ELON, N.C. - With a second date added, Furman football can now officially call its 2017 postseason a redemption "tour."
The 22nd-ranked Paladins avenged an earlier loss to No. 15 Elon this season with a 28-27 win in the opening round of the FCS Playoffs Saturday. Furman advances to play at No. 8 Wofford at 2 p.m. next Saturday. That will be a rematch of the season opener in which the Terriers held on for a 24-23 win as the Paladins missed a last-second two-point conversion.
“We got this revenge to get to the second round and we’re focusing on Wofford now,” said Furman sophomore Donavan Perryman, who came up with a huge blocked extra point after Elon's final touchdown Saturday.
The Paladins (8-4) found a way to win despite suffering three turnovers and forcing just a meaningless one on Elon’s Hail Mary pass to end the first half.
The Phoenix made Furman pay for its first two turnovers, scoring touchdowns off both. But after the third, the Paladins’ defense stepped up when needed most.
Perryman’s blocked PAT left Furman clinging to a 28-27 lead with 11:26 left to play. The Paladins then went on a 13-play, 70-yard drive that chewed up 6:56 off the clock and reached Elon’s six-yard line.
Just when it looked like Furman was bound to extend the lead to eight, P.J. Blazejowski’s pass was picked off by Daniel Reid-Bennett in the end zone. It was only Blazejowski’s fifth interception this season, but it gave Elon a final chance with 4:20 left needing only a field goal to take the lead. It was eerily similar to Sept. 9, when Elon drove down and beat Furman 34-31 on a 36-yard field goal with 15 seconds left.
This time around, the Phoenix reached midfield. On 4th-and-11, Davis Cheek’s pass sailed incomplete giving Furman the ball back with 1:49 left. The Paladins forced Elon to use its final two timeouts before facing 3rd-and-6. Furman’s 244-pound fullback Kealand Dirks then muscled his way for seven yards to seal the win.
Furman improved to 8-0 when leading at the half this season, but this game wasn’t like most of those other wins. Saturday was just the second time that the Paladins fell behind in the second half after leading at the break. Just like in it’s 28-21 win over Mercer on Oct. 21, Furman found itself trailing 21-14 midway through the third quarter.
In the teams' first meeting, Elon took advantage of two early Furman turnovers to take a 21-0 lead after one quarter. Saturday's opening quarter was better for the Paladins, but still pretty dreary as they trailed 7-0. After Thomas Gordon muffed a punt that the Phoenix recovered, Elon's De'Sean McNair scored on a 26-yard touchdown on the next play.
Furman didn't pick up a first down until the 1:01 mark of the first quarter. That did lead to a score though when Blazejowski found Andy Schumpert crossing the middle of the end zone for a six-yard touchdown with 11:55 left in the second quarter. The Paladins then forced their first three-and-out, but a 54-yard punt pinned them at their own 9-yard line.
"Thomas competes and makes a lot of plays, but (turnovers) are just something we cannot do," Hendrix said. "I was proud of him for coming back. He made a couple of big plays for us."
“I think we’re trusting our coaches more (as the season has gone on). … We’re all coming together and now we’re doing a good job of making adjustments on the fly,” said Furman freshman cornerback Darius Kearse, who had a team-high nine tackles including six solo stops after not playing in the teams’ first meeting.
Blazejowski was 12-of-22 for 176 yards passing and rushed 12 times for 55 yards. Wilcox led the Paladins with 92 yards on seven carries.