Saturday, October 5, 2019

Furman turns SoCon showdown into beatdown

Devin Wynn had touchdown runs of 75 and 89 yards and a 61-yard touchdown
reception in Furman's 58-14 win at Samford. Photo courtesy of Furman
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Less than three minutes into Saturday's showdown for first place in the Southern Conference, No. 14-ranked Furman found itself trailing an FCS opponent for the first time this season.

Evidently, the Paladins didn't take kindly to it.

After Samford easily drove down the field for a touchdown on the opening series of the game, the Paladins trailed for all of 13 seconds. That's how long it took for Devin Wynn to take an option pitch 75 yards untouched down the left sideline for a touchdown on Furman's first offensive play. That was the first of nine consecutive scoring drives, eight of which went for touchdowns, as the Paladins rolled to a 58-14 win.

"I just had a lot of confidence in our guys. I thought we'd play well," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I just thought the firmness with which we played today - the way our backs ran, how we blocked, Darren (Grainger) and defensively getting after those guys.
"I thought we'd only played one complete game and it was time for us to play another one. That one was pretty complete."

In snapping a three-game losing streak to Samford, Furman (4-2) moved to 3-0 in the SoCon. The only other team without a conference loss is Chattanooga (3-3, 2-0). The Paladins piled up 647 yards of total offense, the third-highest total in school history and the second 600-yard performance in the last three weeks. The other came in a 45-10 win over Mercer, the Bears' most lopsided loss to an FCS opponent. Saturday marked Samford's most lopsided loss in a SoCon game.

After Wynn's run helped tie things up at 7-7 just 3:11 into the game, it appeared the game was destined to be a shootout. But Furman's defense wasn't having that. After getting pushed around on Samford's opening 11-play, 75-yard drive, the Paladins defense forced back-to-back three-and-outs. Furman's offense followed those with a 38-yard touchdown from Darren Grainger to Thomas Gordon and a two-yard touchdown run by Devin Abrams.

"It was huge," Hendrix said of the early three-and-outs for Samford. "I was really proud of how the defense responded in the second half as well."

Samford got a couple of first downs on its next drive and reached midfield, but was forced to punt. While it flipped the field, it also set the table for Wynn to add to his career day. On the next play, Wynn took a handoff up the middle and raced 89 yards for a touchdown and the rout was on. That gave Wynn 174 yards in the first quarter, tying Jayson Foster's SoCon record for most rushing yards in a quarter.

"Just like the first one, it was like the Red Sea parted. The o-line did a phenomenal job and the coaches made another great call," Wynn said. "(The first run) was an amazing, great feeling because I've never had that one long play in my career at Furman. To get that off my back felt great."

Against the No. 1-ranked offense in the SoCon, Furman couldn't afford to let up and it didn't. The Paladins' two drives in the second quarter combined to take more than 10 minutes off the clock. They ended on Grainger-to-Gordon touchdowns connections of 17 and 25 yards, respectively, and the Paladins took a 42-14 lead into halftime.

It was more of the same after halftime. On the fourth play of the third quarter, Grainger avoided a sack and found Wynn standing all alone about 30 yards down the middle of the field. Wynn hauled it in and ran to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown catch.

Furman was getting further into run-out-the-clock mode after Grainger was shaken up on a run on the next drive. He didn't return, but appeared to be okay. While their touchdown streak ended, the Paladins settled for a 46-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins. Atkins boomed it through the uprights extending his school record to 16 consecutive makes.

Samford got inside Furman's 10-yard line on each of its third quarter drives. But those ended on Jordan Willis' nine-yard tackle-for-loss on fourth down and an interception by defensive tackle Mike Sochovka. Sochovka batted the ball in the air then made a terrific diving catch before it hit the ground.

In its four games against FCS opponents this season, Furman has allowed just 10 combined points in the second half.

"The biggest thing is communication on the field," said Willis, who finished with six tackles, including three for a loss and a forced fumble. "We weren't finishing those first few games, so we've just been preaching, 'finish, finish, finish.'"

Wayne Anderson wrapped up the scoring when he capped an 11-play, 84-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Furman emptied the bench throughout the second half as a total of 62 Paladins saw action. The final highlight of the day for the Paladins happened on their lone punt with less than five minutes to play. Rather than Atkins, who ranks second in the FCS in net punting, freshman Timmy Bleekrode got the call. His first career punt went 53 yards and was downed at the one-yard line.

"I just told them (in the locker room) the best thing about all of this is I think we can play even better," Hendrix said. "We will be challenged in different ways throughout the year, but they've been working good. It's an awesome way to go into a bye week."

Wynn finished with a career-high 217 yards rushing, the highest rushing total by a Paladin since Jerodis Williams ran for 239 against Western Carolina in 2012. The 89-yard touchdown run tied Williams for the second-longest in school history from that same game. Corey Watkins ran 10 times for 85 yards.

Grainger was 6-of-9 passing for 183 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Gordon's three touchdown catches tied the school record for a single-game, most recently done by Patrick Sprague against Citadel in 2007.

Furman's 58-point total is the most ever allowed by Samford in FCS play and the most for the Paladins since a 62-21 win over Presbyterian in 2011. The 14 points Furman allowed marks Samford's lowest output at home since a 24-9 loss to Chattanooga in 2011.

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