Saturday, November 23, 2019

Paladins enjoy record day in rout of Point

Cally Chizik (24) has plenty of blockers on a 47-yard punt return
in Furman's 64-7 win over Point. Photo courtesy of Furman
There were no surprises Saturday at Paladin Stadium. Now the Furman football team hopes for no surprises Sunday. Playing its first non-Division I opponent in 11 years and in a pouring rain, the 15th-ranked Paladins rolled to a 64-7 win over NAIA member Point as the regular season wrapped up. It marks the first time Furman has won eight regular season games since 2006. With other results Saturday, the Paladins (8-4) finished alone in second place in the Southern Conference.

Furman's next opponent should be revealed at 12:30 p.m. Sunday when the 24-team FCS playoff field is announced. After being stunned by being left out of the field last season, the Paladins hope a top 15 ranking for most of the season will earn them an at-large bid. After also being ranked No. 9 in the playoff committee's top 10 that was announced earlier this month, it seems Furman should be safely in despite last Saturday's loss to SoCon champion Wofford.

"We started the game just like we wanted to, played solid on both sides of the ball and got to play a ton of kids," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I thought we handled the ball pretty good on what was a miserable weather day.
"I think for our kids to get to eight wins says a lot about them. We've had our share of adversity but our kids have handled that extremely well and I couldn't be prouder of them. I think we've done everything to give us an opportunity to continue to play and I certainly hope we get that opportunity."

In the pregame coin toss, Furman captains were joined by Allen Edwards, who received a big hug from his former Paladin teammate and Point head coach Julius Dixon.

After kickoff, Furman checked off all the boxes it wanted to and added a few more. The Paladins: recorded the convincing win, emptied the bench early and often, and got senior Thomas Gordon to the top of the record book. Gordon had 67 yards receiving on four catches to become the school's all-time leading receiver with 2,528 yards in his career.

After making the catch to put him at No. 1 at the end of the first quarter, Gordon was recognized on the stadium videoboard while his teammates gathered around him to celebrate.

"My teammates were showing me love after staying on me all week about breaking the record," Gordon said. "It was just a good feeling and I'm truly blessed."

Gordon wasn't the only one rewriting the record book Saturday. Furman's defense established new Paladin Stadium marks by allowing just 91 yards of total offense and one yard rushing - on 35 attempts - Saturday. The previous lows by a visitor to Paladin Stadium were 109 total yards by Presbyterian in 1988 and four yards rushing by Presbyterian in 2001.

Meanwhile, it was an average day yardage-wise for Furman's offense with 435 total. That's basically because it often didn't have far to go thanks to three forced turnovers and outstanding special teams play, which included the Paladins first safety since 2011 and first punt block since 2017. Saturday's block was by Avery Armstrong, who also had that last one two years ago.

Cally Chizik, who had five tackles including a sack on defense, returned three punts for 71 yards. His 47-yard return left the Paladins starting its second drive of the game at Point's 43.

"That was a big play in the game early to give us some momentum," Hendrix said. "We haven't gone after a lot of punts (to block) this year, but as the year has gone on we felt like we've got the speed too. We've been pretty solid in the special teams all year."

Darren Grainger got the start at quarterback and capped the opening drive with a nine-yard touchdown run. After the big return by Chizik, the Paladins' next possession ended when Ryan DeLuca made a terrific leaping grab of a 19-yard touchdown pass by Grainger.

Furman was back in the end zone 14 seconds later when Travis Blackshear returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown to stake the Paladins to a 21-0 lead after one quarter. That marked Furman's first pick-six since Dillon Vann's 33-yard interception return at Chattanooga in 2017.

"The ball was right there. I just had to make sure I caught it with the weather like it was," Blackshear said. "I just had to find the end zone, because I didn't want what happened last time (when he ran out of bounds on an interception return against VMI after it looked like he may have scored with a cutback)."

The Paladins removed any doubt in the second quarter with a pair of field goals by Grayson Atkins, touchdown runs by Devin Wynn and Wayne Anderson, and that safety when a high snap slipped through the hands of Point's punter and out of the back of the end zone.

After taking a 43-7 lead into halftime, the Paladins got touchdown runs by Hamp Sisson, Dominic Roberto and third-string quarterback Jack Hardin in the second half to complete the scoring. The 30-yard keeper was the first touchdown of Hardin's career.

A total of 71 Paladins participated Saturday, 10 of whom had at least 16 yards rushing. Wynn led the way with 83 yards on 11 carries. Grainger and Sisson each went 3-for-5 passing. Grainger had 32 yards in the air, while Sisson had 86.

"We played both (Grainger and Sisson on a two-series rotation) well into the game because they just haven't played that much football, especially Hamp," Hendrix said. "I kind of hated scoring that last touchdown, but I was also happy that we had a quarterback finally pull the ball on that play. I was happy for (Hardin) to be able to come in there and execute."

Furman's defense racked up 14 tackles for loss, including five sacks. Freshman backup tackle Cameron Coleman had team-highs in tackles (six), tackles-for-loss (four) and sacks (two) to lead the way.

"We've got a good team, a good bunch of kids that play good together. I think we will be a handful for anybody (in the playoffs)," Hendrix said. "We've been a good team on the road. We'd like to play here at least one of them, but it doesn't matter. We will just prepare and I think this bunch will be excited to go play."

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