of Dillon Woodruff, sophomore middle linebacker Alex Burch was a bright spot defensively Saturday. Burch had a team-high 12 tackles, including a sack.
A glaring negative on the defensive stat chart is that while there was one interception, there were zero pass break-ups against the 36 passes thrown by true freshmen for Elon.
• When Ridge Gibson scored on a three-yard touchdown run in the third quarter Saturday, he became the fifth Paladin to run for a touchdown this season. That's the first time Furman has had five different players run for a touchdown over the first two games since 2004, when the Paladins opened with a 52-7 win over Presbyterian and a 45-10 win over Samford. A total of 12 different players accounted for Furman's 33 rushing touchdowns that season.  
• With its win Saturday, Elon joined Clemson and East Carolina as the only teams to ever win four consecutive games against Furman in Greenville. That makes the Phoenix the only visitor to win four straight trips to Paladin Stadium.
East Carolina won four straight at Furman from 1968-74, while Clemson won in its last nine trips to Greenville from 1939-59.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Slow start, futile finish doom Paladins

Ten years ago, a freshman quarterback from Elon named Scott Riddle threw for a Paladin Stadium-record 534 yards. At times on Saturday, it felt as if he’d never left. Elon freshman quarterback Davis Cheek actually threw for only 301 yards, but unlike a decade ago - when Furman held on for a 52-49 win - it was the Phoenix who came away with a three-point victory Saturday afternoon.
Owen Johnson kicked a 36-yard field goal with five seconds left to give Elon a 34-31 win, handing the Paladins a heartbreaking close loss for the second week in a row.
Ultimately, all the many great things Furman (0-2) did in the middle portion of Saturday’s game could not overcome the poor things it did at the start and finish. Elon (1-1) outscored the Paladins 31-0 combined in the first and fourth quarters.
For the second week in a row, Furman’s defense could not get off the field in the fourth quarter and its offense couldn’t stay on it. The Phoenix had the ball for 9:02 of the final quarter.
“We just played really poorly and got ourselves in a huge hole,” Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. “I give our kids credit for fighting in there, coming back and giving us every chance to win the game. We just had trouble finishing again.”
A week after throwing for 22 yards on 2-of-10 passing in Elon’s blowout loss at Toledo. Cheek completed 5-of-6 passes for 64 yards on the opening drive Saturday. The lone incompletion was a dropped touchdown, but two plays later Cheek threw a 13-yard touchdown to Malcolm Summers.
Furman’s four first quarter possessions resulted in 14 yards of total offense, one first down and two lost fumbles. Elon turned each fumble into touchdown drives of 24 and 23 yards, respectively, to take a 21-0 lead after one quarter. The 21 points surpassed Elon’s point total in nine entire games of its 2-9 season a year ago.
“We’ve started slow on defense two weeks in a row,” Hendrix said. “Then we turn it over twice on our end (of the field). We’ve just got have them better prepared to play early.
“There’s just way too many times we’re not in the right place or don’t do the right thing. We aren’t talented enough to be able to do things (wrong) and be successful.”
Elon was looking to pad its lead early in the second quarter when Aaquil Annoor finally gave Furman fans something to cheer about with an interception near the goal line. Furman’s offense then drove 94 yards on 17 plays capped by Antonio Wilcox’s eight-yard touchdown run.
It was the start of five consecutive scoring drives by Furman over the second and third quarters, highlighted by P.J. Blazejowski’s 77-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Gordon. That score gave the Paladins their first lead of the day, 24-21, midway through the third quarter.
Elon responded with a game-tying field goal before Furman answered on its ensuing drive. After Blazejowski hit Logan McCarter for a 35-yard gain on 3rd-and-15, Ridge Gibson scored from three yards out as Furman went back ahead 31-24 with one minute left in the third quarter.
After that 14-yard first quarter, the Paladins piled up 348 yards combined in the second and third. Just when it appeared that Furman’s grinding ground game and home run passes had worn down Elon’s defense, the Paladins’ offense disappeared in the final quarter.
“We got off to a slow start, then we got rolling. We just can’t let that momentum stop,” Blazejowski said. “We’ve got to continue to go out there and execute.”
Furman followed up scoring drives of 94, 68, 65, 86 and 65 yards in the second and third quarters, with drives of 18, 9 and minus-8 yards in the fourth.
Still, the Paladins held the touchdown lead with 7:31 left when Elon began a drive at its 38-yard line. Cheek proceeded to pick apart Furman's defense hitting wide open receivers down the field. On 4th-and-5, Cheek found Tre Lennon for a 10-yard gain. On the next play, he threw a 15-yard touchdown to Lennon who was all alone in the end zone. Cheeks was 7-of-7 for 56 yards on the drive as Elon tied the game 31-31 with three minutes left.
“We couldn’t get to the quarterback," Hendrix said. "He just stood back there all day,”
On the ensuing kickoff, Devin Wynn gave Furman terrific field position with a 39-yard return to the Paladins’ 44. Darius Morehead then ran nine yards on first down, but an illegal block penalty backed Furman up and the Paladins punted three plays later.
Elon took over at its own 35 with 1:05 left. After a sack, Cheek threw a 23-yard pass to Corey Joyner to get the Phoenix on Furman’s side of the field. Two plays later, Elon got in field goal range after Furman was flagged for pass interference. Three plays later, Johnson’s game-winning kick sailed through the uprights.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Paladins host Elon in Hendrix's homecoming

Furman coach Clay Hendrix will take the sideline at Paladin Stadium
  Saturday for the first time in 11 years. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman football's official homecoming game isn't until Oct. 21. For some members of the coaching staff though, a personal homecoming is set for Saturday's home opener against Elon at 1 p.m.
Head coach Clay Hendrix returns to the Paladin Stadium sideline Saturday for the first time since Furman defeated Georgia Southern in the 2006 regular season finale. It will be offensive coordinator Drew Cronic's first game back at Furman since 2009 and associate head coach George Quarles returns for the first time since 1990.
While success at home has waned for the Paladins in recent years, Hendrix will be looking to extend his personal Paladin Stadium winning streak to 14 games Saturday. During his final three years as an assistant, Furman's lone home loss was a 14-13 heartbreaker to James Madison in the 2004 FCS playoffs.
A big part of the Paladins' hopes of returning to the glory days that Hendrix is familiar with must be regaining what once was a distinct homefield advantage. From 1981-2011, Paladin Stadium built its "Dungeon" nickname as Furman had only one losing season at home. Since 2012, the Paladins have had four losing seasons at home.
That turnaround could begin Saturday, especially if Furman plays like it did last week in a 24-23 loss at No. 11 Wofford. Despite having the ball for 11 fewer minutes than Wofford, the Paladins had a 383-350 advantage in total yardage. Furman had no turnovers and only two penalties.
Facing one of the best defenses Furman is likely to oppose all season, quarterback P.J. Blazejowski looked confident and comfortable running the new offense. He threw for 224 yards, while the Paladins ran for 159 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
"(Blazejowski) made a lot of plays for us and he needs to because we certainly put a lot on his shoulders," Hendrix said afterwards. "He took care of the football ... and he provided good leadership for us. I think he will only get better as we move forward."
While it wore down physically in the fourth quarter, Furman's young defense held the Terriers' prolific ground game in check much of the night. Wofford ran for 269 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. While likely still too high for the Furman's defensive coaching staff's tastes, those numbers are a stark difference from recent years.
Last season, Wofford ran for 306 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry in its 34-27 win at Furman. In 2016, the Terriers piled up 417 yards rushing and 6.6 yards per carry in their 38-28 win over the Paladins. Overall, the 269-yard rushing effort was Wofford's lowest total in the series since 2009 when the Terriers rushed for 241 in Furman's 58-21 win.
• Elon (0-1) is coming off a 47-13 loss at FBS member Toledo, which went 9-4 last season. After going 2-9 in 2016, the Phoenix have a new head coach in Curt Cignetti. One of those two wins last year was a 27-10 victory at then-No. 8 ranked William and Mary.
Who exactly will be taking the field for Elon Saturday could remain a mystery until the game begins. The Phoenix' two-deep depth chart has more "ors" than a rowing team, including at least one at every skill position. The only given is that a true freshman will be starting at quarterback for Elon. Against Toledo, Davis Cheek was 2-for-10 with an interception and passed for 22 yards, while Jalen Greene was 1-of-3 for 25 yards. Overall, the Rockets outgained the Phoenix 553-175. Toledo passed for 314 yards and rushed for 239, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
The Phoenix will be going for their fourth consecutive win at Paladin Stadium, all of which came during its short tenure in the Southern Conference. This will be the first SoCon opponent Elon has faced since it bolted for the Colonial Athletic Conference following the 2013 football season.
• There are a few pregame changes taking place beginning Saturday to enhance the overall gameday experience at Furman. From Paladin Athletic Director Mike Buddie:
"We have several new initiatives that you may encounter this fall. Our new tailgating policy will allow anyone over the age of 21 to consume beer and wine on home football Saturdays. Glass and hard liquor are still prohibited, but we are thrilled to offer this new fan experience upgrade. I have great faith that we can execute this new policy without sacrificing the family atmosphere that has always existed at Furman. Parking in the Chapel Lot on campus will now cost $10 per car on game days. We still offer free public parking in the South Housing and Blackwell Lots on campus and fans can purchase a season pass for $35 (or prepay parking online for $7 per game). Paladin Club members will continue to utilize the Timmons and Stadium Lots as in previous years. Game tickets will be for sale in both the Timmons Ticket Office, as well as on the Visitors Side of Paladin Stadium (yes - you can buy ‘Home” tickets on the Visitors Side to shorten your walk)."

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Loss of captain leaves young defense younger

Furman senior captain Dillon Woodruff is carted off after suffering
a broken leg against Wofford. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman linebacker Dillon Woodruff had successful surgery to repair his broken leg Sunday. The fifth-year senior was lost for the season after suffering a fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg during the second quarter of the Paladins' 24-23 loss at Wofford Saturday night.
Woodruff's loss leaves just two seniors on Furman's defensive two-deep: starting weak side linebacker Adekunle Olusanya and reserve free safety Sean Rusnak.
In addition to being a blow to what was arguably the Paladins' least experienced position entering this season, there's also the emotional side of playing without a senior captain. Woodruff earned that honor through his toughness and willingness to play wherever Furman needed him.
"We lost a huge part of our team tonight," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said Saturday. "Dillon kind of encompasses everything we want to be about, but it's an opportunity for somebody to step up."
In a cruel bit of irony, Woodruff's college career likely ended Saturday in the same fashion that it began four years ago. With 2013 starting quarterback Reese Hannon injured, Woodruff became Furman's first true freshman quarterback to start the season opener since Billy Baker in 1956.
While he threw a 70-yard touchdown and ran for another score in Furman's 28-21 loss at Gardner-Webb, Woodruff played much of the game with a shoulder injury. That injury sidelined him the rest of the season.
Woodruff was pressed into quarterback duty again in the 2014 season opener when Hannon suffered a season-ending ankle injury. That offseason, Woodruff switched sides of the ball and started at strong safety in the 2015 season opener.
Prior to last season, Woodruff shifted to linebacker and made a pair of starts there when Carl Rider was out with an injury. Woodruff racked up a career-high 16 tackles against Kennesaw State.
A week after seven Paladins made their first collegiate starts, an eighth is expected to this week against Elon when sophomore Alex Burch steps into Woodruff's spot. Burch collected eight tackles in relief of Woodruff against Wofford. Burch will be backed up by junior Tyler Voyles. That lineup change moved true freshman Elijah McKoy into this week's two-deep as Olusanya's backup.
• Outside of Woodruff's injury, Furman came away from the season opener healthy. Wide receiver Thomas Gordon came up limping after a spectacular diving catch on Furman's final drive, but was only dealing with cramps. Cramping also sidelined spur linebacker Joe Farrar for a portion of the Wofford game. Both are expected to start Saturday when the Paladins host Elon at 1 p.m.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hale Named Top Drawer Soccer Player Of The Week; Paladins Ranked No. 10 By Soccer America

Hale Named Top Drawer Soccer Player Of The Week; Paladins Ranked No. 10 By Soccer America: The honors continued to arrive for Furman on Monday as redshirt-freshman goalkeeper Ben Hale was named Top Drawer Soccer’s National Player of the Week and the Paladins entered the Soccer America Top 25 at No. 10.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Furman-Wofford Notebook

Triston Luke's 44-yard touchdown was the longest run of his Furman
career. Photo courtesy of Furman.
SPARTANBURG - When a football team loses a close game, penalties can usually play a big role. Such was the case for Furman Saturday night at 11th-ranked Wofford, just not how you might expect. The Paladins were flagged only twice in their 24-23 loss, but both turned out to be vitally important plays in the game.
The first occurred late in the first half with the teams tied at 10. On a third-down play, Darius Morehead appeared to run for an eight-yard touchdown but Furman was flagged for a questionable holding penalty. The Paladins' drive ended after an incompletion and a missed field goal.
Furman led 17-10 late in the third quarter and could've forced a three-and-out after a Wofford incompletion on third down. However, the Paladins were penalized for pass interference extending the drive. Six plays later on 4th-and-1, Lennox McAfee ran for a 15-yard touchdown as the Terriers tied the game early in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the obvious negative result, the penalty also extended the amount of time Furman's defense was on the field. That proved to be a big factor in the fourth quarter when Wofford possessed the ball for nearly 11 minutes.
"They (penalties) were killers. ... They were huge plays, probably a 14-point swing," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "For as many guys as we had playing their first college football game, I thought our lack of concentration penalties - two guys moving, false starts, etc. - was phenomenal. It gave us a chance."
Offensive linemen have solid debut
Heading into Saturday's game, Furman's young offensive line appeared to have the stiffest test of the night against a Wofford defensive front that could be one of the best in the FCS. Furman freshmen tackles Reed Kroeber and Bo Layton, and sophomore guard Chris Breedlove, made their first collegiate starts Saturday. Freshman guard Caleb Auer also played several snaps.
The test got a shade lighter when Wofford starting nosetackle Mikel Horton missed the game and was replaced by true freshman Deon Priester. Nevertheless, the Paladins' young offensive linemen played well. Furman ran for 159 yards, with an average of 4.5 yards per carry, threw for 224 yards and quarterback P.J. Blazejowski was sacked only once.
"I'm really proud of those guys," Blazejowski said. "For them to be as young as they are and to play that well, it's really exciting."
Of course, having veteran senior offensive linemen like Terrell Bush and Matthew Schmidt helped. Schmidt had the "Big Hogs" highlight of the night with a pancake block that took out two defenders and cleared the way for a 17-yard run by Morehead in the second quarter.
Wofford's Vaughn keys two-point miss
While Wofford's Malik Rivera - who was a high school teammate of Blazejowski - deserves credit for making the interception on Furman's two-point attempt that sealed the game, an unsung hero for the Terriers on that play could be Tyler Vaughn.
Vaughn, a 2016 All-Southern Conference first team performer at defensive end, pursued Furman's Ridge Gibson after he took the direct snap and ran left. After Gibson handed off to Ryan DeLuca on the end around, Vaughn immediately shifted his 6-1, 270-pound frame the other way and pressured DeLuca into a hurried pass that was intended for an open Blazejowski.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Wofford edges Furman in season opener

Wofford edged Furman in a tight battle Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
SPARTANBURG - At the end of a thrilling season opener at Wofford’s Gibbs Stadium Saturday night, Furman couldn’t teach an old Terrier new tricks.
After Triston Luke rumbled 44 yards for a touchdown to pull the Paladins within one with 46 seconds left, Furman called timeout before the offense returned to the field to go for two and the win.
Quarterback P.J. Blazejowski walked from behind center, appearing to call an audible while a direct snap went to running back Ridge Gibson, who ran left and handed off to wide receiver Ryan DeLuca on an end-around. DeLuca, who was a high school quarterback, rolled right and threw to an open Blazejowski in the end zone. After heavy pressure from Wofford standout defensive end Tyler Vaughn, DeLuca’s pass was intercepted by Malik Rivera. That sealed Wofford’s 24-23 win in Mike Ayers 30th season opener as coach of the Terriers.
“We kind of sprung it one day in practice in our two-minute drill,” Furman’s Clay Hendrix said following his head coaching debut. “We executed it well, but their guy made a play.
“I don’t second guess going for it at all. We were really tired defensively. We had a chance to win it and we were really confident in what we had called.”
Furman had possession for 11 minutes and nine seconds of game time in the second half, including just 4:49 in the fourth quarter.
For being a season opener with two option-based offenses - one of which was entirely new - the game was sparklingly clean. With the game tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter, it appeared that a turnover might make all the difference.
But the lone one of the game didn’t.
With the 11th-ranked Terriers driving deep in Furman territory, Jaylan Reid laid a big hit on Wofford’s Chase Nelson who fumbled. Quandarius Weems recovered it at the Paladins’ 10-yard line. Furman could not take advantage of the break however. After one of its two three-and-out offensive series Saturday, the Paladins punted and Wofford took over at the Furman 43.
Eight plays later, Chase Nelson scored from one yard out to put the Terriers up 24-17 with 2:46 to play.
On Furman’s ensuing possession, the Paladins entered Wofford territory on a terrific diving catch by Thomas Gordon at the 44-yard line. On the next play, Luke appeared to be headed out of bounds to stop the clock, but he found a seam, turned upfield and was gone.
After the two-point attempt was intercepted, Furman tried an onside kick but Wofford recovered and ran out the clock.
The Paladins lost despite its new offense putting up 383 total yards, and averaging 6.5 yards per play, against what should be one of the best defenses it faces all season. Wofford returned eight starters off a unit that ranked fifth in total defense in the FCS last season and faced a Furman offensive line that started two freshmen and one sophomore.
“I’m really confident in the guys we have in that locker room,” Blazejowski said. “We’ve been working really hard and really grew confidence during those five weeks of camp. When you feel comfortable back there, it makes everything a lot easier.”
Gordon finished with 107 yards receiving on five catches. In his first game back since suffering a concussion in week two last season, Darius Morehead had 56 yards rushing and 44 receiving. Blazejowski was 13-of-24 passing for 224 yards.
Adekunle Olusanya and Chris Washington led Furman defensively with 11 tackles apiece. The Paladins suffered a big blow when senior linebacker Dillon Woodruff left in the second quarter with a broken leg.
“Our effort was great, but we’ve got to never accept not winning the football game,” Hendrix said. “You’ve got to give Wofford credit. They played better than us in the fourth quarter.
“I’m really proud of our whole organization and how they prepared from where we’ve come from as we try create an identity and culture of our own.”