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.

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