Saturday, October 8, 2022

Roberto runs Paladins past Citadel

Dominic Roberto (8) rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns in Furman's
21-10 win at The Citadel Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

CHARLESTON - For the first time since last season, Furman didn't score on its final possession of the first half Saturday. But on this day, the Paladins showed the halftime momentum can be overrated. Furman's defense forced two turnovers in the third quarter, Dominic Roberto turned those into touchdowns, and the Paladins went on to a 21-10 win at The Citadel.

Furman (4-2, 2-1 Southern Conference) improves to 62-37-3 all-time in the SoCon's oldest rivalry, with just its second win in Charleston over the last nine years.

"This is 29 of these (games against Citadel) for me and they've all seemed to be hard. I knew this one would be to," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I'm just really proud of our team and how we prepared. Man, we played really well defensively if you take away some of those third down completions I would've rather been better at. ... It's always good to come here and get a win."

Two weeks after suffering a dislocated elbow at Charleston Southern, Furman starting quarterback Tyler Huff returned to the starting lineup Saturday. He and Roberto guided the Paladins down the field on the opening possession, which Devin Abrams capped with a two-yard touchdown run after taking a direct shotgun snap.

On a windy Saturday, Huff had issues throwing deep. Furman's offense sputtered after that opening drive, but came to life again in the two-minute drill, like it always seems to do. The Paladins had scored on each of its final (non-kneel down) drives, including five touchdowns, over its previous six games dating back to last year's season finale.

With 3:12 left in the first half and going into the wind, Furman drove from its own 25 to the Citadel 29. But Huff's throw to Ryan Miller near the end zone was underthrown. The Bulldogs' Destin Mack intercepted the pass with 51 seconds left in the half and Furman settled for a 7-3 lead at the break.

Entering Saturday, the third quarter was the only one that the Paladins had been outscored in all season, 38-17. That included a 14-0 showing by Samford last week after Furman had cut the lead to 20-17 at the half. With Citadel getting the ball to start the second half and the wind at its back, there had to be some concern for the Paladins.

That concern only had to grow after awful coverage on the Bulldogs' first third down of the second half, which resulted in a 29-yard pass to a wide open receiver. But on Citadel's next third down, Furman's defense went back to its calling card this season. Travis Blackshear blew up the Bulldogs' play stopping the running back 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. More importantly, he forced a fumble that Bryce Stanfield recovered at the Citadel's 32-yard line.

Two plays later, Roberto rumbled 26 yards for a touchdown.

"It all starts with preparation. We all had good practices this week. On that specific play, I read my keys and had the green light to go," Blackshear said. "I just had to make a play and I was glad I helped get the ball back to the offense. Getting a touchdown right after that was a big spike in the game."

On Citadel's next third down, Furman's dynamic duo of turnovers did it again as Jalen Miller forced a fumble that Kam Brinson recovered and returned eight yards to Citadel's 19. It's the third time in the last four games that Miller and Brinson have teamed up on a turnover. On the next play, Roberto rumbled for 14 yards and then carried dudes into the end zone on the next snap as Furman pushed its lead to 21-3.

Those turnovers came after not getting one in the first half for a Furman defense that entered Saturday with the second-most turnovers in the country at 14.

After snapping a nine-quarter scoreless streak with a second quarter field goal, Citadel (1-4, 1-2) snapped an 11-quarter touchdown drought with a 26-yard pass from Ahmad Green to Ricky Conway. Green was nearly sacked two steps into his drop back, but he got away and floated the pass over three Furman defenders to Conway in the back of the end zone.

The Bulldogs had three more possessions the rest of the way, but never sniffed Furman territory as the Paladins kept their fourth quarter shutout streak intact. Furman has outscored opponents 31-0 in the final quarter this season. While Citadel hit 13-of-26 passes for 169 yards, it's rushing attack was held to 107 yards on 41 attempts, for an average of 2.6 per carry.

"The option run for linebackers is really just downhill. We get to play the run, which we like doing. You don't really have pass responsibilities, so you're free for lots of tackles," said Braden Gilby, who had a game-high 12 tackles, including three for loss and a sack. "We've been forcing turnovers all season and I just had faith that they were coming."

With a brace on his left arm, Huff was in more of a game-manager mode and there were no runs for him Saturday. The was especially true in the second half as he attempted just three passes. He finished with 110 yards on 13-of-18 passing.

"He's a tough kid and I think he managed it well," Hendrix said. "I think we'll get back to trying to continue to let him use his feet when we can."

Roberto turned in the kind of performance that was reminiscent of the second half of his 2021 season as he finished with 133 yards on 18 carries. Furman had more two back sets than its had all year Saturday and that extra hat in for blocking, which was typically Abrams, seemed to create more holes.

"Coming out of halftime, the thought was that we could run it down their throat every single down. I think that's what we did," Roberto said. "It's good to get in a rhythm and get some bigger chunks of yards again. It's definitely a confidence booster."

Furman returns home to host Western Carolina next Saturday at 2 p.m.

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