Sunday, September 25, 2022

Paladins overcome miscues, rally past Bucs

Furman backup quarterback Jace Wilson scores the game-winning touchdown in the
Paladins' 24-19 win at Charleston Southern Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

NORTH CHARLESTON - For the second consecutive week, Furman's defense allowed a couple of big plays Saturday. And for the second consecutive week, Furman's defense declared "the Bucs stop here," when it needed to most. "Here" being the "after three quarters" scoreboard.

After sealing a win over the ETSU Buccaneers last week with a late interception, Dominic Morris did it again Saturday against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers. That helped keep the Paladins' season-long fourth quarter shutout intact. Meanwhile, the offense overcame four turnovers, drive-killing penalties and the loss of quarterback Tyler Huff as Furman rallied for a 24-19 win.

"Man, I haven't been a part of many like that one. It was just 'how many ways can you turn the gun on yourself,' " Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I'm just proud of our kids for finding a way. We're going to always celebrate a win."

"We had a lack of attention to detail and that's on me. We were missing a few guys and we had some guys playing roles that they haven't played. Starting center (Evan) Jumper was out. We moved Wyatt Hughes over there and then inserted two different guards who've really not played. I would've liked to have had Travis Blackshear in that game. ... But having guys thrust into roles today will make us better going forward. This will be a great tape to learn from."

On a sun-splashed day in the Lowcountry, it was hot on Buccaneer Field's artificial turf and the Paladins' depth on both sides of the ball seemed to pay off after halftime. It took nearly an entire half for Furman's offense to heat up, but the Paladins' final drive of the first half set the tone for the rest of the game.

The Paladins final three drives of the first half started at their one-, two- and seven-yard line, respectively. Before that last drive that started at the seven, Furman had 48 yards of total offense on 23 plays. Huff's 10-yard run on third-and-one moved the ball to the Charleston Southern 41 and gave the Paladins more yards on that drive than they had all day. Unfortunately, it was also Huff's final play. After taking a shot on the tackle, Huff slowly got up and signaled to the sideline that something was wrong. As it turns out, it was a dislocated left elbow and Huff didn't return.

Furman turned to backup Jace Wilson for his first significant action of 2022. On fourth-and-one at the CSU 21, Wilson hit Ryan Miller for a 16-yard gain. On the next play, Wilson kept for a five-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds remaining in the half. That capped a 14-play, 93-yard drive. After one of its most atrocious halves of offense in recent memory, including three turnovers in the first quarter, Furman somehow took a 10-9 lead into halftime.

The Paladins (3-1) looked to keep the momentum going after halftime, taking the opening possession to the CSU 34-yard line. But a false start penalty pushed the ball back five yards. Rather than trying a 56-yard field goal by Ian Williams, whose shown a powerful leg this season, Furman punted. Hendrix said they wanted to try to finally have an edge in field position based on how well the defense was playing and Ryan Leavy's kick was downed at the seven-yard line.

After forcing a three-and-out, Furman got the ball back near midfield. On the first play of that possession, Wilson made a perfect pass to Luke Shiflett for a gain of 37. However, it was nullified by a holding penalty, essentially sinking the drive before it really started.

Leavy's next punt pinned the Bucs at their own three-yard line. Field position went out the window on the next play as CSU hit a 97-yard touchdown pass. Perhaps the most important play of the game occurred on the Bucs' next drive, which began at their own 11. On the second play, CSU looked like it had a touchdown. But the 82-yard run ended at the Furman seven when Kam Brinson showed incredible hustle to chase down the Bucs' running back from behind and make the tackle.

That play became huge a few plays later when CSU had to settle for a 28-yard field goal to push the lead to 19-10 with 3:13 left in the third quarter.

"Kam Brinson made one of the biggest plays of the game running the guy down, and then we hold them to a field goal," Hendrix said. "If it's 23-10, it could be a whole other story."

Wilson answered on Furman's ensuing drive. The sophomore was flushed from the pocket and scrambled for 10 yards to midfield on a third-and-seven play. On third-and-two, Wilson faked a handoff, pump faked on a short screen pass and went deeper down the right sideline to Miller. Miller made the catch, turned to his left, and took off for a 44-yard touchdown. That extended his school record streak to seven consecutive games with a touchdown catch.

"Ryan and I had a good connection last year and that just kind of picked up where it left off," Wilson said. "Coach called some good rollout plays, got me in the open field, and let me just be me and play free."

CSU's ensuing drive ended at midfield when Jalen Miller ripped the ball away from a Bucs receiver and Brinson recovered the fumble. After Kendall Thomas ran for five yards on first down and three on second, he was stuffed for a one-yard loss on third. Facing fourth-and-three at the CSU 42, Wilson rolled right, couldn't find a receiver and kept for four yards.

On third-and-one later in the drive, Devin Abrams ran for seven yards to the 22. On the next play, Wilson faked a handoff to his left to Abrams and rolled to his right looking to throw before tucking it and running. Shiflett made a great block around the 10. That helped Wilson reach the three where he spun to his left and lunged into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 10:30 left in the game.

"Every week I just try to prepare myself like I'm going to be the starter. Coaches tell us all the time, 'next man up,' because you never know when your number's going to get called and I was prepared," Wilson said. "I'm happy my teammates rallied around me and got the win. A win's a win."

A sack by Dan Scianna helped end CSU's next drive. The Bucs' last chance came after a Wilson third-down pass went right to a linebacker. The interception set up CSU at the Furman 43 with 3:57 left. On fourth-and-seven at the Paladins' 21, Morris made an interception in the back of the end zone with 2:43 left.

After failing to get a first down on its first six third downs Saturday, Furman converted nine of its next 15. That ninth one was a two-yard run by Dominic Roberto on third-and-two that allowed the Paladins to kneel out the clock. Furman has outscored opponents 21-0 in the fourth quarter this season.

Without really trying to milk the clock, Furman had the ball for more than 21 minutes in the second half and posted 237 yards of total offense. CSU (0-4) had 235 yards in the second half, all but 56 of those coming on two plays.

Miller had 94 yards receiving on six receptions, while Roberto finished with 88 yards on 21 carries to lead Furman. Wilson threw for 109 yards on 7-of-15 passing and was the Paladins' second-leading rusher with 48 yards on six carries.

"Other than the last pass and a couple of other things he can do better, Jace wasn't fazed by the moment. His experience paid off there. We've won a bunch of big games with him, including this bunch we will play next week," Hendrix said. "Our guys have a lot of confidence in him.

"I don't know how long Tyler will be out, but we will get him back. I'm just proud of how our team rallied and didn't panic. There was a little frustration, but no panic."

Braden Gilby had a game-high 11 tackles, including three-for-loss, a sack and a forced fumble to lead Furman's defense. Scianna collected nine tackles, including two-for-loss and a sack.

The Paladins return home for the first time in a month next Saturday when they host Samford at 2 p.m.

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