Saturday, December 2, 2017

Furman falls in rematch at Wofford

SPARTANBURG - Being unable to run and unable to stop the run was the root of Furman's struggles the past few seasons. Getting it fixed was perhaps the biggest key to the Paladins' turnaround this year.

On Saturday, Wofford brought those struggles back. The Terriers rushed for 291 yards and held Furman to just 52 yards on the ground as Wofford won 28-10 in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. The eighth-ranked Terriers (10-2) advance to play at North Dakota State next Saturday in the quarterfinals.

The 52-yard rushing total was easily the lowest output by No. 22 Furman (8-5) of the season. The previous low was 133 yards at N.C. State. Wofford's 291 rushing yards were the most allowed by the Paladins this year.

"Credit Wofford. They just were clearly better than us today," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "They were certainly committed to stopping the run. When you don't run the ball any better than we did, it's hard to beat anybody.
"I've been doing this a long time, but I couldn't be prouder of this group. Just where they came from. We were sitting here three months ago today with our backs to the wall and they fought to put us in position to get to the second round."

Just as happened in each of Furman's other losses this season, Wofford's first possession resulted in a touchdown. In the Paladins' eight wins, the opposition didn't get a score of any kind on its first possession.

It appeared that Furman was set to tie things up on its opening drive, but leading rusher Antonio Wilcox was dropped for no gain on 4th-and-1 at the Wofford 31.

In a rematch of a one-point game the first time the team met to open the 2017 season, there was a thought that any turnover could be a key factor Saturday. But Furman couldn't take advantage of the game's only one on the next play.

After Jaylan Reid forced a fumble that Chris Washington recovered at the Wofford 34-yard line, Furman drove to the five-yard line. On 3rd-and-4, P.J. Blazejowski threw to Jake Walker, who dropped the touchdown. The Paladins settled for a 22-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by Dominique Lemon.

Furman reached the red zone again on its next drive, but Blazejowski was sacked for just the seventh time this season on third down. Grayson Atkins' 41-yard field goal cut Wofford's lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter.

On the Paladins' next possession, Blazejowski threw a deep ball on the money to Cam Burnette for a 44-yard gain. On the next play, Blazejowski hit Logan McCarter for a 20-yard touchdown and Furman took a 10-7 lead with 6:52 left in the half.

Perhaps the biggest drive of the game came with just 1:30 left in the first half. When Wofford took possession of the ball at its own 36-yard line, it might've been expected that the run-heavy Terriers would simply run out the clock and settle for a three-point halftime deficit. However, Brandon Goodson took to the air. He completed 3-of-4 passes for 58 yards on the drive, including a 33-yard touchdown throw to a wide open Blake Morgan as Wofford took a 14-10 lead into halftime.

"In the first half, I kind of thought we were doing some things we wanted to do. We just had three really crucial plays - the dropped touchdown, the blocked field goal right after that and then we bust a coverage and give them a cheap one before the half," Hendrix said. "Those are just mistakes you can't make, but I still thought we were right where we wanted to be.
"I was disappointed we gave it back to them (with 1:30 left in the first half). We hit a pass for a first down, but we get a procedure (penalty) and end up having to punt to them."

That was just one of two penalties for the least penalized team in the FCS, but both proved costly. Wofford's fourth quarter touchdown drive was extended when Furman was flagged for holding on a third down incompletion.

It marked the first time Furman trailed at the half since the N.C. State game on Sept. 16. The only other time the Paladins trailed at the half this year was Sept. 9 against Elon.

A Wofford team that made a living off of close wins all season cruised to Saturday's win with a dominant second half.

Prior to their final drive, the Paladins had just one first down in the second half which came on a personal foul for leaping by Wofford on a Furman punt. The Terriers took a 28-10 lead on a 13-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that shaved 8:23 off the fourth quarter clock. The Paladins then drove to Wofford's two-yard line and had 1st-and-goal, but could not crack the end zone.

Furman, which played without injured second-leading rusher Kealand Dirks (concussion), had just 107 yards and had the ball for only 9:01 of the second half.

"In the second half, they were just plain and simple better than us," Hendrix said. "To be quite honest, and I've known this all year ... we're just not big and strong enough. We will be, but it's just where we are right now with the youth of our group.?

In his final game as a Paladin, Blazejowski was 18-of-30 passing for 257 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

"This year's been unbelievable. ... To be in that locker room and feel the momentum swing that took place, especially in the middle of the year," Blazejowski said. "I'm excited for a lot of the young guys. I think they're going to do some really great things, especially under the leadership of Coach Hendrix and the rest of the staff."

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