Saturday, October 20, 2018

Samford's wave of momentum sinks Furman

Harris Roberts is hit on a throw. Roberts was injured on the play and didn't
return in Furman's 38-25 loss to Samford. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman was setting itself up for a storybook Saturday on homecoming against Samford. The Paladins appeared poised to somehow pull off a win with their backup quarterback taking over in the first quarter, with all their first-half scoring coming from their kicker and against a team that had scored 139 points over its previous two games.

But when adversity hit midway through the third quarter, Furman suddenly remembered how young it is and had no answers. Samford scored four touchdowns in a span of just more than 10 minutes of game time in the second half to rally for a 38-25 win.

"It was just an odd game that turned quickly. We're a team that hasn't responded really well to bad things happening. We've just got to respond better and we've got to learn how to take care of the ball," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I don't think it was effort. I don't think it was toughness. We're playing hard, we're just not playing smart sometimes and not executing."

The Paladins (2-4, 2-2 Southern Conference) led 19-10 and were looking for more after senior captain Aaquil Annoor returned an interception to the Samford 37-yard line with 9:28 left in the third quarter. On the next play, Corey Watkins carried for 12 yards to the Samford 25.

Then it happened again. It being Darren Grainger getting hit from behind on an option play and losing the football. The ball was scooped up and returned for a 58-yard touchdown by reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Ahmad Gooden as Samford cut the lead to two. It was Grainger's first lost fumble since the first play of the Elon game in week two. Just like on Saturday, that loose ball was returned for a touchdown. And just like at Elon, things went from bad to worse in a hurry for Furman.

On the third play of the Paladins' ensuing drive, Samford's Nick Barton intercepted a tipped ball giving the Bulldogs (4-4, 3-2) the ball at their own 44. Six plays later, Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges - who became the SoCon's career passing leader Saturday - hit Chris Shelling on a nine-yard touchdown giving the Bulldogs the lead back for good.

"I thought we had a great play (on the fumble). I thought all we had to do was pitch it. But their guy's a great player and he made the play," Hendrix said. "I thought we had a chance to really take control of this thing. You're thinking worst case there we go up 22-10.
"Then the whole thing just flipped on us."

After a three-and-out by Furman, Samford needed just 94 seconds to drive 76 yards, capped by a seven-yard touchdown run by Hodges. The Paladins nearly made an interception on a third-and-15 play on the drive, but an offsides penalty gave the Bulldogs another shot and Hodges made a 23-yard throw for a first down.

Another three-and-out by Furman was answered with another touchdown drive by Samford. On third-and-10, Hodges was flushed from the pocket. After rolling to his left, Hodges stopped and threw across his body to a well-covered Jai'Rus Creamer for a 30-yard touchdown as the Bulldogs pushed the lead to 38-19 with 13:17 left in the game.

Samford converted a pair of third down conversions on that drive and was 3-for-3 on third down on its first touchdown drive of the game. A week after limiting Wofford to 3-of-11 conversions on third down, Furman allowed Samford to convert 8-of-14.

"Getting off the field on third down was tough," Hendrix said. "Third-and-15 and we jump offsides is just inexcusable."

Furman trailed 10-3 late in the first quarter when staring quarterback Harris Roberts was knocked out of the game on a play that would've gotten the Samford defender fined in the NFL, but wasn't flagged Saturday. It appeared that after being driven into the ground, the back of Roberts' helmet hit the ground hard. The Paladins turned to the freshman Grainger for his first action since the ETSU game on Sept. 22.

While missing the reigning SoCon Offensive Player of the Week under center, Furman captured the momentum on Samford's ensuing possession. On 4th-and-1 at the Furman 47, Samford's DeMarcus Ware was dropped for a two-yard loss giving the Paladins the ball at midfield.

Furman ended up having to settle for a Grayson Atkins' field goal, but what a field goal it was. Atkins' 50-yard kick landed in the middle of the grass in front of the fieldhouse meaning it would've been good from 60-something. That gave the Paladins' momentum another boost.

Atkins was just getting started. He boomed a 51-yard field goal on Furman's next possession. On the final play of the first half, he nailed a 53-yarder to give the Paladins a 12-10 lead. That tied the Division I record for most field goals of at least 50 yards in a single game, which was last done by Wake Forest's Sam Swank in 2006.

"Hats off to Samford. Their defense was really good and put us in some spots where we had to kick some long ones," Atkins said. "I certainly didn't think going into this game I'd have four field goals. I was hoping for one or two and a bunch of extra points.
"We'd only had three field goal makes this year, so it felt good to keep the momentum going in the first half."

Grainger's first two deep throws might have gone for touchdowns but the first one was dropped and the second was a slightly overthrown rocket. The third time turned out to be the charm. On Furman's first play of its second possession of the third quarter, Grainger faked an option run look, pulled back and hit Thomas Gordon in stride for a 77-yard touchdown.

Following that play, the Paladins had just 19 yards of total offense over its next four drives as Samford took command.

Hodges finished with 402 yards on 40-of-52 passing and was Samford's leading rusher with 45 yards on 12 carries. In addition to breaking the SoCon career passing yards record Saturday previously held by Elon's Scott Riddle, Hodges also broke the FCS record for career completions. He now has 13,377 passing yards and 1,198 completions in his career.

"It's hard to stop anybody if they complete close to 80 percent of their passes," Hendrix said. "We didn't get to him very good, but we certainly didn't help our defense a lot offensively."

Meanwhile, Samford's defense was led by Gooden who terrorized Grainger all day. He finished with nine tackles, including four for loss and two sacks. He also had two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup along with his long fumble return for a touchdown.

Furman sophomore running back Devin Wynn, who made his first career start Saturday, had a team-high 83 yards rushing on 13 carries. Watkins rushed for 78 yards on eight attempts.

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