Saturday, October 27, 2018

Fourth quarter rally lifts Paladins over Citadel

In his first career start, JeMar Lincoln ran for three touchdowns and threw for
140 yards in Furman's 28-17 win at The Citadel. Photo courtesy of Furman
CHARLESTON - Furman freshman quarterback JeMar Lincoln rushed for three touchdowns and junior linebacker Donavan Perryman capped a career day in style Saturday as the Paladins rallied for a 28-17 win over The Citadel at Johnson-Hagood Stadium.

After hanging on for a win in a shootout with Western Carolina and dominating Wofford from start to finish, Furman didn't exactly roll up yards offensively Saturday. But the Paladins (3-4, 3-2 Southern Conference) found a way to victory by winning the fourth quarter. Doing it on the home field of its biggest rival made it all that much sweeter.

"I knew it was probably going to be one of those that goes down to the wire and I'm just really proud of our kids for hanging in there and finding a way," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We've lost a couple of games like this where we might have even played better. You've just got to find a way to win."

The Paladins trailed 17-14 early in the fourth quarter when Lincoln, who was making the first start of his career in place of injured starter Harris Roberts, led the go-ahead drive. After a 12-yard throw to Thomas Gordon got Furman to midfield, sophomore Devin Wynn had consecutive runs of 3, 11 and 17 yards, respectively. Lincoln's 13-yard throw to Cam Burnette set up Furman at the three. Two plays later, Lincoln scored from four yards out and Furman led 21-17 with 9:12 left.

Furman forced a punt on Citadel's ensuing possession, but the ball was downed inside the one-yard line. While some Furman fans could've envisioned a nightmare scenario of a safety followed by a game-winning Citadel field goal as time expired, Kealand Dirks was having no such thought. The 250-pound senior fullback bulled his way for three yards on first down then 16 on the next play to give Furman plenty of breathing room.

"We're trying to find a few more ways to get him the ball with a little space," Hendrix said. "That's something we practice (deep in your own territory) and there's just nothing easy about it. We got it out of there and then made a good punt."

While the drive stalled, Grayson Atkins got off a perfect knuckleball punt that went 47 yards before bouncing out of bounds. That left the Bulldogs faced with having to go 72 yards in 2:46 for the win.

Instead, they went backwards.

On second down, Citadel quarterback Jordan Black couldn't find anyone open and held on to the ball long enough for Adrian Hope to get there. While Hope recorded his SoCon-best eighth sack, he also forced a fumble. Perryman scooped up the loose ball and returned it 20 yards for a game-sealing touchdown. Perryman fought through his first instinct on the play and recalled the coaching of defensive coordinator Chad Staggs.

"At first I was thinking, 'fall on it, fall on it,' but every time we get prepared for a game we have a swarm meeting," said Perryman, who finished with a career-high 12 tackles including a sack.
"Basically we line up in front of the film and each of us imagine making a play. Sometimes when the film rolls, we will say, 'we made a fumble,' and Coach Staggs always says, 'you just want a fumble? Scoop and score!' So I could hear Coach Staggs yelling at me in my head as I took it to the end zone."

Going into Saturday, the big question for Furman this week was who was starting at quarterback. Roberts, who suffered a concussion last week, didn't make the trip. Freshman Darren Grainger, who's taken the majority of snaps while Roberts has been out this season, didn't play Saturday. For what it's worth, Grainger has played four games this year meaning he can't redshirt this season if he plays another down.

After directing a long touchdown drive in the fourth quarter last week, Lincoln got the starting call this week. While Lincoln's running ability has been obvious, there may have been some questions about his passing game. It was on point Saturday though. Lincoln, who was 5-of-10 for 40 yards passing for the season, completed 9-of-12 passes for 140 yards with no interceptions.

"It's an amazing feeling right now. You just practice and prepare for moments like these," Lincoln said. "When my opportunity came, I just had to seize it and I definitely enjoyed it."

The teams traded the lead four times in the first half. Lincoln's one-yard sneak midway through the second quarter staked Furman to a 14-10 lead at the half.

In what was a field position game that Furman was frankly not winning in the second half, it appeared that Atkins flipped that in the third quarter. His 81-yard punt, the third-longest in school history, pinned Citadel inside the 10-yard line. But on the first play, Black hit Raleigh Webb who was running all alone downfield on a 91-yard touchdown. The longest pass in Citadel history gave the Bulldogs a 17-14 lead with 6:46 left in the third quarter.

Outside of that play, Staggs' defense once again did a wonderful job containing a run-happy, triple-option team. The Bulldogs, who were ranked seventh in the FCS in rushing at 282.3 yards per game, were limited to 157 yards rushing on 46 attempts Saturday.

"Our defense gave us a chance," Hendrix said. "Other than a couple of busts, they played pretty darn good."

On a day that Furman played without its best offensive lineman as Reed Kroeber was out due to injury, the Citadel piled up 12 tackles-for-loss. But the Paladins got the critical yards when needed in the fourth quarter and perhaps most importantly, had no turnovers.

Wynn finished with 86 yards on nine carries to lead the rushing attack, while Burnette had four catches for 71 yards and Gordon had 67 yards receiving on four receptions.

"Kealand and Devin really stepped up when we needed them most," Lincoln said. "We have a lot of faith in our backs and I definitely wouldn't have gotten those touchdowns without them."

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