|A pass falls just out of the reach of Kyndel Dean during Furman's|
19-13 loss at Wofford Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
SPARTANBURG - Fourth down plays can obviously have a big impact on football games. Saturday at Gibbs Stadium, a couple of them had an impact like many watching likely had never seen before.
Two fourth-and-one plays, one snapped by Wofford and one snapped by Furman, resulted in two Terrier touchdowns. On a day where the Paladins' offense was nowhere to be found, those plays proved to be the difference as Wofford stunned Furman, 19-13. In winning its "Super Bowl" against its biggest rival, the Terriers spoiled the No. 2-ranked Paladins' bid for a perfect Southern Conference season.
"Give them credit. They did what they had to do to win and outcoached us and outplayed us," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said following Saturday's game. "I don't know if we could play any worse than we played offensively. ... That's one of the more frustrating days I've ever been a part of."
Furman (9-2, 7-1) entered Saturday going for a 10th win to add to its FCS playoff resume in hopes of securing the No. 2 seed. The regular season-ending loss ended those hopes and the shocking nature of it made it less of a guarantee that the Paladins would receive one of the eight national seeds and a first round bye. The playoff committee supposedly factors in injuries when determining the field, so the fact that the Paladins played Saturday without starting quarterback Tyler Huff and starting running back Dominic Roberto should've been taken into consideration.
A day after the bitter disappointment of its first SoCon loss since last Oct. 1, Furman got to celebrate the product of its wins this season Sunday. At a viewing party of the FCS Playoff selection show, roars of approval filled the Younts Conference Center when Furman was revealed as the No. 7 seed. After taking this Saturday off, the Paladins will host either Chattanooga or Austin Peay in round two on Dec. 2 at 1 p.m.
"I guess this was the first time I've sat in that room and watched knowing that we were in, so that was a great feeling," Hendrix said Sunday. "Certainly yesterday was a disappointment, but all it changed was the path. The seed was obviously a big part of that. ... Everybody you play now is going to be challenging."
More to come: I'll have more from Sunday's viewing party as well as SoCon postseason honors for the Paladins later this week.
Carson Jones, who had played so flawlessly in relief of Huff each the past two weeks, had some struggles Saturday that you'd expect from a freshman. After throwing six touchdowns over the course of the fourth quarter at Chattanooga two weeks ago and the first half against VMI last week, Jones had none Saturday. He completed 18-of-38 passes for just 99 yards and had one interception. A number of those throws were simply low-percentage passes.
Furman's running game wasn't any better as it was held to 89 yards on 25 attempts. Myion Hicks had 70 of those 89 yards, and 38 of his 70 came on one run.
"I really don't know what we would've done differently. It's football. You've got to be able to block, throw and catch, sustain drives, score points and take care of the ball," Hendrix said. "I thought our kids played hard and kept playing hard. It's a frustrating deal."
Every little mistake that Furman made, Wofford (2-9, 2-6) seemed to capitalize on. The first example of that came on the second play of the game. The Terriers, who entered Saturday ranked 117th in the country in total offense and scoring offense, should've been on the verge of a three-and-out as it faced a third-and-eight play. But Jack Barton was flagged for a weak roughing the passer penalty on second down. The drive ended on a 46-yard field goal to give Wofford a 3-0 lead.
Furman's first two offensive plays Saturday were an 11-yard run by Wayne Anderson and a 12-yard push pass from Jones to Colton Hinton. After those two plays, the Paladins had 14 yards the rest of the first quarter. The offense managed nothing despite being put in great field position. Wofford's next two drives ended on an interception by Cally Chizik and a fumble recovery by Matt Sochovka. Furman could only manage an Ian Williams' field goal off of those as the game was tied 3-3 after one quarter.
The Paladins followed up their 37-yard first quarter with a 50-yard second quarter. Another strip sack ended Wofford's first drive of the second quarter when Barton recovered the fumble. Furman got just another field goal by Williams to take a 6-3 lead.
On Wofford's ensuing possession, it faced third-and-six. Freshman quarterback Amari Odom was able to pick up a low snap off the ground and complete a nine-yard pass for a first down. Four plays later, Ryan Ingram took a fourth-and-one handoff up the middle. He bounced out of the big pile of players at the line of scrimmage and was gone for a 53-yard touchdown. It was the longest run allowed by the Paladins all season and the first rushing touchdown allowed since the Samford game on Oct. 14.
Furman responded with its first drive longer than 25 yards on its next possession. It was highlighted by Hicks' 38-yard run to the Wofford 14. On third-and-five from the Terriers' nine, Jones rolled to his right before throwing back to his left for tight end Mason Pline. Pline was immediately tackled for a five-yard loss. Williams had his string of 10 consecutive made field goals snapped when his 32-yard effort bounced off the right upright and Wofford took a 10-6 lead into halftime.
The third quarter pretty much told the story of the game. Furman outgained Wofford 73-12 in the quarter ... and got outscored 9-0.
The Paladins got the ball to start the second half and drove from their own 31 to the Terriers' 33. On fourth-and-one, Hicks never really got control of the handoff. If he had secured the ball, it appeared that he was likely going to be tackled well short of the first-down marker. A bad play for Furman turned completely horrific when Wofford's Maximus Pulley scooped up the loose ball and raced 64 yards for a touchdown. The extra point missed leaving the Terriers with a 16-6 lead.
That was Furman's first lost fumble since the season opener against Tennessee Tech on Aug. 31. It was also the first points off a turnover scored by an FCS opponent of the Paladins this season. Later on in the third quarter, Wofford added to that total. One play after the Terriers' David Powers sacked Jones, Powers intercepted Jones' tipped pass. That led to a field goal that pushed Wofford's lead to 19-6 entering the fourth quarter.
Furman answered with its lone touchdown drive of the day. Hicks capped the 11-play, 70-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run as the Paladins cut the lead to 19-13 with 12:07 left.
Wofford drove to the Furman 43 on its ensuing possession. On a third down, Sirod Cook and Evan DiMaggio swarmed Odom and forced yet another loose ball on the strip sack. Braden Gilby was in prime position to scoop it up and take it to the end zone. DiMaggio had no idea that Gilby was right behind him though and - as all defensive players are coached to do - fell on the loose ball at the Wofford 39 with 7:30 left to play.
After pass completions for one and two yards, Jones was sacked for a loss of eight on third down and Furman was forced to punt.
On Wofford's next possession, it looked like the Paladins might have collected their fifth turnover and the lead. The ball popped out late on a run by J.T. Smith and Furman's Bryce Stanfield picked it up at the 16 and raced to the end zone. Smith was ruled down though and there was no official review. On the television broadcast, it was hard to see where Smith's knee was but the ball was definitely out before any portion of his upper body hit the ground.
"They told me they looked at it (without stopping play for an official review) and his forward progress was stopped," Hendrix said.
Furman had one more chance after Wofford's punt was fair caught at the Furman 49 with 1:37 left. After three incompletions by Jones, Joshua Harris nearly had an incredible, acrobatic catch on fourth down but he couldn't haul it in and that was it.
In full fall seasons, Saturday was just Furman's second loss to a team with a losing record in Hendrix's seven years as head coach. The other was a 43-42 loss at Western Carolina in 2021.
The Paladins had just 188 yards of total offense. Meanwhile, Furman's defense gave up 184 yards for the game, including 45 in the second half.
"We played really well on defense. ... The difference was (Wofford's) mistakes didn't hurt them nearly as badly as ours hurt us," Hendrix said. "We just had catastrophic mistakes. ... I think we had a good week of prep, but you've got to go execute. We just executed at such a poor level and that ultimately comes back on me. That's my responsibility.
"I just told them that this doesn't diminish anything we've accomplished this year and we will get to play again."