Saturday, November 3, 2018

Defense carries Furman past Chattanooga

Furman senior captain Aaquil Annoor returns an interception during the
Paladins' 16-10 win over Chattanooga Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
"Survive and advance" is a phrase typically reserved for the postseason, but it was pretty applicable Saturday at Paladin Stadium. In a game in which the loser's hopes for any Southern Conference championship and/or FCS playoff bid would likely be dashed, Furman grinded out a 16-10 win over Chattanooga on Senior Day.

Furman improves to 4-4 overall and 4-2 in the SoCon, while the Mocs fall to 6-3 and 4-3 in the league. While the Paladins defense had great efforts against Wofford and The Citadel, Saturday's may have been their best of the season.

Chattanooga quarterback Nick Tiano had a season-low 154 yards passing. Bryce Nunnelly, who ranked fourth in the FCS in receiving averaging 119.1 yards per game, had 52 yards on eight catches. Tyrell Price, who averaged 71.9 rushing yards per game, was held to 33 one 10 carries. Price also had five receptions for minus-1 yard receiving.

"I told our guys yesterday, 'the toughest football team tomorrow is going to win,' and I thought we were," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We didn't execute like we want to and weren't as smart as we need to be. ... We basically gave them both their scores off turnovers, which just cannot happen.
"But I thought at the end of the day when we had to make tough yards and tough stops, we did."

In a matchup of the two lowest-scoring teams in the SoCon, one big offensive play could be a difference maker. Furman sophomore running back Devin Wynn provided that late in the first quarter. Wynn took a handoff, split a pair of blitzing defenders at the line of scrimmage, and raced past the rest of Chattanooga's defense for a 50-yard touchdown staking Furman to a 7-0 lead with 1:23 left in the opening quarter.

"This week, coach was telling me that I made too many cuts. I had to just get vertical and accelerate ... so that's what I did," said Wynn, who finished with a career-high 96 yards on 13 carries. "We wish we could've capitalized on more opportunities on offense today, but our defense was phenomenal."

Furman put together a 13-play, 52-yard drive that shaved 7:30 off the second quarter clock. It ended on Grayson Atkins' 50-yard field goal with 3:04 left.

Chattanooga threatened on its ensuing possession until senior captain Aaquil Annoor intercepted Tiano's pass and returned it 33 yards to the Mocs' 44-yard line. On 3rd-and-14, Wynn caught a 23-yard pass from senior captain Harris Roberts. That helped lead to a 48-yard field goal by Atkins on the last play of the half as Furman led 13-0 at the break.

After going seven consecutive quarters without a turnover, Furman's streak ended on the opening kickoff of the second half. Defensive end Landon Lawrence fielded the short kick and made a nice return before losing the ball, which Chattanooga recovered at the Furman 45. Twelve plays later, the Mocs got on the board with a 28-yard field goal by Victor Ulmo.

The Paladins responded with the biggest - literally and figuratively - of the game. It began with 8:36 left in the third quarter. It featured three fourth-down conversions - including a pair of Furman's side of the 50. After 20 plays, it ended on Atkins' 28-yard field goal with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter.

"On the first (fourth down conversion of the drive), I just felt like we've got to be able to make that given how we're built and with some of the things we do offensively," Hendrix said. "Part of it is also letting your team know you believe in them."

Senior noseguard Jaylan Reid enjoyed his view of the drive from the sideline.

"We're sitting over there sipping Gatorade and water," said Reid. "A 10-minute drive will get you really fresh before you go back out there."

Chattanooga's next possession ended on fourth down at its own 43-yard line when senior cornerback Bradford Lemmons made the best play of his career with a terrific break-up of Tiano's pass.

The Mocs' hopes barely stayed alive on Furman's next possession when the Paladins went for it on 4th-and-4 rather than trying a 54-yard field goal. Roberts' high pass went off the hands of Jake Walker.

"We hit a similar pass earlier. It was wide open, he just rushed it and threw it a little hard," Hendrix said. "I just thought we had them on their heels and could still burn a little more time off the clock."

Chattanooga drove to the Furman five-yard line on its next possession, but it ended on a fourth-down sack by freshman Adrian Hope with 5:28 left to play. Hope finished with 2.5 sacks Saturday to push his SoCon-leading season total to 10.5.

The Mocs' hopes still remained alive when Ridge Gibson fumbled and Chattanooga recovered at the Furman 18-yard line with 2:29 left. Four plays later, Tiano hit Bingo Morton on a five-yard touchdown as the Mocs sliced the lead to 16-10 with 1:49 left.

Chattanooga's coffin was finally nailed shut when Avery Armstrong recovered the onside kick. With the Mocs out of timeouts, Furman was able to kneel out the clock and wrap up its first win over Chattanooga at home since 2008.

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