After a bit of a dysfunctional first half for Furman Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium, the Paladins put it all together after halftime and cruised to a 42-10 win over VMI.
It's the fourth consecutive victory for Furman (4-3, 3-1 Southern Conference) and the fourth straight game it's scored at least 41 points. In 112 years of football, Furman had never before scored at least 40 in four straight games.
"I think it was just a matter of playing better (after halftime)," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "The only thing I really said to them at halftime was that we weren't going back to mediocrity. That was a really mediocre first half."
The first half came after a challenging week of practice, which saw third-string freshman quarterback JeMar Lincoln take a lot of snaps the first two days.
After suffering a knee injury at Chattanooga last Saturday, quarterback P.J. Blazejowski didn't practice until Wednesday. Backup quarterback Harris Roberts was also hobbled all week with an ankle injury. On Saturday, Furman played without injured tailbacks Triston Luke (hamstring) and Devin Wynn (knee), then starter Darius Morehead sat out the second half for precautionary reasons.
While the week got a little hairy, Furman's opening drive Saturday showed no signs of it. Blazejowski ran 44 yards to the VMI 1-yard line setting up an Antonio Wilcox touchdown.
Things changed though as the Paladins sputtered the rest of the half. Furman was able to take advantage of a big break as a punt hit a VMI blocker and Ridge Gibson recovered at the Keydets' 20-yard line. Four plays later, Kealand Dirks scored from a yard out as Furman went up 14-3 with 5:20 left in the second quarter.
VMI (0-7, 0-4) answered on its ensuing drive as Daz Palmer's 51-yard run set up a three-yard touchdown pass from Duncan Hodges to Rohan Martin cutting the deficit to 14-10 with 3:18 left.
The Paladins looked like they would respond as they drove inside VMI's 5-yard line. But after calling its last timeout with 37 seconds left, Furman ran Dirks up the middle three straight plays. On the last one, Dirks got one yard to the one-yard line as time expired in the half.
"That end of the half was on me," Hendrix said. "We wasted a couple of timeouts earlier. ... We should've just called where we'd have a run-pass option and have a chance to stop the clock. Thankfully it didn't come back to bite us."
The four-point halftime deficit was VMI's closest against Div. I competition this year. The Keydets' 10 points tied for the most points they'd scored in any half this season. VMI also scored 10 in each half of its 27-20 loss to Div. II Catawba.
Furman got the ball to start the second half and looked like a different team from the first half. Wilcox capped that opening drive with a 16-yard touchdown, helping push the lead to 21-10.
VMI then drove to the Paladins' 28-yard line, but reserve linebacker Dillon Vann had his second interception in as many weeks. Vann returned it 42 yards to the VMI 33-yard line. Furman then converted a pair of fourth downs on an 11-play drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown by Dirks.
"That was a huge play (by Vann)," Hendrix said. "We did a really good job of cramming that next score in."
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Paladins connected on yet another long touchdown pass in a season full of them. Blazejowski hit Andy Schumpert over the middle and the senior tight end raced to the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown. It's the sixth consecutive game that Blazejowski has thrown a touchdown of at least 57 yards.
"We started out a little slow and weren't executing like we should have," Schumpert said. "We came out in the second half and got back to what we've been doing."
All told in the second half, Furman had touchdowns on each of its first four possessions and ran out the clock at the VMI 20-yard line on its fifth. The Paladins outgained VMI 317-107 after halftime.
Furman finished with 523 yards of total offense, including 354 rushing, and no turnovers for the second week in a row. Dirks had 82 yards rushing to lead the way. Blazejowski had 74 yards rushing on five carries, while Roberts had 72 on two attempts.
"I was really proud of how we responded," Hendrix said. "We played really well in the second half and I thought we probably finished the game better than we have all year."