Saturday, November 26, 2022

Historic defensive effort lifts Furman past Elon

Furman's Xavier Stephens had 2.5 sacks in the Paladins' 31-6 win over Elon
in Saturday's opening round of the FCS playoffs. Photo courtesy of Furman

In Furman's storied history of Division I-AA and FCS playoff football, the Paladins had never held a opponent out of the end zone for the game.

Until Saturday.

Furman (10-2) had 251 yards rushing on offense and limited Elon to 77 yards on the ground as the Paladins rolled to a 31-6 win in the opening round of the playoffs Saturday at Paladin Stadium. It's the fewest points Furman has ever allowed in 37 playoff games in school history and the only time its opponent hasn't scored a touchdown.

The 11th-ranked Paladins will travel to San Antonio to play at seventh-seeded and fifth-ranked Incarnate Word in next Saturday's round two at 2 p.m.

"I couldn't be prouder of how our group prepared. Our staff did a phenomenal job of putting our guys in positions to go make plays," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I just can't say enough about the way we played defensively. When you do that, it certainly makes it a little easier to play offense and win ballgames."

No. 12-ranked Elon (8-4) struck first when Skyler Davis made a 52-yard field goal on the game's opening drive, which was extended by a fake punt that Furman was actually prepared for but only required a two-yard run.

Dominic Roberto's longest run of the day, a 25-yarder, started Furman's second drive. Tyler Huff's longest pass of the day ended it as Ryan Miller caught a pass over the middle and rumbled to the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown.

Elon's ensuing drive ended when quarterback Matthew McCoy was dropped for a loss of one on fourth-and-one. On the Paladins' next drive, Huff scrambled for a 12-yard gain on third-and-four on the first play of the second quarter. Devin Abrams scored on a 10-yard run on next play to push Furman's lead to 14-3.

Later in the second quarter, Elon's lone trip to the red zone ended in spectacular fashion for Furman. On fourth-and-three, the Phoenix lined up for a 25-yard field goal but ran a fake. Davis took a lateral from the holder and was immediately obliterated by Travis Blackshear. Kam Brinson recovered the fumble.

"Certainly that play was huge," Hendrix said. "We've been practicing for fake goals. We've blocked so many kicks, we knew we were going to see stuff."

After that play by Blackshear with 5:45 left in the first half, Elon crossed midfield just twice the rest of the day. One of those times, Luke Clark forced a fumble that Seth Johnson recovered at the Furman 28 on the next play. The second time resulted in a 51-yard field goal by Davis that cut Furman's lead to 17-6 early in the fourth quarter.

Furman then had the answer of all answers of a drive. The Paladins drove 75 yards on 16 plays and shaved 9:39 off the clock. The march when Huff scrambled for a nine-yard touchdown on third-and-seven to extend Furman's lead to 24-6 with five minutes left.

That was a fitting end to a drive as it featured the most symbolic play of the day thanks to Huff. On third-and-two early on in the possession, Huff bulldozed his way for a five-yard run that had no business getting anything positive.

"I always tell our running backs, 'find you a soft shoulder.' Well Tyler didn't find a soft shoulder. He hit the guy right down the middle and I'm thinking that he's going to get stopped but then the pile just kept moving," Hendrix said. "I think it just epitomized our whole day and was certainly a big play in a big drive."

Furman stopped Elon on downs at the Phoenix 44 on the next possession. Grant Robinson put the cherry on top of the victory with a 25-yard touchdown run on his lone carry.

Roberto finished with 98 yards on 23 carries giving him 1,061 this season and 2,055 in his career, which ranks 12th-highest in school history. Huff had 93 yards rushing on 10 attempts and completed 16-of-26 passes for 140 yards and no interceptions.

"Our defense has done a tremendous job all year. They've picked us up when we've been slacking and they did it again today," Huff said. "This was my first playoff game so to advance to the second round, it's an amazing feeling."

Furman's defense held Elon 1,000-yard rusher Jalen Hampton, a Virginia Tech transfer, to 30 yards on 10 carries. McKay, who previously played at N.C. State and Montana State, netted 53 yards on 11 carries and completed 20-of-40 passes for 238 yards.

McKay was sacked four times, 2.5 of which were by noseguard Xavier Stephens. Alex Maier accounted for the other 1.5 sacks. Bryce McCormick and Braden Gilby had seven tackles apiece to lead the defense.

"I just trust the process and coaches, keep my head down and grind," said Stephens, who had just five tackles over the first five games this season, but has 20 stops and four sacks since. "I trust the defensive backs and linebackers to get quick coverage and I trust my boys up front to get pressure that frees me to get sacks."

No comments:

Post a Comment