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."

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