Saturday, October 7, 2017

Paladins end losing skid vs. UTC with authority

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Furman's "throwback" season continued Saturday.
While the Paladins traveled to Chattanooga on a five-game losing streak in the series, Furman coach Clay Hendrix didn't. In 19 years as an assistant with the Paladins, Hendrix was part of 17 wins and just two losses against the Mocs.
Furman gave its new head coach another victory over Chattanooga in convincing fashion Saturday at Finley Stadium. The Paladins ran 61 times for 290 yards, overpowering their way to a 41-17 win.
While Furman ran wild, Chattanooga ran nowhere. The Paladins allowed just seven yards net rushing on 17 attempts. That's the fewest allowed by Furman since Presbyterian ran for four yards on 10 attempts in 2001.
"I could tell how big this was just the way they responded in the locker room after the game," Hendrix said. "They prepared well and came out and played maybe our most complete game."
Furman (3-3, 2-1 Southern Conference) set the tone on the opening drive. The Paladins drove 75 yards on 14 plays in 6:07, capped by P.J. Blazejowski's 11-yard touchdown pass to Logan McCarter. Furman ran 11 times for 56 yards on the march.
That was the the first of six possessions of at least eight plays for the Paladins, including two 14-play drives.
Early in the second quarter, UTC true freshman Cole Coleman - who made his collegiate debut - threw a deep pass to Alphonso Stewart. Stewart was well-covered, but went up and made a terrific catch for a 40-yard touchdown as the Mocs took a 10-7 lead.
The Paladins answered in a big way. After Antonio Wilcox ran for a four-yard touchdown that put Furman back in front, freshman linebacker Reynard Ellis had an interception three plays later. That led to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Blazejowski to Andy Schumpert pushing Furman's lead to 20-10.
The Paladins' two-minute offense produced a drive that ended on a 12-yard touchdown run by Darius Morehead with 40 seconds left as Furman took a 27-10 lead into halftime.
"What I like best is that we responded well. I think our bunch - offense, defense, whatever - they've been pretty good at responding in the right situation," Hendrix said. "Getting that score right before the half was big."
The 27-point first half was more scoring than Furman had against UTC in any of the last six meetings. The Paladins' 20 first downs in the opening half were the most in a game against UTC in 10 years.
The Mocs (1-5, 1-2) had planned to redshirt the highly-touted Coleman this season. But after injuries to its top two quarterbacks last week, UTC turned him loose Saturday in hopes of turning its season around.
After completing each of his first eight passes for 121 yards, Coleman's next eight throws produced five completions but just one negative yard of passing. Ellis' interception highlighted that turnaround.
"I kind of messed up because we were supposed to back up (on third down), but I just saw the ball, everything slowed down for me and I made the play," Ellis said. "This was an important conference win, but we just want to keep getting better moving forward."
Chattanooga got the ball to start the second half in dire need of a score. The Paladins gave up one first down, but forced a punt. Furman then got the backbreaker with yet another bomb. This one was a 57-yard touchdown from Blazejowski to McCarter that capped an 85-yard drive and pushed the lead to 34-10.
It's the fifth consecutive game that Blazejowski has thrown a touchdown of at least 57 yards.
The only drama the rest of the night for Furman came when Blazejowski left the game on the next drive with a knee injury. He didn't return, but was seen riding an exercise bike on the sideline after getting checked out.
"I think he's got a slight sprain," Hendrix said. "Could he have gone back in there? Maybe.
"We will see how he feels tomorrow. You usually don't know about those things for a day or two."
Furman wrapped up its scoring with a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:56 left in the game. While the Mocs desperately tried to get another score on the board, the Paladins ended the game in fitting fashion - with its third sack and fourth interception on the final two plays.
Kealand Dirks finished with 101 yards rushing - his second consecutive 100-yard game - to lead Furman. Blazejowski threw for 151 yards and rushed for 51.
Copeland finished with a UTC single-game record 317 yards passing for the Mocs.

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