Saturday, December 2, 2023

Furman set for round two with Chattanooga

Furman quarterback Tyler Huff is set to return Saturday when the Paladins host
Chattanooga in round two of the FCS playoffs. Photo courtesy of Furman

The second round of the FCS Playoffs Saturday will also be "round two" for Furman and Chattanooga when they kick off at 1 p.m. at Paladin Stadium. It will be a rematch of the Paladins' thrilling 17-14 win at Chattanooga four weeks ago that clinched Furman's Southern Conference record 15th league championship.

While Furman had last week off thanks to receiving a bye as the No. 7 seed in the playoffs, Chattanooga traveled to Austin Peay for the opening round last Saturday. The Mocs overcame injuries to key players to leave with a 24-21 win thanks to a 35-yard field goal by Clayton Crile as time expired.

"We prepped a little bit for both teams before last weekend, but I'm not surprised at all that it's Chattanooga," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said during his weekly press conference Monday. "I said it before and I said it after (they played), it's the most complete team we've played in terms of offense, defense and special teams.
"I think one of the great things is there will be a Southern Conference team in the final eight. We're going to do everything we can to make that be us."

Thanks to this crazy thing here in 2023 college football where every team in the SoCon still plays each other every season, this will be the seventh playoff rematch for Furman against a league team. The Paladins are 2-4 in those games, with some of the most joyous and painful memories that will be etched in the minds of Furman followers forever.

The first rematch came in 1983. After the Paladins and Western Carolina tied 17-17 in the regular season meeting at Cullowhee, N.C., the Catamounts won 14-7 in Greenville on their way to the national championship in their only playoff appearance ever. After the game, a group of Western fans proceeded to tear down Furman's goalposts drawing a lifetime of ire for the Catamounts from many Furman fans.

In 1988, the Paladins lost at Marshall 24-10 in the regular season before winning the rematch 13-9 on Dwight Sterling's touchdown run with 2:09 left in the game. Winning in the "wretched hive of scum and villainy" that was Marshall's Fairfield Stadium helped power Furman to a rout of Idaho back home the next week and a victory over Georgia Southern for the national championship two weeks later.

Furman lost at Georgia Southern 24-10 in the 2001 regular season, but in the FCS semifinals the Paladins became the first visiting team to ever win a playoff game in Statesboro. Furman outscored the Eagles 17-0 in the second half to record a 24-17 victory and advance to the national championship.

The only time Furman won in the regular season in any of these matchups came in 2005 when the Paladins defeated Appalachian State in Greenville, 34-31. The rematch came in Boone in the FCS semifinals. With Furman leading 23-21 midway through the third quarter, Ingle Martin had a clear path to the end zone on a third-down bootleg. Martin slipped on a patch of ice at the three-yard line and came up limping after falling at the one. On fourth down, Jerome Felton was stuffed short of the goal line. The Mountaineers went on to score the lone points of the second half on a touchdown with 2:17 remaining in the game to pull out a 29-23 win.

The last time a rematch from the regular season occurred was twice actually in 2017. Furman fell to departed SoCon member Elon 34-31 in Greenville before winning at Elon, 28-27, in the opening round of the playoffs. The next week, the Paladins fell at Wofford 28-10.

Beating a good team twice is hard to do simply because beating a good team once is hard to do. Hendrix believes any philosophies on playing a team twice will become moot at 1 p.m. Saturday.

"I think one of the disappointments last year for our guys was seeing that they weren't going to Samford for the second round because they wanted that (rematch). Chattanooga may feel the same way," Hendrix said. "That's something to talk about before the game but once you kick it off, all that's forgotten. It's all about who can go execute."

From a personnel standpoint, this Saturday's rematch could have some different looks than last month's meeting. Most notably at quarterback, where the roles seem to have reversed.

After Furman starter Tyler Huff was injured early in the second quarter at Chattanooga, redshirt freshman Carson Jones threw a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to left the Paladins to the win. Jones started Furman's final two games of the regular season as Huff rested his injured shoulder, but Huff is ready to return this Saturday.

"I feel good. The rehab and recovery has gone well," said Huff, who said he could've played last Saturday had Furman not received a bye. "It was difficult not being out there. ... Wofford was especially tough (not being able to play).
"The best thing is this team hasn't forgotten about that. I think a lot of that pain, anger and the embarrassment we felt, we're excited to let that out against somebody else."

After being sacked five times by Furman, Chattanooga standout quarterback Chase Artopoeus hasn't played since. The Mocs have turned to redshirt freshman Luke Schomburg at quarterback. In last Saturday's win at Austin Peay, Schomburg completed 21-of-36 passes for 259 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

"(Schomburg) reminds me a lot of Carson Jones. I think they did a really good job of protecting him in some of the things they asked him to do (last Saturday), " Hendrix said. "He moves around well. He's athletic and poised. You can see that about him and he's pretty accurate with a good arm."

Sophomore running back Reggie Davis ran for a career-high 97 yards in the Mocs' win last week. David and Gino Appleberry have carried the load of the ground game after one of UTC's all-time great backs, Ailym Ford, was lost midway through the season due to a knee injury.

Chattanooga also won last week with SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Jay Person on the sideline in the second half with his arm in a sling. He had recorded his 27th career sack and 56th career tackle-for-loss before the first-half injury.

"What a great player he is. It seems like he's been playing for 10 years," Hendrix said. "I think he's like our guys. I think he will find any way he can to go play, so I fully expect him to be playing.
"I don't know if you change much of anything in terms of preparation. We just need to be more concerned with ourselves. ... I don't think either team changes vastly based on who's out there."

In addition to getting Huff back, Furman could also have leading rusher Dominic Roberto back. Roberto's been a little beat up much of the season and didn't play in the regular season finale at Wofford two weeks ago. Grant Robinson might also be back in the running back mix this week.

Experience is never a bad thing to have. While Furman is trying to advance to the FCS quarterfinals for the first time since 2005, this veteran group has lots of experience including the postseason. For seniors like Matt Sochovka, who was born before the Paladins last played in the national championship in 2001, this whole season has been like a playoff.

"When you get this point in the season, everybody is a good team and everybody's been through the ringer of close games. We've been in so many, it's like we've been playing playoff football all year especially with the target on our back," Sochovka said. "When you have 41 or 42 seniors like we have, this is the last time you're going to be with your brothers all in one place for the last month-and-a-half.
"It's about winning games, but it's really about not ending these moments we have together. I think that's what is going to fuel our team. We don't want to not be together anymore."

No comments:

Post a Comment