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.”

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