Friday, September 2, 2022

Furman rolls over North Greenville in opener

Furman quarterback Tyler Huff runs for a 56-yard touchdown in the first quarter of
the Paladins' 52-0 win over North Greenville Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman's new quarterback helped Furman's new offensive coordinator make a big first impression Thursday night. Meanwhile, Furman's old defense pitched a shutout for the second September in a row. It all added up to a 52-0 win over North Greenville before a crowd of 9,264 in the season opener at Paladin Stadium.

Tyler Huff, a grad transfer from Presbyterian who won Furman's starting quarterback job in the preseason, took the rest of the night off at the 7:35 mark of the second quarter. By that point, the Paladins had 396 yards under new coordinator Jordan Roper's offense and a 42-0 lead. Huff completed 10-of-12 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also led Furman in rushing with 94 yards on five carries.

"We wanted to set the tone for the game early on and I thought we did, really in all three phases," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Tyler Huff's play was outstanding, especially for a guy who hasn't played in a year-and-a-half. ... It was just a solid effort all the way around.

"Getting started on a Thursday night, we had a great crowd and environment. I credit all those people who made that happen."

It took just 2:34 for the Paladins to drive 73 yards on the game's opening possession which ended when Huff found a wide open Ryan Miller for a 33-yard touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Huff faked a handoff to the right and zoomed up the gut for a 56-yard touchdown run.

On the first play of the second quarter, Dominic Roberto ended a 92-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run to help push the lead to 28-0. The highlight of the drive came on a third down when Huff started to his left, avoided one pass rusher and then another as he scrambled to his right. Throwing on the run against his body's momentum, Huff hit Luke Shiflett in stride for a 64-yard gain. On the very next play, Huff avoided two more would-be sacks and scrambled for an 11-yard gain to North Greenville's nine-yard line.

Furman's next possession was capped by a beautifully designed play. Running back turned wide receiver Wayne Anderson went in motion from left to right as Huff took a snap. Huff faked a handoff up the middle to Devin Abrams, pulled back and made an easy toss to an open Anderson for a 12-yard touchdown.

"After tearing my ACL last year, it just felt good to be out there again. ... I felt like I had something to prove, not only to where I came from but also to the coaching staff and team here who had never seen me play a game before," Huff said. "I want them to be confident in their quarterback and I felt like I gave them confidence tonight."

Roberto's three-yard scoring run pushed the lead to 42-0. Furman's last drive of the big half ended on Axel Lepvreau's 18-yard field goal on the half's final play. Half of those first six touchdowns were set up by forced turnovers. Who made those turnovers speaks to the depth of Furman's defense.

Cally Chizik, who missed the entire 2021 season with a back injury, made a perfect read on a bubble screen pass on North Greenville's second possession. He picked it off and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown.

"Coach (Duane) Vaughn called the perfect play for me to sit on it. I saw him throw it and just jumped in front of it," Chizik said. "We have a lot of experience on defense. ... I think we have five or six people who have started at corner. Any one of us can be thrown in the fire any minute.

"Last year, I was in an empty jersey on the sideline out all year. I'm just truly blessed to be back."

Late in the first quarter, the Crusaders drove to Furman's 29-yard line before Ivan Yates made a leaping interception to start the drive. In the second quarter, Trey Rogers recovered a fumble at the North Greenville 36.

Chizik and Rogers aren't even listed on the two-deep depth chart, while Yates is a backup cornerback. In the second quarter, Furman's lone sack of the game came when second-stringers Bryce Stanfield, Alex Maier and Xavier Stephens - a Lehigh transfer - converged on the quarterback.

"It's funny because Cally's done that a lot in practice over time. He's a dependable guy who just finds a way to make plays. He's just got great instincts and that certainly was a big play," Hendrix said. "Even before it got out of hand we were playing a lot of guys."

Jace Wilson, who started six games at quarterback last season, came on in relief of Huff. He capped the lone scoring drive of the second half with a one-yard touchdown run on the third play of the fourth quarter. The 11-play, 96-yard drive included a pair of passes to James Madison grad transfer Kyndel Dean for a total of 52 yards and 43 yards rushing by redshirt freshman Myion Hicks.

Hicks finished with 65 yards on 12 carries, while Roberto had 53 yards on nine attempts. Abrams ran six times for 49 yards. Miller had 85 yards receiving on four catches.

It had been 17 years between shutouts when Furman blanked Tennessee Tech 26-0 last September. Thursday's effort came just 355 days later. It was the Paladins' first shutout to open a season since a 38-0 win over South Carolina State in 1988.

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