Thursday, September 22, 2022

Harris steps up for Paladins

Furman's Joshua Harris had career-highs in receptions (eight) and receiving yards
(95) in the Paladins' 27-14 win at ETSU Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

When Furman's Ryan Miller draws the kind of attention from opposing defenses you'd expect an All-American tight end to draw, there are going to be times where other receivers have to step up. That happened Saturday night at East Tennessee State, and sophomore Joshua Harris was one of those that answered the call.

Harris established new career highs in receptions (eight) and receiving yards (95) to help Furman knock off then No. 18-ranked ETSU, 27-14. Harris' big night began in spectacular fashion. On third-and-11 with Furman backed up at its own three-yard line, Tyler Huff threw deep down the left sideline to Harris who was defended very well. Harris made a leaping grab and managed to get his left foot down in bounds for a 28-yard gain.

"It's something we work on every day. ... What's running through my head is, 'it's 1-on-1 and I want to beat you.' ... You hold the line, stack them, get his hand off you and go make the play," Harris said of the catch. "I think the difference for me from last year to this year is confidence. Last year, coming in right out of high school, I was thrown into the fire. I was trying to play up to the standard that I have for myself.

"This year, I have players who push me every single day in practice to be the best I can be. So coming into a game, I feel like that confidence and level of play-making is there for me." 

While the Paladins didn't score on the first quarter drive, that play - and Ryan Leavy's 53-yard punt - helped flip field position.

Harris was a major contributor to Furman's best possession of the night, a 14-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that pushed its lead to 20-7 midway through the third quarter. He caught one pass for seven yards, then another for seven on a third-and-four play. On a third-and-nine, he drew a holding penalty against the Bucs. On a second-and-12 play, Harris took a slant pass for a gain of 23 yards. That set up a three-yard touchdown catch by Miller on the next play.

Later in the third quarter, Furman converted another third down when Harris drew a pass interference flag against the Bucs. The Paladins got first downs on four consecutive third down plays in the quarter after converting one of their first seven third downs.

"He makes those kind of plays every day in practice. ... One of the things may not realize about Josh this year is that he's 25 pounds heavier. He's still not a big, bulky guy, but I think he'd tell you that's been huge for him," Hendrix said. "The quarterback play has certainly helped him. I think we've got guys out there that force people to defend the whole field, which creates opportunities."

Blackshear's momentum-shifting tackle

Furman was faced with going on the road at a tough place to play - especially at night, on Saturday. That task becomes all the more daunting if you fall behind by two scores right off the bat, and that nearly happened to the Paladins.

After an ETSU interception on the second play of the game, the Bucs got a little momentum back by forcing a Furman three-and-out. They got all the momentum back when their next play went for a 75-yard touchdown. The Paladins lost a fumble on their ensuing possession, and ETSU marched down the field on its next possession in hopes of pushing its lead to 11.

The Bucs got a run for 14 yards. Then 16. Then 11. Then a 20-yard pass to Furman's eight-yard line. If this was basketball, Hendrix may have called a timeout to try to slow the momentum. On first-and-goal, ETSU handed off to preseason SoCon Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Saylors. If Saylors made one man miss, he looked to have a fairly clear path to the end zone.

But that one man didn't miss.

Furman senior cornerback Travis Blackshear dove at Saylors' feet and tripped him up for a one-yard loss. Two plays later, Hugh Ryan deflected a pass that bounced off Kam Brinson's helmet as Brinson nailed the ETSU receiver. Jalen Miller made his first career interception off the tipped pass to cancel the Bucs' scoring threat.

"That was a huge play. If they score there and go up 14-3, it definitely changes the shape of the game," Ryan said. "Then we had a huge confidence boost to get off the field without giving up any points. That allowed us to settle in a little more after that."

At the point of that first-and-goal play seven minutes into the game, ETSU had 133 yards of total offense. Over the final 53 minutes, ETSU had 219. Saylors, who was coming off a 187-yard rushing performance at The Citadel the week before, had 45 yards on eight carries in the first quarter Saturday. The rest of the way, he had nine yards on 11 carries.

A total of 10 different Paladins made tackles-for-loss. Hendrix praised Dominic Morris, who rebounded after being benched for a "dumb" taunting penalty. With Blackshear dealing with cramps for a bit in the second half, Morris came off the bench and made a couple of pass breakups and the game-sealing interception with less than a minute to play. 

"That first (ETSU) touchdown was a catastrophic play and you certainly don't ever want to give up those. But I think our guys didn't panic," Hendrix said. "We've got a lot of guys on that side of the ball that know they're going to play because they have a role. They've been really productive."

Miller extends record TD streak

While Miller was definitely a focus of ETSU's defense, he still managed to catch five passes for 39 yards and extend his touchdown streak to a school record six consecutive games dating back to last year. Of Furman's last nine games, the only one Miller didn't catch a touchdown in was Chattanooga's 13-3 win last season.

Miller's score broke the school record for consecutive games with a touchdown reception of five by Chas Fox (1985), Collin Anderson (2011) and Andy Schumpert (2017). Fox actually scored a touchdown in 10 consecutive games from 1984 to 1985. However in two of those, his only score came on one of his many electrifying reverses. 

SoCon weekly honors

Ryan was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after recording eight tackles, including seven solo stops, in Saturday's win. In addition to his team-high tackle total, Ryan also had an interception, a forced fumble and an official pass breakup. That breakup was separate from the one on Miller's interception, as for whatever stupid reason, pass breakups are not credited to someone who deflects a pass that someone else intercepts. It's why there was no pass breakup credited to Matt Sochovka, whose tipped pass led to Ryan's interception on the second play of the game.

N.C. State transfer Ian Williams earned SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week honors after nailing field goals from 44 and 43 yards out, respectively. Both kicks sailed through near the top of the uprights. Williams also put five of his six kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks. He has a SoCon-best 15 touchbacks out of 18 kickoffs this season.

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