Saturday, October 13, 2018

Defense, Roberts power Furman past Wofford

Furman's Elijah McKoy had 14 tackles, including 10 solo stops, in
the Paladins' 34-14 win over Wofford. Photo courtesy of Furman
In Furman's previous game, the offense got a big confidence boost. On Saturday, it was the defense's turn.

While the Paladins contained the most potent rushing attack in the country Saturday, Furman senior quarterback Harris Roberts kept the offense clicking as he accounted for five touchdowns. It all added up to a 34-14 win over fourth-ranked Wofford at Paladin Stadium.

The last time Furman defeated an opponent ranked that high was in 2011 when the Paladins knocked off No. 3 Appalachian State, 20-10. Of more importance at the present time, the win made things a whole lot more interesting in the Southern Conference.

With its 26-23 win at The Citadel on Saturday, ETSU is alone in first place at 4-0. Wofford is now second at 3-1, a half-game in front of Furman and Mercer who are each 2-1.

While Furman (2-3) didn't pile up nearly 600 yards of total offense like it did the last time out in a 44-38 win over Western Carolina, the offense was efficient and had statement-making scoring drives Saturday. The Paladins had touchdowns on the opening possession of the game, their last drive of the first half, their first drive of the second half and on a win-sealing drive that took more than nine minutes off the clock.

Furman was 7-of-12 on third down, 1-of-1 on fourth down and had touchdowns on all four of its trips to the red zone. Meanwhile, Wofford was 3-of-11 on third down and 1-of-4 on fourth.

"Hats off to our (coaching) staff. They just did an unbelievable job prepping our kids for this. We had a tough bye week and went at it pretty hard," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "The kids prepared well and gave themselves a chance to go play well. I'm pretty pleased with their execution.
"Other than a couple of plays where we popped an assignment and allowed long runs, I don't know if we could've gotten after them much better on defense."

After each of the last two games, Hendrix mentioned that the Paladins, "probably should have thrown it more." On Saturday, Roberts came out firing. Four plays into the game, senior receiver Thomas Gordon had three catches for 41 yards. Roberts' fourth throw of the day went for a 24-yard touchdown to tailback Darius Morehead. The score was a beautifully designed play in which Roberts faked a handoff to Morehead, who then drifted into the flat and was wide open.

That play-action success was a sign of things to come for Furman. The Paladins next scoring drive opened with a 15-yard pass from Roberts to tailback Corey Watkins. It ended when Roberts bulled his way to the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown on an option keeper as Furman pushed the lead to 14-0 with 2:28 left in the first quarter. That marked the Paladins' first double-digit lead in the first quarter this season and Wofford's largest deficit of the season.

"It was huge for us because their offense isn't really built to come from behind," said Roberts, who finished with 235 yards on 16-of-19 passing and 32 yards rushing. "We put our defense in a good position and they played really, really well against a great team.
"I think we came out today and showed that we're not just a one-dimensional team. We can win a game in multiple ways."

A pair of drive-extending penalties in which it appeared that Furman had stopped Wofford on third down aided a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive for the Terriers. On third-and-goal, Joe Newman threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Garrison Moore as Wofford cut the lead in half midway through the second quarter.

On Wofford's next possession, Chris Washington hit Newman as he threw and defensive end Chinedu Okonya came up with the interception. That set up the Paladins at Wofford's 34-yard line. Five plays later on third-and-four, Roberts hit tailback Devin Wynn on a 10-yard touchdown pushing Furman's lead to 21-7 with 45 seconds left in the half.

Furman held Wofford to 90 yards rushing on 23 carries in the first half. While the Terriers finished with 247 yards on the ground, that was well below their FCS-leading average of 388.8 rushing yards per game entering Saturday.

"Our coaches had a really good game plan. We just had to be assignment sound and take care of everything," said linebacker Elijah McKoy, who finished with a team-high 14 tackles. "We just trusted each other."

Furman's opened the second half like they did the first half. Roberts threw a 14-yard pass to Morehead and a 49-yard pass to Wynn before hitting Ryan DeLuca on a nine-yard touchdown. The extra point failed, leaving the Paladins with a 27-7 lead.

The Paladins may have had a chance to wrap up the win on Wofford's ensuing possession. But on fourth-and-goal from the six-yard line, Andre Stoddard ran up the gut for a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-14 with 3:41 left in the third quarter.

That set up perhaps Furman's most satisfying drive of the season. The Paladins marched 71 yards on 16 plays and shaved 9:25 off the clock. By the time Roberts snuck into the end zone from a yard out on third down, there was only 9:10 left to play and Furman led 34-14. The drive included a fourth-and-one play in which the Paladins passed on a field goal as Roberts converted on a sneak to the Wofford 14.

"I just felt like it (fourth down) was close enough that we could make it. ... I just felt like 'we've got to make this.' It would take a couple of more minutes off the clock and we could still kick a field goal," Hendrix said. "And I figured if we don't (convert), we had confidence in our defense and knew they'd have a long field.
"Finishing off with a drive like that will give us a little confidence going forward."

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