Saturday, September 29, 2018

Paladins outlast Catamounts for first win

Dejuan Bell catches a 45-yard touchdown pass from Harris Roberts in
Furman's 44-38 win over Western Carolina. Photo courtesy of Furman.
It had been 322 days since Furman last played a home football game prior to Saturday and fans at Paladin Stadium got a little taste of everything. There was a kick return for a touchdown, a blocked punt, a blocked extra point and more than 1,000 combined total yards of offense.

Most importantly for the Paladins, the home fans enjoyed a win. A Furman offense that has struggled to run the ball much of the season piled up 339 yards on the ground as the Paladins defeated Western Carolina, 44-38. It's the first win of the season for Furman (1-3, 1-1 Southern Conference) and first loss for the Catamounts (3-1, 1-1).

"There's a sense of relief. This was a good win. I'm just proud because they've been working so hard," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "It was just a great team effort. ... I've said all along - and I think we showed signs today - we can be a good football team.
"We're going to have to find ways to win and be a grinding bunch. We still made some mistakes that hurt us, but my hat's off to that (WCU) quarterback. We got after him and he made some unbelievable plays."

Despite being outgained 577-472 in total yardage, Furman had a comfortable lead much of the day. Ridge Gibson's one-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter pushed the Paladins lead to 38-17.

That 21-point lead was eerily similar to last Saturday's loss at ETSU in which Furman blew a 27-6 third quarter lead. It became way too similar after Tyrie Adams' fourth touchdown pass of the day cut Furman's lead to 38-31 with 8:47 left in the game.

The Paladins responded with a drive that was less conservative than the ones that resulted in a poor offensive effort over the final quarter-and-a-half last Saturday at ETSU. It appeared that WCU had forced its second straight three-and-out and Furman might punt for the third time in a row after not punting all day. Instead, Harris Roberts gained two yards on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches.

Three plays later, Devin Wynn took a backwards pass from Roberts and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked to leave Furman with a 44-31 lead with 5:27 left in the game.

"I was probably the most proud of that drive. ... It (the touchdown play) was a check down. It was the old play that everybody loves for us to throw over the top, but they covered it. I was standing right about the line of scrimmage, saw it left his hand and knew the ball was going backwards," Hendrix said. "I kept waiting for them to tackle him, but he kept making guys miss and breaking tackles. He made a heck of a run to get it in there."

Adams marched the Catamounts down the field on their ensuing possession. On a play that was initially ruled incomplete, video review confirmed that Connell Young made a tremendous catch of a seven-yard touchdown throw by Adams as WCU cut the lead to six with 1:41 left.

Furman running back/first baseman Deon Sanders pounced on the onside kick like he was fielding a one-hop throw on the baseball diamond. With the Catamounts having their full allotment of timeouts, the Paladins still needed a first down to seal the win. Wynn provided that when he took an option pitch on 3rd-and-4 and ran for a 13-yard gain before Roberts kneeled out the clock.

"I might have punted it down there. I don't know. But we ran a play that had been successful for us (on third down) and executed it," Hendrix said. "It always feels good to end the game on offense in the victory formation."

Wynn led the Paladins with a career-high 98 yards rushing on seven attempts, while Roberts had 82 yards on 11 carries, including a career-long 48-yard rumble. Darius Morehead had 74 yards on five rushes, including a career-long 46-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.

Roberts had a solid day passing as well finishing with 133 yards on 9-of-11 passing with an interception. Roberts' first career touchdown came on a beautiful 45-yard strike that hit Dejuan Bell in stride and helped push Furman's lead to 28-10 midway through the second quarter.

"I think today just helps us see how good we can be when we play to our abilities," Roberts said. "Today, we went out and did a lot of really good things and made some big plays. But what it came down to is we were just doing our job and executing what we were supposed to."

Coming off last week's gut-punch of a loss, things didn't look much better when WCU opened the game with a touchdown drive that took all of 83 seconds. Bell, a freshman who mistakenly took a knee on a late kickoff that proved costly at ETSU, atoned for that error when he raced 97 yards for a touchdown with the ensuing kickoff to tie the game.

That swung momentum right back to Furman and the Paladins rode that wave to a 31-10 halftime lead.

"I was proud of the way (Bell) he came back. He practiced really good this week. He's a real prideful kid and that hurt him a little bit," Hendrix said. "There was plenty of bad to go around in that last game. It wasn't just that."

Adams overcame a rib injury suffered in the second quarter to finish with 424 yards on 25-of-36 passing with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Daquan Patten, son of former NFL receiver David Patten, had six catches on 159 yards and two touchdowns.

While it gave up plenty of passing yards, Furman's defense was able to hold WCU's running game in check. Adams and Connell Young entered Saturday ranked first and second in the SoCon in rushing with and average of 101.3 and 97 yards, respectively. Young finished with 52 yards on 14 carries Saturday, while Adams had 48 yards on 19 attempts.

The Paladins finished with four sacks, including three by reserve freshman bandit Adrian Hope. Hope, who also forced a fumble, has a team-high six sacks this season. Elijah McKoy had nine tackles and two forced fumbles - each in the red zone - for Furman. McKoy had another forced fumble wiped out by a penalty. Chris Washington led the Paladins defensively with 12 tackles, including a half-sack and two quarterback hurries.

Furman will be off this week before returning to action Oct. 13 as it hosts Wofford at 1 p.m.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Finally home, Paladins seek first win

In case you've forgotten, this is what Furman's home uniform looks like. The
Paladins finally play a home game this Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
After six consecutive road trips, the Furman football team finally returns to the friendly confines of Paladin Stadium Saturday afternoon. When the Paladins kick off against Western Carolina at 2:05 p.m., it will be the first home game since a 56-20 win over The Citadel last Nov. 11.

Routing it's biggest rival in its last home game was sweet for Furman. On Saturday, any old kind of win will do.

The Paladins will try to rebound from a horrific loss at ETSU last Saturday night in which they blew a 27-6 third quarter lead. While there were a litany of problems that resulted in the 29-27 loss, there was one underlying issue: With a three-touchdown lead midway through the third quarter, the Paladins couldn't move the ball against a team it gained over 600 yards against last season. Furman had just seven yards of total offense after its touchdown drive that made it 27-6.

The Paladins had an especially tough time running inside. Fullback Kealand Dirks, who rushed for 100 yards on 15 carries against ETSU last season, had 18 yards on seven attempts Saturday. Thirteen of those 18 yards came on Dirks' first two carries of the game, including an eight-yard touchdown to cap Furman's opening drive.

"We're really searching offensively for an identity, something we can do to fit our personnel," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said after Saturday's game. "I wish we could just line up and do what we want to. We just aren't good enough to do that right now, especially up front."

While many were wondering how Furman (0-3, 0-1 Southern Conference) would replace departed quarterback P.J. Blazejowski, just as big shoes to fill have been those of linemen Matt Schmidt and Terrell Bush. The Paladins offensive line is battling growing pains as last week's starting five included four sophomores and one junior. Cole Neely made his first start at center as Reed Kroeber switched back to his natural position of guard, marking the third time this season that an offensive lineman earned his first career start.

After scoring 14 points over the first two weeks of the season, Furman had hoped to get things on track two weeks ago against a Colgate team it whipped last season. With two weeks off after the unexpected cancellation of the game due to weather concerns from Hurricane Florence, the Paladins got some things going last week with senior captain Harris Roberts back in at quarterback. Inconsistency plagued the Paladins however.

"At times, we did some pretty good things but we just couldn't sustain," Hendrix said. "You can only do certain things for so long. At some point, you've got to block people and knock 'em around a little bit.
"We're really searching offensively for an identity, something we can do to fit our personnel."

While Western Carolina enters Saturday's game undefeated, Furman's offense figures to have a chance to gain some more confidence. The Paladins rushed for 363 yards in a pouring rainstorm at Cullowhee last season, as Furman defeated the then 18th-ranked Catamounts 28-6.

Western Carolina is 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the SoCon after holding on for a 52-50 home win over VMI last Saturday. The Keydets, who scored a total of 68 points in eight SoCon games last season, dropped a two-point conversion that would've likely forced overtime. The Catamounts opened the season by rallying from a 26-19 fourth quarter deficit for a 33-26 win over Division II Newberry. Two weeks ago, WCU won 28-10 at Gardner-Webb.

The Catamounts are led by dynamic junior quarterback Tyrie Adams, who ranks third in the SoCon with an average of 301 yards of total offense per game. Adams leads the league in rushing at 101.3 yards per game, while teammate Connell Young is second at 97 yards per game. Adams is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns. Adams is averaging 199.7 passing yards per game and has completed 61.4 percent of his passes. He's thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions.

"We've had a good week of practice. We're excited to get to play and especially excited to get to play at home," Hendrix said at his weekly radio show Thursday. "I expect us to go play well.
"We're struggling with the details of the things that make you into a really good football team. ... We're trying to make 'em grow up fast and that's a challenging thing."

Sunday, September 23, 2018

ETSU rallies to stun Paladins

Cam Burnette had career highs in receptions (5) and receiving yards (77)
in Furman's 29-27 loss at ETSU Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - There probably have been more deflating losses in the 113-year history of Furman football than Saturday, but it's hard to recall one at the moment. East Tennessee State rallied from a 27-6 third quarter deficit to stun the Paladins, 29-27, Saturday night at Greene Stadium.

After tying the game on a touchdown with 2:23 left to play, ETSU scored the game-winning points 13 seconds later on a safety.

"In the fourth quarter, we couldn't stay on the field on offense and couldn't get off the field on defense," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "And we had a couple of special teams miscues.
"Obviously, I didn't do a good enough job getting us ready to play a four-quarter game."

Senior captain Harris Roberts got the start at quarterback Saturday, looking to provide a spark to an offense that had not scored in the first three quarters this season. He did just that on the Paladins' opening possession, directing Furman down the field on a nine-play drive in which it never faced a third down. It was capped by Kealand Dirks' eight-yard touchdown run.

That opening drive made it look as if Furman (0-3, 0-1 Southern Conference) could be on its way to another 50-plus point day like it had in each of the previous two meetings with ETSU. However, the Paladins were plagued by inconsistency. The teams traded a pair of field goals the rest of the half as Furman took a 13-6 lead into the break.

That break was extended by 50 minutes due to a lightning delay, but Furman came out firing just as it did in the first half. The Paladins connected on that same big play that was a highlight so often a year ago. Roberts faked a handoff, pulled back and fired a 50-yard bomb to Thomas Gordon who was streaking open down the middle of the field. That set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Devin Wynn.

Furman's defense then forced a three-and-out and the Paladins had the ball at midfield when the inconsistency struck again. Freshman Darren Grainger - who saw some action in in the first half - came on at quarterback. After three yards on the first two plays, Roberts went back in and threw an incompletion on third down.

The Paladins got the ball back three plays later as Patrick Wells came up with an interception for Furman's first forced turnover of the year. Three play later, Darius Morehead took an option pitch from Roberts and scored from 14 yards out as Furman took a 27-6 lead with 8:19 left in the third quarter.

In hindsight, the turnover may have been a negative for the Paladins as it was the last pass of the night for ETSU starting quarterback Logan Marchi. The Temple transfer was 8-of-17 passing for 71 yards and was sacked four times before senior Austin Herink came on in relief. After torching Furman for a school-record 434 yards last season, Herink picked up right where he left off.

In his first series, Herink guided ETSU on a 93-yard scoring drive in which he had third down completions of 52 and 18 yards, respectively. The Bucs were 0-for-7 on third down prior to that drive. Quay Holmes scored from two yards out to cut the lead to 27-13 with 4:01 left in the third quarter.

While ETSU made the score more respectable, Furman still seemed in control. The Paladins even managed to shave 4:29 off the fourth quarter clock on an ugly six-play, nine-yard drive. But Herink wasn't through.

Herink's 52-yard pass started a 3-play,  74-yard drive that Holmes capped with a 12-yard touchdown run. That made it a one-score game with 8:27 left.

Later in the quarter, the Bucs had a 10-play, 65-yard scoring drive highlighted by an 18-yard pass by Herink on 4th-and-7. Herink's one-yard touchdown pass to Matt Thompson cut Furman's lead to 27-26 with 2:23 left.

ETSU (3-1, 2-0) lined up to kick the game-tying PAT, but Furman was flagged for 12 men on the field. After the penalty was marked off, the Bucs went for two. Herink scrambled toward the left pylon and was ruled to have broken the plane even though there was never a signal as there was a pile of bodies around the tackle including the official. However, ETSU was flagged for holding and ended up converting the game-tying PAT.

On the ensuing kickoff, Furman freshman Dejuan Bell took a knee at the three-yard line believing he was giving the Paladins the ball at the 25-yard line. However, the new rule mandates that you must call for a fair catch on a kickoff to automatically get the ball at the 25. Two plays later, Morehead took a delayed handoff and was brought down in the end zone for ETSU's game-winning safety.

"The kickoff return should've never happened. We wanted to fair catch and have it on the 25, but it's my fault for putting him in that position," Hendrix said. "We still should've never given up a safety right there. We whiff on (blocking) a guy on a what we thought was a simple, safe play. I thought it was one of the safest things we could do."

Furman still had a chance as its final drive began near midfield. Roberts' 11-yard throw to Avery Armstrong moved the Paladins closer to Grayson Atkins' field goal range at the ETSU 41-yard line. But on the next play, Roberts was sacked forcing Furman to burn its last timeout with 1:13 left. Roberts was under big pressure each of the next three plays, all of which went for incompletions to seal the Paladins' loss.

"We made a pretty good first down play, then took a sack which you can never do in that situation," Hendrix said.

Herink finished with 202 yards on 9-of-14 passing, while Holmes rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries.

After putting up 308 yards rushing and 301 passing last season against ETSU, Furman managed just 288 yards of total offense Saturday night. Following the touchdown that pushed Furman's lead to 27-6 with 8:19 left in the third quarter, the Paladins had seven total yards of offense the rest of the way.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Paladins set to hit the road - again

Kealand Dirks ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns in Furman's
56-35 win over ETSU in 2017. Photo courtesy of Furman
One week after having its home opener hurricaned out, the Furman football team returns to action Saturday for yet another road game. When the Paladins take on ETSU at 7:30 p.m. it will mark their sixth consecutive game away from Paladin Stadium. That's the longest stretch of road games in 36 years.

"I'm just disappointed for our kids, who've been going at it for two months now basically," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said following last week's cancelled home opener. "I've coached here for 15 games now and five have been at home."

On Saturday, that becomes five out of 16. More importantly, it's a chance to sort of hit the restart button for the Paladins after two lopsided losses to open the season. It's a chance to put the distractions of another road trip and having the home opener wiped out behind them and open Southern Conference play on the right foot.

That chance comes against a team that Furman has gotten on track against each of the last two seasons. Furman was 0-6 in 2017 when it traveled to Johnson City, Tenn. and left with a 52-7 win. Last year, the Paladins were 1-3 having just come off a convincing win at Colgate and kept up the momentum with a 56-35 home win over ETSU.

Thus far this season, all of the Paladins' scoring has come on single fourth-quarter touchdowns against Clemson and Elon. A closer look reveals that the offense hasn't been as bad as the scoreboard might indicate. Furman rushed for 195 yards two weeks ago at Elon. The Paladins had just 117 net yards rushing at Clemson in the season opener, but that includes a 30-yard loss on a high snap.

That 117-yard rushing total against Clemson's touted front is more than Texas A&M (71) and run-heavy Georgia Southern (80) posted against the Tigers in the last two weeks.

"We played a really good team, who played really well and we made a ton of mistakes," Hendrix said about the Elon loss. "I don't ever do this, but I picked up a stat sheet at the half. We had 12 or 13 first downs and almost 200 yards of offense. We started the game in an awful way (turnover on the second play) and we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot."

Like the offense, Furman's defense will also look to turn things around after allowing 48 and 45 points in the first two weeks, respectively.  Last year against ETSU, the Paladins sacked Austin Herink six times but he resiliently passed for 434 yards. It appears that Furman won't be facing him Saturday though as Temple transfer Logan Marchi is the new starter at quarterback for the Buccaneers. He's thrown for 526 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions this season, while rushing for 88 yards and a score.

Unlike in previous seasons since the rebirth of ETSU's football program, the Bucs (2-1, 1-0 SoCon) have a more balanced attack this season under new coach Randy Sanders. Quay Holmes has rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns, while Jacob Saylors has 118 yards rushing on a 5.9 yards per carry average.

A big issue for Furman's defense thus far has been a departure from last year's success. In 2017, the Paladins had 34 sacks and forced 18 turnovers. This year, Furman has two sacks and no turnovers defensively. Conversely, Furman's offense has been sacked six times and turned it over five times.

"If you watched the league last Saturday, this thing is wide open. It's who can play the best and be consistent," Hendrix said. "For us, it's just playing better on offense and defensively, we've got to find a way to create some turnovers and get off the field."

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Paladins' schedule includes Final Four teams

Furman senior guard Andrew Brown is recovering from a broken foot, but
should be ready for the season opener Nov. 6. Photo courtesy of Furman
Each Final Four participant from last men's basketball season will face a Southern Conference opponent this year. Half of them will take on Furman. While Chattanooga plays at Michigan and Wofford travels to Kansas, the Paladins will take on Loyola (Ill.) and reigning national champion Villanova.

The 2018-19 schedule kicks off when Furman hosts Bob Jones on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at Timmons Arena. Three days later, the Paladins hit the road to Chicago to face Loyola, the Cinderella story of last season's NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers became the third No. 11 seed to ever reach the Final Four, where they fell to Michigan in the semifinals.

After home games against Gardner-Webb and North Greenville the following week, Furman wraps up week two with a trip to Philadelphia to take on Villanova. The Wildcats steamrolled their way to the 2017-18 national championship, winning each of their NCAA Tournament games by at least 12 points. It will be the first meeting in the series since the Paladins topped Villanova at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium 29 years ago.

The Paladins have seven more non-conference games after Villanova, wrapping up that portion of the schedule at LSU on Dec. 21. Under first-year coach Will Wade, who formerly coached at Chattanooga, LSU won 18 games last season - including a victory over Michigan - and advanced to the second round of the NIT.

"I think it's a good schedule that's going to challenge us in a lot of different ways," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "You've got two Final Four participants, including the national champion, a very good SEC team and six series games that are very similar to Southern Conference games.
"That combination of Colonial and Big South (opponents) is going to basically test us like it would for league games. That's what our team needs."

Furman opens Southern Conference play at home against Western Carolina on Dec. 1. That's one of three SoCon games that day. SoCon play begins in full force on Dec. 29 when the Paladins travel to ETSU. Furman completes the regular season March 2 at Chattanooga before the SoCon Tournament is held March 8-11 in Asheville.

Richey said he wishes there were one or two more home games, but that's been a challenging aspect of building a schedule. Going 38-8 at home over the past three seasons hasn't made scheduling home games any easier.

"It was one of the reasons why it took so long to get the schedule done," Richey said. "The other thing is the economics behind trying to get a high-major to come to your place. ... The simple economics in that just aren't very favoring for us.
"Those are the difficulties of getting those 'marquee' games at Timmons, but we're excited about what we have. I think it's definitely going to prepare us for the Southern Conference portion of the schedule."

Brown recovering from foot injury
It's been a tumultuous offseason for senior guard Andrew Brown. The Travelers Rest native spent over two weeks in the hospital just after the regular season following a life-threatening complication from a simple hernia surgery.

Brown had completed a full recovery from that ordeal and back in basketball shape by mid-June. Then he found himself back in the hospital in late August. This time it was to repair a broken foot he suffered. Thankfully, this "routine procedure" went much better than the previous one. He's expected to return in October and be ready for the season.

"He had about six weeks of summer activity under his belt before this happened," Richey said. "As he's proven before, he will be ready to go (for the season)."

With season practice beginning Sept. 25, Richey says Brown's absence will actually allow for more reps for less experienced players.

"September's a grueling period of the preseason for these guys," Richey said. "There's one guy that we knew we didn't need to beat up this September and it was (Brown)." 

Fowler sticking around
During his four-year playing career at Furman, Daniel Fowler had a major impact on the program and elevating it to where it is today. Now, he will try to continue to impact the program off the court as part of Richey's staff. Fowler was hired as the team's director of recruiting this offseason.

Also new to the staff this season is director of operations Jon D'Angelo. D'Angelo comes to Furman after a one-year stint as a graduate assistant at Virginia, which went 31-3 last season.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Paladins seek Colgate replacement

After having its home game cancelled last Saturday, Furman is back
on the road this week at ETSU. Photo courtesy of Furman
In the 21 months that Furman head coach Clay Hendrix has been back at his alma mater, one aspect of the job that has surprised him the most is the difficulty of building a season schedule. Now he's witnessing the difficulty of trying to find one opponent in less than a month.

With the cancellation of last Saturday's scheduled home game against Colgate game due to the weather, Furman officials have been hard at work trying to find an opponent for the Paladins' scheduled open date of Oct. 6.

One program that has come up as a possible replacement is Stetson, which had its game at Presbyterian moved to home last Saturday before ultimately being cancelled and also has an open date on Oct. 6. However, with Pioneer League road trips to San Diego, Calif. (San Diego) and Des Moines, Iowa (Drake) sandwiched around Oct. 6, the Hatters don't appear to be inclined to throw their hat in Furman's ring.

As for any other possible local FCS opponents for Oct. 6, all MEAC teams already have games scheduled for that day. The lone Big South team idle is New Jersey-based Monmouth, while the lone OVC team off is Tennessee-Martin. Both those teams already have full schedules anyway making it unlikely that they'd give up their only open date of the season.

As for potential local Division II opponents, there are no teams off Oct. 6 in the South Atlantic Conference or the Gulf South Conference.

"We've had our share of adversity so far, so we will handle it and move on," Hendrix said.

Quite a few schools in the Carolinas and Virginia avoided this hassle by moving up their games to days before Saturday. Evidently, that wasn't an option for Colgate which didn't want their players to miss classes.

If Furman's doesn't find a home opponent for the open date, the Paladins will have just four regular season home games this season. That will be the fewest amount of home games in a season since the 1969 Paladins had just four games at Sirrine Stadium.

Back to football
The unexpected off week has given Furman a few extra days to prepare for its Southern Conference opener at ETSU this Saturday. It will be the Paladins' sixth consecutive road game dating back to last season. That's the longest stretch of road games since Furman ended the 1981 season with three road trips and opened the 1982 season with three.

After scoring 14 points over the first two weeks of the season, the Paladins (0-2) will try to get on track against an ETSU team that they've scored 108 points combined the last two years against.

"I think the biggest thing we're lacking right now is confidence," Hendrix said. "I think we're fairly talented. ... It's just a matter of figuring it out and getting everybody to play like they're capable of playing."

Senior captains can sometimes be a remedy for confidence issues, and the Paladins may get one back Saturday. While Harris Roberts is still not 100 percent from a hand injury suffered in the preseason, he could return to the quarterback mix this week.

Hendrix said that starting cornerback Quandarius Weems, who suffered a knee sprain at Elon, will likely return to action "in a couple of weeks." Linebacker Braden Gilby, who also was injured at Elon, is questionable for Saturday as is linebacker Davonta Porter (knee). Cornerback Darius Kearse has fully recovered from a hip injury. Porter and Kearse each missed the Elon game.

A young offensive line has gotten a little younger as Hendrix confirmed that junior Jacob Conrad has quit the team. After making his ninth career start in the season opener at Clemson, Conrad didn't make the trip to Elon. Redshirt freshman Bo McKinney, of Travelers Rest, is the new starter at left guard.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Paladins whipped at Elon

Furman's Kealand Dirks rushed for 72 yards in the Paladins'
45-7 loss at Elon Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
ELON, N.C. - It was a bad case of deja vu all over again for Furman early on at Elon Saturday night. Instead of another near-comeback like in last year's regular season meeting, Furman was dealt a beatdown. No. 15-ranked Elon piled up 448 yards of total offense in a 45-7 drubbing of the 21st-ranked Paladins at Rhodes Stadium.

After the teams split of a pair of thrilling games last season, another thriller was anticipated Saturday. Instead, it was Furman's most lopsided loss to an FCS foe since a 45-0 home loss to Samford in 2014. It was the Paladins' worst road showing in FCS play since a 54-0 loss at Marshall in the 1996 Division I-AA playoffs.

"First, I've got to give Elon a ton of credit. They played really well. They just really outclassed us and outcoached us in everything," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "You've got to get everybody doing their job and right now ... not many times do we have everybody doing what they're supposed to do."

In the second week of last season, Elon took advantage of two Furman turnovers to jump out to a 21-0 lead at Paladin Stadium. The same thing happened 364 days later at Elon Saturday.

True freshman Darren Grainger earned the start at quarterback Saturday. On the second play of the game, he was hit from behind and fumbled. Elon's Greg Liggs Jr. scooped up the loose ball and ran 18 yards for a touchdown 53 seconds into the game.

Furman had a 10-play drive on its ensuing possession - all on the ground - but it ended when a 48-yard field goal attempt by Grayson Atkins sailed wide. It took the Phoenix three plays to score on its first possession. Malcolm Summers capped it with a 54-yard touchdown run right up the gut.

Later in the first quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback JeMar Lincoln came on and scrambled for a first down on 3rd-and-8 inside Elon's 35. However he was hammered on the play and fumbled, which the Phoenix recovered.

Furman put together an 11-play drive to open the second quarter, driving to Elon's 20-yard line. A holding penalty doomed the drive and Grayson Atkins' 50-yard field goal attempt again had plenty of distance, but again missed wide.

On Elon's ensuing possession, Davis Cheek completed four consecutive passes and De'Sean McNair capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown to make it 21-0. At this point in last season's game, Furman outscored the Phoenix 31-3 to take a 31-24 lead into the fourth quarter.

Not this time.

Elon added another touchdown when 242-pound tight end Matt Foster took a screen pass from Cheek 30 yards for a touchdown with 1:40 left in the first half. Furman drove to the Elon 24-yard line on its ensuing possession, but Grainger's throw to the end zone on the half's final play was easily intercepted.

"In the first half, we had 12 first downs and were moving the ball on offense but we just killed ourselves with mistakes and turnovers," Hendrix said. "Then we came out in the third quarter and couldn't get anything going."

The Phoenix (1-1) didn't let up after halftime pushing the lead to 45-0 early in the fourth quarter. The Paladins (0-2) finally got on the scoreboard when Lincoln ran for a seven-yard touchdown with 6:20 left in the game.

Elon finished with 275 yards rushing and 173 yards through the air on 12-of-16 passing.

Furman had 195 yards rushing, led by Kealand Dirks' 72-yard effort, The Paladins, who didn't have a pass completion until just under six minutes were left in the second quarter, finished with just 67 yards passing. Obviously, the inability to pass consistently hampered any comeback attempt as Furman is 0-2 to start a season for the sixth time in the last seven years.

"At the end of the day, you've got to make blocks offensively and defensively, you've got to get off blocks. We couldn't get off blocks and so many times we couldn't get off the field on third down," Hendrix said. "There's plenty of blame to go around.
"Everything we want to accomplish this season is out there. We're sitting exactly where we were a year ago at 0-2 and we haven't played very well. I believe in this group. ... We've just got to quit making dumb, immature mistakes and we've got to coach better."

Friday, September 7, 2018

Furman freshman QB set to start at Elon

Furman freshman quarterback Darren Grainger and receiver Ryan DeLuca
(83) celebrate after a touchdown at Clemson. Photo courtesy of Furman
When Furman travels to Elon Saturday, a freshman is expected to earn his first career start for the Paladins. As to who that will exactly be is still up in the air. Redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln and true freshman Darren Grainger are listed as the starter with the "or" designation between them on this week's depth chart.

Senior captain Harris Roberts, who earned his first career start in last Saturday's season opener at Clemson, is listed third and freshman Hamp Sisson fourth. Roberts made the start last Saturday, but it was clear he was not fully recovered from a hand injury suffered in the preseason. After three handoffs on Furman's opening possession, Roberts left and Lincoln and Grainger rotated possessions for the rest of the game.

"We'd made the decision to play the other two guys most of the game because Harris wasn't 100 percent," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said after Saturday's game. "I'm really proud of those two freshman quarterbacks. ... They made some mistakes, but I don't know if they'll ever be in a tougher situation. They didn't get a lot of help.
"Right now, we've got two (healthy) guys that we feel good about. We've just got to find out what they can execute. ... I'm fired up about them."

Using Clemson as a measuring stick for two quarterbacks who'd never previously taken a college snap probably isn't the most fair idea. Both Lincoln and Grainger had some good moments Saturday though. On Lincoln's third play, he converted a 3rd-and-13 with a 20-yard run. That was the second-longest run of the day for the Paladins behind Deon Sanders' 45-yard scamper.

Furman freshman JeMar Lincoln runs against
Clemson. Photo courtesy of Furman
As a team, Furman rushed for 117 yards Saturday - including a 30-yard loss on a high snap. While it's nothing to celebrate, that total is higher than the 114.9 average rushing yards per game Clemson allowed last season. After fumbling in the red zone on a fourth quarter drive, Grainger responded on the next drive with Furman's lone score as he hit Ryan DeLuca on a 16-yard touchdown with 1:18 left to play.

"I told coach I was going to make up for (the fumble)," Grainger said afterwards. "We had a wide open man and I just gave him the ball."

Grainger was a wide receiver at Conway High before switching to quarterback last season. Going from playing in front of high school crowds last year to making his collegiate debut in front of 80,000 fans was quite an experience.

"It was a great experience to be a part of," Grainger said. "They gave me an opportunity to play and I just tried to make the best of it."

Atkins solid in larger role
Outside of one errant punt, sophomore kicker Grayson Atkins was solid in his expanded role of punting and handling kickoffs. Atkins opened the game by booting the kickoff through the back of the end zone for a touchback. His lone other kickoff also reached the end zone. Atkins averaged 42.1 yards on eight punts with a long of 53. Three of his punts were downed or went out of bounds at the Clemson 5-, 11- and 8-yard line, respectively.

"He's a veteran now, so I expect him to do well," Hendrix said. "It was his first time punting though and he did well."

Round three at Elon
When Furman plays at Elon Saturday at 6 p.m., it will be the third matchup between the schools in the past year. Based on the first two games, Saturday could provide fans with another thriller.

Last Sept. 9 at Paladin Stadium, a late field goal helped the Phoenix pull out a 34-31 win. In addition to the sting of losing in heartbreaking fashion, Furman was also faced with losing at home to a team that had gone 2-9 in 2016.

As it turns out, last year's regular season meeting was a pairing of two teams both in store for turnaround seasons. Furman avenged that loss in the opening round of the FCS playoffs as the Paladins held on for a 28-27 win at Elon.

Elon opened this season with a 34-14 loss at FBS member South Florida last Saturday. The Phoenix, who return 18 starters this season, are ranked No. 15 in both the STATS and Coaches' FCS polls. Furman is No. 21 in the STATS poll, and No. 25 in the Coaches.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Paladins overpowered by Clemson in opener

Furman football coach Clay Hendrix
Photo courtesy of Furman University
CLEMSON - Clemson looked every bit the part of the FBS' No. 2-ranked team in the country Saturday. The Tigers piled up 531 yards of total offense (277 passing, 254 rushing) to cruise to a 48-7 win over Furman in the 2018 season opener at Death Valley.

Furman was holding its own for much of the first half defensively. The Paladins trailed 13-0 with less than three minutes to play in the half before the levee broke. Clemson scored two touchdowns in a span of 1:51 to take a 27-0 lead into halftime. The Tigers then added two more third quarter touchdowns to remove any doubt.

"They (Clemson) were as advertised, which didn't surprise me. I knew it was going to be a challenge," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Today, I think we were a little bit of a master of nothing. I don't know what we did well."

Clemson's opening drive ended on a fourth down incompletion at the Furman 44-yard line. The Paladins could not take advantage of the good field position, which was a sign of things to come. Furman had eight drives reach at least its own 45-yard line, but only got one score with 1:18 left in the game.

As loud as the crowd of 80,048 was at the opening kickoff, it was even louder when Clemson's defense took the field for the first time. Before Furman's second offensive play, the Paladins - who committed an FCS-best 3.15 penalties per game last season - were flagged for a false start.

"A couple of times, we had decent field position. We just couldn't do anything with it. That's how it is against them," Hendrix said. "I knew the noise was going to be a factor."

Clemson got on the board on its second possession when Kelly Bryant threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Amari Rodgers. Furman drove to Clemson's 43 on its next drive, but a high snap on third down resulted in a 28-yard loss. Grayson Atkins got off a beautiful, high 53-yard punt, but Rodgers returned it 62 yards to the the Paladins' 20. Furman's defense stood tall though. Elijah McKoy just missed a diving interception on third down before Clemson settled for a 35-yard field goal by Greg Huegel.

Furman drove to the Clemson 38 on its next possession, but redshirt freshman quarterback JeMar Lincoln was stopped for no gain on a 4th-and-1 option play.

After a Clemson field goal pushed the lead to 13-0, the Paladins next drive stalled at midfield. Atkins had a great 42-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the Clemson five-yard line. It appeared that Furman had forced a three-and-out at the 10. However, a replay review overturned what was previously ruled an incompletion giving the Tigers a first down. Seven plays later, Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence first a six-yard touchdown pass to Diondre Overton with 2:54 left in the half.

A personal foul on the ensuing kickoff forced Furman to start at its own 13. After a short punt, Clemson's next possession began at the Paladins' 38-yard line. Five plays later, Furman brought a blitz and Clemson running back Travis Etienne hit the vacated hole for a seven-yard touchdown with 1:03 left. That helped the Tigers take a 27-0 lead into halftime.

"I thought we were going to get the ball back at midfield and at worst be down 13, and the we go down 27," Hendrix said. "We've got to respond better. We've gave up a long ball, three-and-outted on offense and gave them another one."

In the second half, Clemson had three touchdowns over a stretch of six offensive plays to put the game away.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Furman drove from its own 20 into the Clemson red zone for the first time thanks in large part to a 45-yard run by Deon Sanders. The drive ended from true freshman quarterback Darren Grainger was stripped of the ball and Clemson recovered at the six-yard line.

Furman's next drive was capped when Grainger hit Ryan DeLuca on a 16-yard touchdown. That helped the Paladins avoid their most lopsided season-opening loss since a 51-7 setback at Georgia Tech in 1995.

With its FBS opponent behind them - and $360,000 payday secured, Furman shifts its attention to FCS play starting with a road trip to Elon next Saturday at 6 p.m.

"We're out of school on Monday, so we will have a little more time than usual. We'll watch the tape ... make adjustments, maybe make some personnel decisions and start formulating the game plan for Elon," Hendrix said. "I like this group and how they work. I think we prepared well. It's just kind of hard to put them in that situation today."