Saturday, November 19, 2022

Paladins thump Wofford, pad playoff resume

Dominic Roberto (8) and Ryan Miller celebrate in Furman's 63-28 win over Wofford Saturday. Miller
broke Chas Fox's career touchdown reception record with his 27th. Photo courtesy of Furman

You may never get a second chance to make a first impression, but final impressions are pretty important too. On Saturday, 12th-ranked Furman's final impression to the FCS playoff committee was awfully impressive. The Paladins didn't score in the fourth quarter, but still had their highest scoring output against a Division I opponent in 19 years as they whipped Wofford, 63-28, before a crowd of 10,117 at Paladin Stadium.

It was the most points scored against a Division I foe since the 2003 squad ended the season with a 63-21 win at Chattanooga. Furman (9-2, 7-1 Southern Conference) just missed out on grabbing a share of the SoCon championship when Samford outlasted Mercer, 50-44, in double overtime. Mercer had a first-and-goal at the Samford two in the final seconds of regulation, but had to settle for a game-tying field goal.

Now the Paladins will wait to see who, when and where they play next when the FCS playoff field is revealed at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU. Their resume includes wins over three ranked teams, a loss to a one-loss FBS power in Clemson and the other loss to an FCS team that had no FCS losses in Samford. That seven-point loss to Samford was played without starting quarterback Tyler Huff and had a play controversial enough to warrant a public apology to Furman by the SoCon.

"It was a complete win out there today. There's always things you want to go back and do better, but I thought it was our best day offensively," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said after Saturday's win. "Their offense for the day was jump balls and obviously we didn't do as good a job against those as we should have, but I can't say enough about our team.

"I think we have a heck of a football team. I'm certainly excited to be playing again and I can actually talk about it now. ... I think we're a seeded football team. They may not call me and ask me my opinion tonight, but I think we've proven that by how we've played and the schedule we've played."

Furman could essentially do whatever it wanted offensively Saturday. With backups in at all spots in the fourth quarter, the Paladins had 10 yards on nine plays but still finished with 469 yards of total offense. Furman converted all of its first downs over the first three quarters - all four of them.

Huff was sensational as he completed 21-of-22 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed eight times for 40 yards and two scores. Dominic Roberto ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Joshua Harris built off his career day last week with 112 yards receiving on eight catches, including a touchdown.

"It wasn't nothing spectacular by me. We were throwing screens and I was just getting the ball to my guys," Huff said. "Throwing to a guy like (Harris) is easy because if you put it anywhere near him, he's going to catch it. I'm confident any time I throw it his way."

While there were plenty of stars all over for Furman Saturday, one got the game ball. That went to All-American tight end Ryan Miller, who caught a pair of touchdowns to break Chas Fox's school record with 27 in his career.

"I don't think I've ever been in a locker room where the game ball has been given out, but I gave Ryan the game ball today," Hendrix said. "I just thought it was appropriate. What's hard about that is that you want to win the game, but you also want to get that record for him. ... We don't have a guy that's worked any harder or practices any harder.

"Chas was a good teammate and a heck of a player. He's actually the one that brought the record to my attention earlier this season. He told me he wanted to speak to Ryan when he breaks it and I told him we could make that happen."

It wasn't all cake and ice cream for Furman Saturday. A Wofford team that had won three out of four came out with guns blazing and the Paladins found themselves in a shootout early on. But with the game tied 14-14 in the first quarter, Furman's defense finally snapped the back-and-forth scorefest with a three-and-out.

After the Paladins went up 21-14 on their ensuing possession, their defense bluntly turned the shootout into a rout. On first down, the Terriers' Kyle Parsons took a handoff and was immediately slammed to the ground by Cameron Coleman for a one-yard loss. On second down, Parsons caught a screen pass and was immediately upended by Travis Blackshear for a two-yard gain. On third down, Wofford quarterback Jimmy Weirick took a big hit from behind by cornerback Ivan Yates and fumbled. Alex Maier recovered setting up Furman at the Wofford 21.

"I think the key was how we played offensively, because we kept answering when we were struggling (defensively)," Hendrix said. "But that series defensively absolutely turned the tide."

By the time the Terriers scored again late in the second quarter, the Paladins had a 42-14 lead. It took 17 passes for Huff's first incompletion and that was an interception by Wofford with 1:02 left in the half. The Terriers looked to cut more into the lead with a field goal, but Jack Barton came up with his fourth blocked kick of the season and Travis Blackshear returned it 33 yards to the Wofford 37.

Furman could not take advantage of it points-wise as Huff was sacked on the final play of the half and the Paladins settled for a 42-21 lead at the break. There was no let up in the second half as Huff and Kendall Thomas ran for touchdowns on Furman's first two possessions.

The cherry on top of the day was once again provided by special teams. Wofford tried another field goal and this one was blocked by Cameron Coleman. Blackshear again scooped up the loose ball and this time he raced 65 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 63-21 late in the third quarter.  That marked Furman's fourth consecutive blocked field goal dating back to the Chattanooga game. The Paladins have blocked eight kicks and one punt this season.

"We were really happy that Cujo (Coleman) got one. ... He's the lowest man on the line every time on that play," Barton said. "He will put his helmet right into the other dude's helmet and knock them back. Then Matt (Sochovka) and I just have a field day."

Furman withstood a career-high passing day by Weirick, who finished with 428 yards on 25-of-43 passing with two interceptions. The Paladins limited Wofford to 37 yards rushing on 24 attempts.

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