Furman opens with win over No. 24 North Carolina A&T

Furman 29, No. 24 North Carolina A&T 18

Photo credit: Furman University Sports Information

Post-game press-conference (Head coach Clay Hendrix; QB Hamp Sisson; DB Travis Blackshear; TE Ryan Miller; RB Devin Wynn)

It was a good start to the season for the Furman offense, and a better one for junior quarterback Hamp Sisson in Furman’s first-ever meeting against North Carolina A&T on the college football gridiron before one of Furman’s largest crowds of the last decade. Safe to say after a 623-day layoff, the Aggies were ready for some football judging by their large contingent of fans that drove down I-85 from Greensboro to witness what was a good football game. 

Though warm, the first Saturday morning of the 2021 college football season even felt a little like fall. That atmosphere had returned to Paladin Stadium, and to open the fall campaign, Paladin Stadium had an atmosphere. No cardboard fans required. 

At the end of what was a game that featured halves that seemed like two different games, it was Furman which captured a thrilling 29-18 win over No. 24 North Carolina A&T, marking the Paladins first over a ranked foe at home since a 34-14 win over No. 6 Wofford in 2018. 

For Sisson, he thrived in the moment. His 362-yard passing day ranked as the second-best in Paladin football history, and he did something no one in the other top six–he won. His career-high passing performance also included three scoring strikes and a pick, as the junior from Birmingham connect on 25-of-40 throws.

Sisson and the Furman offense, which struggled a little during the spring, showed few signs of that today. With two solid front sevens on the field, yards were always going to be hard to come by—even on the ground, and even for running backs the caliber of Furman’s Devin Wynn or A&T’s Jah-Maine Martin. 

Martin was the centerpiece of the A&T offense back in 2019, leading the nation in yards-per-carry (7.7 YPC). Saturday, Martin was limited by the Paladin defense to just 33 yards on 12 carries, averaging just 2.8 YPC

Wynn battled a hard-nosed Aggie defense for his 75 yards on 18 carries, with 45 yards on eight carries coming in the final frame. Furman offensive coordinator George Quarles found different ways to get Wynn involved in the Paladin offense, as he hauled in five passes for 55 yards. His five grabs led all Paladin wideouts and represented a career-high for the senior from Greensboro, GA.

The game that ensued in the first meeting between the two was a game that featured some offensive fireworks through the air, especially in the second half.

The latter two quarters featured passing touchdowns of 87 and 41 yards, while the Aggies had a 74-yard strike. The action was fast in furious in the second half, and in stark contrast to the opening half of play, which saw the Paladins use a defense that limited the Aggies to just five yards in the second quarter, taking a 10-3 lead into the halftime locker room. 

Furman passing days—he led them to a victory.  Only Reese Hannon’s 365-yard passing effort in the 2015 season opening, 38-35, loss to Coastal Carolina.

The Paladins would end up amassing a total yield of 487 yards of total offense, while holding the Aggies to 339. Through the air, Furman held a 362-268 edge, while posting a 125-71 edge on the ground. 

While the Furman defense was outstanding in the opening half of play, helping the Paladins to a 230-75 edge in total offensive yards, it was tide-turning plays made by all-conference cornerback Travis Blackshear that shifted the momentum of the game in a couple of key moments.

Following the first caused turnover of the season by Savannah, GA, native Travis Blackshear, Furman put its first points on the board in the second half to go ahead by two scores when Sisson connected with true freshman wideout Joshua Harris for a 43-yard touchdown, and following blocked PAT by Aggies linebacker Kylin Howard, leaving the margin at 13 with 12:19 to play in the third. 

Then, after the Aggies reached the Furman 4-yard line on the ensuing drive, courtesy of a 37-yard pass from Jalen Fowler-to-Ron Hunt, who beat Blackshear on a post route, it was Blackshear’s turn to make amends for the earlier lapse in coverage.

On 2nd-and-goal from the 4, it Fowler called his own number, but he mis-judged the speed and toughness of the Savannah, GA, native, who put helmet to football, causing Fowler to cough up the football and it would subsequently be recovered by Paladin linebacker Braden Gilby.

Miller, who wasn’t selected as a first or second team all-conference selection, yet was a member of the Associated Press All-America postseason squad in the spring, and was a member of numerous All-America teams in the pre-season, played like a man possessed once again Saturday.

He hauled in four catches for 124 yards and a score. His 87-yard catch and run is tied for the fourth-longest pass play in Furman history. Dating back to last spring, Miller now has seven scoring catches in eight games, and has totaled 19 catches for 378 yards in that same time frame. 

North Carolina A&T would respond and find its way into the opposition’s end zone for the first time in 623 days, as Fowler connected with Hunt on a 17-yard scoring strike with 2:33 left in the third quarter, bringing the Aggies back to within 13, at 23-10, following Andrew Brown’s PAT. 

The Paladins would respond with a Timmy Bleekrode 48-yard field goal to make it a 26-10 game, however, on the first play of the ensuing drive, Fowler connected with Hunt for a 74-yard score and then followed with a two-point conversion to make things interesting, at 26-18 game with 13:18 remaining in the game. 

But Furman’s defense, which started the day strong, would finish it off in style, despite a pair of turnovers that put the Aggie offense in good field position.

Sisson, who threw his only INT as a result of a ball that caromed off the hands of his intended receiver Ryan DeLuca and into the waiting arms of Tyquan King, giving the Bulldogs excellent field position at the Furman 14. 

Once again Furman’s defense was up for the challenge. After the Aggies got down to the Paladin 24 following a pass interference infraction against the Paladins, Furman yielded only one more yard to Kashon Baker on a 1-yard run. Following a pair of incompletions, a bobbled snap exchange allowed Brown’s field goal attempt to be blocked by Dae’One Wilkins.

Following an offensive pass interference penalty on the first play to start the drive, Furman stopped the Aggies for no-gain and an incomplete pass to force Andrew Brown to trot on for his second field goal attempt of the day, however, his 38-yard attempt was wide left with 10:34 remaining.

On Furman’s next possession, the Paladins turned it over a second time, as Dominic Roberto was stuffed for a loss of two yards and coughed up the football, and Aggie linebacker Richie Kittles recovered the fumble to give the Paladins the football at the Paladin 39. The Aggies had officially seized momentum of the game for the first time all afternoon.

Furman would makes its next offensive possession a decisive one, as the Paladins proceeded to drive 61 yards in nine plays, most importantly milking six minutes off the clock, as Bleekrode’s third field goal of the day—this one from 26 yards—gave Furman a two-score advantage, at 29-18, with 2:27 to play.

The Paladins would eventually force the Aggies to turn the ball over on downs on their ensuing drive, closing out the 11-point win in the victory formation.

Hunt led the Aggies day offensively, getting behind the Paladin secondary for several big pass plays. He ended the day by hauling in five passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Fowler connected on 14-of-29 throws for 268 yards, with two scores and a pick.

The Paladins take to the road for the first time next Saturday, with a trip to face Tennessee Tech for the first meeting between the two since 1976 and only the third meeting between the two overall.

The Golden Eagles were beaten by fellow SoCon rival Samford, 52-14, in the season opener for both teams last Thursday night. Kickoff between the Paladins and Golden Eagles is set for 2:30 p.m. EST.  

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