Sunday, December 1, 2019

Paladins go out with a whimper

Grayson Atkins just missed a 59-yard field goal Saturday, but made two
others to finish 13-of-15 for the season. Photo courtesy of Furman
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - It's been said that the first five minutes of the second half can be the most important of a football game. That was unfortunately the case for Furman Saturday. No. 17 Austin Peay scored three touchdowns in the first 4:23 of the third quarter and the Governors went on to a 42-6 win over the 16th-ranked Paladins in the opening round of the FCS Playoffs.

Austin Peay (10-3) advances to play at No. 4 seed Sacramento State next Saturday. Furman finishes the season at 8-5 following its second most lopsided playoff loss ever. Only a 54-0 loss at Marshall in 1996 was worse. Unlike that Marshall team, there was no Randy Moss out there for the Governors Saturday. But they did have a big, fast, nasty team that was able to overcome stupid personal fouls as the Paladins offered no counter punches.

"Hats off to the Austin Peay team and Coach (Mark) Hudspeth. ... I knew they were a really talented group with a lot of skill and that was pretty obvious, particularly in the third quarter," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We wasted some opportunities to get some points in the second quarter and then the third quarter just got away from us."

Saturday's game was played in yet another downpour and the game featured two lengthy weather delays. While the Paladins surely had to be used to playing in such conditions by now, they frankly haven't looked like a playoff team in them against any Division I opponent. That was the case again Saturday.

As has often been the case this year, a Furman opponent marched down the field on its opening drive and scored. And as has often been the case, the Paladins' defense settled in and didn't allow anything else the rest of the half.

After 18 yards of total offense in the first quarter for Furman, Hamp Sisson came on in relief of Darren Grainger and led an 83-yard scoring drive. The drive was aided by a 24-yard pass to Thomas Gordon, a 28-yard run by Devin Wynn and three Austin Peay penalties, including a personal foul when Devin Abrams was shoved to the ground after the whistle. Furman, which had scored so many touchdowns in the red zone this season until the Wofford game, had first-and-five at the eight-yard line, but ended up settling for a 23-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins.

Furman drove from its own 10-yard line to the Governors' 24 on its next drive. But on first down, Wynn was hit immediately and dropped for a six-yard loss. Wynn ran for three yards on the next play, but was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. When the Austin Peay defender stood over him and looked down, Wynn popped straight off and brushed the defender off with his arm.

That led to a third-and-28 and Thomas Gordon couldn't hang on to a pass that would've made for a closer field goal. Instead, Atkins attempted a 59-yarder that had the distance, but sailed wide left and Furman trailed 7-3 at the half.

After that putrid first quarter, the Paladins had 122 yards in the second quarter and the total yardage was even at 140-140 at the break. Still Furman had just three points to show for it.

"You've got to get points," Hendrix said. "We could've been tied or had the chance to take the lead before half."

Everything went wrong for Furman after halftime. The Paladins had allowed just a total of 66 points in the third quarter for the regular season, but gave up 28 Saturday. The Governors needed just 1:18 to drive 70 yards on four plays for a touchdown to open the second half.

After a three-and-out for Furman, Austin Peay's Kentel Williams turned a simple screen pass into a 73-yard touchdown two plays later. On the Paladins' next snap, Sisson was hit from behind and fumbled. Two plays later, the Governors found the end zone again to take a 28-3 lead with 10:37 left in the third quarter.

"They threw the screen and we just couldn't tackle him. ... We had trouble tackling them in space and I knew we would," Hendrix said. "Those first six or seven minutes of the second half was really the game.
"It was one of those games where we were going to have to grind out (offensively) and keep pace with them. ... At that point (in the third quarter), they're just too good to give them a chance to pin their ears back and come after us."

The Paladins finally stopped Austin Peay's next possession with a three-and-out. but the punt bounced off Cally Chizik's chest right into the hands of the Governors at the Furman 28. Austin Peay turned that into a touchdown five plays later to remove any doubt as it took a 35-3 lead to the fourth quarter.

Another unsportsmanlike penalty on Austin Peay aided Furman's only other scoring drive, as the Paladins made a meaningless field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Austin Peay's JaVaughn Craig completed 18-of-23 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Grainger and Sisson combined to go 8-of-15 for 82 yards with one interception. Wynn rushed 14 times for 61 yards to lead the Paladins, who had 82 yards of total offense in the second half.

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