Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Furman could use QB rotation at Austin Peay

Darren Grainger (4) and Hamp Sisson are expected to take snaps
for Furman at Austin Peay Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
On Sunday, the mystery of if and where Furman might land in the FCS playoffs was solved. The Paladins will face Austin Peay for the first time in Saturday's opening round at Clarksville, Tenn.

On Monday, Furman coach Clay Hendrix cleared up the mystery of who will be playing quarterback for the Paladins. During his weekly press conference, Hendrix said he expected both Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson to play just as they did in last Saturday's 64-7 win over Point.

"Saturday was obviously a little different, but we still plan to play both. I think they both bring something to the table and we don't change anything we do offensively," Hendrix said. "I thought they both handled themselves well and made some plays (Saturday). Darren will probably start again, but we will probably play both of them.
"I just think that's where we are at the quarterback position. There's a great relationship between the two of them and with Coach (George) Quarles, so I think that's what the plan will be as we go through this week at practice."

Grainger has completed 76-of-154 passes (49.4 percent) for 1,203 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. He's also rushed for 296 yards (3.4 per carry) and five touchdowns. Sisson is 46-of-76 (60.5 percent) for 575 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also rushed for 135 yards (5.6) per carry and two touchdowns.

Paladins relieved
After winning a share of the Southern Conference championship in 2018 only to be left out of the playoff field, it was a nervous time in the football meeting room Sunday. Despite being ranked in the top 15 for most of the season, some national FCS writers had projected Furman to be snubbed once again.

The tension didn't get any lighter when the top eight seeds were announced and SoCon champ Wofford wasn't one of them. You'd have to believe that if one SoCon team earned a seed it wouldn't be the only league representative in the field. There was also a thought that the Paladins might take on Kennesaw State with the winner going to Wofford in round two - similar to what happened in 2017.

As the rest of the field was revealed, uneasiness didn't slide as teams like 24th-ranked North Dakota and 25th-ranked Albany received at-large bids. When Austin Peay came up as a host, there had to be a feeling that this could be the last hope for a Furman destination. When the Paladins popped on the screen as the Governors' opponent, the players popped in celebration.

"I thought we were in, but at the same time, you never quite know," Hendrix said. "I was standing in the back of the room and I can't see really good from that distance, but I saw the purple when it popped up. Then obviously I saw our kids get excited.
"I couldn't be more happy to be where we are and just have a chance to play. We didn't really care who it was or where, we're just excited to go play. ... It's always good to be practicing on Thanksgiving. If you're doing that, then you've had a pretty good year."

Playoff experience
Saturday's game will be Furman's 36th FCS (I-AA) playoff game in school history and the Paladins will be seeking their 20th postseason win. This is the 18th year Furman has made the playoffs. Only Montana (24) and Northern Iowa (21) have made the postseason more.

That's not the case at all for Saturday's opponent - and possibly next Saturday's as well. Austin Peay and Sacramento State made the playoff field for the first time ever this season. The Furman-Austin Peay winner will play at fourth-seeded Sacramento State in round two.

There are quite a few older Paladins who were part of the 2017 playoff experience, but Hendrix doesn't expect that to mean much come kickoff on Saturday.

"I think we will probably be going to a place where their fanbase is going to be fired up because it's the first time they've had a chance to experience that," Hendrix said. "I think team-wise, you prepare like it's another game. But you know it's your last one if you don't get it done."

Atkins honored again
For the fifth time this season, Grayson Atkins is the SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week. It was an odd Saturday as Atkins had only one touchback, but Point chose to return seven of the eight kickoffs that reached the end zone and averaged only 17.9 yards per return.

In a pouring rain, Atkins also connected on 28- and 45-yard field goals and all seven of his extra points. The junior from Inman has now hit 22 of his last 23 field goal attempts. His 220 career points are just one shy of fifth-place on Furman's career scoring list.

Final polls
Furman (8-4) moved up one to No. 16 in the final FCS STATS poll of the regular season, and moved down one to No. 16 in the final Coaches poll. Austin Peay (9-3) is 18th in the STATS poll and No. 17 in the Coaches.

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