|Furman will try to bolster its FCS playoff hopes with
a win at Mercer Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman (5-4, 4-2 SoCon) enters Saturday's 3 p.m. kickoff in Macon, Ga. having won five of its last six games. A win Saturday would ensure the Paladins at least a second-place finish in the league. A win combined with a Samford win over ETSU would give Furman a share of the SoCon championship, along with ETSU and Wofford. In a three-way tie, the Paladins would claim the league's autobid if they hold Mercer to 16 points or fewer. Otherwise, Wofford gets the autobid.
"If we don't take care of business, nothing else matters," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I told the team the same thing last week and I was proud of how they responded.
"This week, we've battled the weather but we got out there every day and got good work in. I'd be surprised if we didn't go play well."
The Paladins are coming off their most complete overall performance of the season in last week's 49-13 victory at VMI. Furman piled up a season-high 590 yards of total offense while holding the Keydets to their lowest scoring output of the season against FCS competition.
Despite having just 149 yards of total offense last week at Chattanooga, Mercer somehow pulled out a 13-9 win. That gives the Bears (5-5, 4-3), coached by Furman legend Bobby Lamb, a chance at a winning season and their best SoCon finish.
So along with SoCon title and playoff hopes in the air, two great friends going against each other in Hendrix and Lamb, there's also a game that could provide plenty of drama based on the series. Each of the four meetings since Mercer joined the SoCon have been decided by seven points or less.
With ETSU and Samford kicking off at 1 p.m., that result is bound to make its way to the Furman sideline well before its game is over. While trying to get his team focused on the No. 1 goal Saturday, Hendrix said he has thought about how game management plans could go if the Paladins are in a position to limit Mercer to fewer than 16 points.
"Have you thought about it (the scenario) and try to have a little bit of a plan? Yeah. You have a few scenarios in your head," Hendrix said. "But again it goes back to if you lose 14-10, it doesn't matter."
Hendrix believes that any Furman win - no matter the score, or what happens elsewhere - should ensure a trip to the playoffs. No matter how "down" the SoCon may be considered to be, it's hard to fathom that a SoCon team that finishes first or second after winning six of its last seven games and leads the league in strength of schedule could be left out.
"If you look at how we've played down the stretch, and who we've played (all season) - we didn't have a layup on there anywhere," Hendrix said. "I think our kids have played their best football down the stretch and at the end of the day, I think you try to put the best teams in there."