Saturday, October 26, 2019

Defense spurs Furman to business-like win

Furman captain Jordan Willis celebrates a big tackle for loss during the
Paladins' 28-7 win at Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
CULLOWHEE, N.C. - It wasn't the most spectacular Saturday this football season for No. 14 Furman, but it sure beat the previous one. After suffering its first FCS loss since last season in nasty weather last week, the Paladins rebounded in similar conditions Saturday. Thanks to a dominant third quarter, Furman pulled away for a 28-7 win at Western Carolina.

After taking a six-point lead into halftime, the Paladins (5-3, 4-1 Southern Conference) outscored the Catamounts 15-0 in the third quarter and outgained them 149-19 to take command. The win, combined with Wofford's victory over Chattanooga, pushes Furman back into a first-place tie in the SoCon with the Terriers.

"It was a business-like win and I like business-like wins," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Tough conditions again, so we've had a bunch of adversity but I thought - after their first drive - our defense played great.
"That's a different team (WCU) when 12 (quarterback Tyrie Adams) plays for them and he hasn't played but half their games. ... I'm just happy to get a win and move on."

Furman drove 45 yards in 37 seconds on its final drive of the first half thanks to two runs and two completions by Darren Grainger. That was capped by Grayson Atkins' 40-yard field goal into the wind. That gave the Paladins a 13-7 lead and little bit of momentum into halftime.

"The last drive (of the first half) on defense and on offense, we just played with a little more of a sense of urgency. I could just see us playing faster," Hendrix said. "We finally got to the quarterback a couple of times and then Darren made a couple of big plays in the two-minute drill."

Western Carolina (1-7, 0-5) started the second half on offense and got near midfield before Taylor Hodge stopped Adams for a loss of two. On the next play, Jonah Tibbs and Landon Lawrence combined for a sack to force a 3rd-and-31 and the Catamounts ended up having to punt.

After advancing from its own 29 to WCU's 36 on nothing but run plays, Furman faced 3rd-and-10. Grainger threw a screen slant pass to Thomas Gordon, who turned it into a touchdown. After the Catamounts were offsides on the extra point, Furman went for two and Devin Wynn ran it in to make it 21-7.

"The best thing today was how we came out in the third quarter and just took control," Hendrix said. "The pass to Thomas was something we haven't done. We caught them in a blitz, executed it and hit the big play."

Furman's defense forced a three-and-out on WCU's next possession, highlighted by Patrick Wells' open field tackle for a two-yard loss on a 3rd-and-7 screen pass. On the ensuing possession, Wynn rushed for 43 of the Paladins' 54 yards, including a three-yard touchdown to push the lead to 28-7 with 27 seconds left in the third quarter. Furman's defense kept up its effort after WCU's first series of the game to keep the Catamounts off the scoreboard the rest of the way.

In Furman's 44-38 win over WCU last season, Adams threw for 424 yards and ran for 48. On Saturday, the SoCon's preseason offensive player of the year was 18-of-22 passing, but for only 108 yards. He had 22 net yards rushing on 12 attempts.

"Our biggest thing was just being disciplined and communicating well on the field," said Furman spur Jordan Willis, who had seven tackles. "We started a little bit slow, but after the first drive we got it going and settled in. We knew if we could contain (Adams), we'd be fine."

Furman started the game by appearing to try to get Grainger going after last week's rough performance. While his first pass fell incomplete, the Paladins' second play was a 36-yard completion to Gordon to the WCU 26-yard line. A blindside block penalty and a sack pushed Furman back and the Paladins' settled for a 55-yard field goal by Atkins. His 18th consecutive make tied the school record for longest field goal held by Jon Croft Hollingsworth in Furman's 16-15 win at UCF in 2015.

The Catamounts answered with a 16-play, 75-yard drive that lasted over nine minutes. Adams ran for a seven-yard touchdown to cap it.

The Paladins put together its lone touchdown drive of the first half and their ensuing possession. The 72-yard drive was highlighted by a 52-yard run by Devin Abrams on a play where it appeared he was initially stopped at the line of scrimmage. Wynn scored from two yards out to end the drive.

Atkins' streak of made field goals ended after a low snap on a 44-yard attempt midway through the second quarter.

While Furman put up more yards in the first half (219) Saturday than it did in the entire game against Citadel (216), it wasn't exactly an offensive explosion. Furman joined North Greenville as the only WCU opponent to be held to one touchdown in the opening half this season. In SoCon play, Catamount opponents averaged 35.5 points per first half entering Saturday.

"Their (WCU) approach today was a little different than some other people. I think we took advantage of it some, but it hurt us a little bit too," Hendrix said. "We just got to continue to clean things up. We're at our best when we're multiple. ... That was something we probably didn't do enough of a week ago - let Darren make some plays with his feet."

After simply running clock in the fourth quarter, Furman finished with 392 total yards, including 296 rushing. Wynn rushed for 87 yards. Corey Watkins had 72 yards on seven carries, while Abrams had 62 yards on five attempts. Grainger was 4-of-10 passing for 96 yards and ran 11 times for 52 yards.

While it had 90 yards on its opening possession and 79 yards on its final possession in the last 3:34 of the game, Western Carolina had 95 total yards of offense on 34 plays in between. Furman, which had not recorded a sack since the ETSU game on Sept. 28, finished with three on Saturday. That was part of nine tackles-for-loss. Braden Gilby led the defense with nine tackles.

"Coming out of halftime, we wanted to start fast in the third quarter because we didn't start the game the way we should have. Everybody needed to be locked in and ready to go," Willis said. "We got that first stop and the offense carried their momentum over from the end of the first half."

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