Furman finishes off SoCon state title

Furman running back Dominic Roberto/photo courtesy of Furman sports information

GREENVILLE, S.C.–For Elijah McKoy, it was patience that paid off perfectly in Furman’s 24-14 win over The Citadel.

It was the fifth-year senior’s caused fumble on a Jaylan Adams option pitch in a tense, 17-14, game midway through the fourth quarter that changed the complexion and the momentum of Saturday night’s contest in the 101st renewal of the rivalry with The Citadel .

On 1st-and-10 at the at The Citadel 43, McKoy’s timing was impeccable, breaking through The Citadel line unblocked and batted the pitch down, falling on the ball at The Citadel 31.

Elijah McKoy’s game-changing play

Seven rushing plays later, the Paladins took back their two-score lead when Devin Abrams broke through the Bulldog line for a 1-yard scoring plunge on 3rd-and-goal, with 3:36 remaining to make it a 24-14 game.

It was his 41st game in a Paladin uniform, and he entered the contest with 246-career tackles, 12.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, four forced fumbles and had 27-career starts.

His 28th-career start turned out to be one of the signature performances of the Rome, GA, native’s Paladin career, as he posted 10 tackles, 2.0 TFL, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to help turn the tide of the game in a game which Furman needed the maturity of its defense to outlast a disciplined and determined Bulldog offense.

McKoy, who made the transition to ‘bandit’ linebacker last spring before having to miss the entire spring season with injury, patiently waited for his opportunity.

On Saturday night against the bitterest of rivals, it was that patience that paid off in what was his first start of the season, and it was a big reason Furman was able to snap a two-game losing streak to the Bulldogs, who seemingly looked like they might make it three in a row.

On the offensive side of the football and playing without its battering ram Devin Wynn, who was less than 100%, however, dressed out and uniform with helmet in hand, Furman head coach opted to use its full array of ground weapons, which included Dominic Roberto, the aforementioned Abrams and Wayne Anderson Jr. to help account for the absence of Wynn.

Roberto, Anderson, Jr., Abrams, starting quarterback Jace Wilson and Kendall Thomas combined to rush for 205 yards, but it was Roberto that did a lion’s share of the work, rushing for a career-best 132 yards and a score on just 12 carries. The 5-11, 242-lb sophomore’s 90-yard rumble accounted for the second-longest scoring run in program history.

Furman’s 205 yards on the ground was a large bulk of its 289 yards of total offense on just 52 total plays. Furman quarterbacks Jace Wilson (4-of-12, 89 yds, 1 TD) and Hamp Sisson (0-of-3) combined to go just 4-of-15 for yards and a TD through the air.

In fact, the Bulldogs owned advantages in total plays (89-52), total yards (364-289), time of possession (36:45-21:59), rushing yards (241-205) and passing yards (123-84). However, the Paladins did manage to win the turnover battle (3-2).

The Citadel’s Adams efforts were admirable in defeat, as he completed 9-of-17 passes for 123 yards, with one INT, while rushing 35 times for 118 yards and two TDs on 35 attempts.

The Bulldogs had five different players catch a pass in the loss, with Raleigh Webb catching a team-high four passes for 38 yards, while Keyonte Sessions caught two passes for 45 yards, and Joe Douglas–son of former Bulldog great quarterback Jack Douglas–had the prettiest catch of the night on a 26-yard diving grab in the opening half of play. Tyler Cherry and Carter Moody both ended the night with catches for seven yards.

Furman had only three players catch passes, with Wayne Anderson Jr. hauling in a pair of passes for 25 yards, while preseason All-America tight end Ryan Miller, who hauled in a 58-yard touchdown and Joshua Harris had one catch for one yard.

In addition to McKoy’s strong night on the defensive side of the football, the Paladins got a game-high 12 tackles from linebacker Dan Scianna, while fellow linebacker Bryce McCormick added 10 stops with a forced fumble.

How It Happened:

The Bulldogs opened the final frame of the game with a third-and-goal from the one. On the first play of the final quarter, the Bulldogs found themselves within striking distance once again, with Adams punching it in for his second score of the contest, making it a 17-14 contest. 

On Furman’s opening drive of the final quarter, the Paladins made a change at quarterback on its opening drive of the final quarter, as Hamp Sisson replaced Jace Wilson on Furman’s opening drive of the fourth quarter. 

After Furman went three-and-out, the Bulldogs appeared ready to take control of the game for good, however, fifth-year senior Elijah McKoy came un-blocked through the left side of the Bulldogs’ offensive line to disrupt an Adams option pitch, diving on the football at the Bulldog 31.

Furman’s offense, which had manufactured just 47 yards in six possessions prior to The Citadel’s fumble, managed to move 31 yards in seven plays, capped by a 1-yard scoring plunge from Devin Abrams to give the Paladins a bit of a cushion, at 24-14, with 3:36 left.

The Citadel got the ball to start to the second half, fashioning a 51-yard drive on 11 plays to the Paladin 22, however, Kintner missed his second field goal of the night 32-yard field goal to keep the score, 17-7, midway through the third quarter. Furman’s offensive struggles continued on its opening drive of the second half, generating one first down before having to punt the football away. 

In fact, the Bulldogs kept the ball for the majority of the third quarter, controlling the ball in total number of plays 27-6 in the third quarter alone, more than doubling Furman’s total play total by the end of the frame, controlling the play total 66-36, yet facing a 10-point deficit to open the final quarter. 

The Paladin defense was the story for much of the night, especially when the true freshman Wilson and the Paladin offense found it tough going for the second and third quarters. The Paladin defense could best be described as “bend but don’t break” and got a little luck as well. 

The Citadel got off to a fast start, as following an 11-yard rush by Furman true freshman quarterback Jace Wilson on the game’s opening play.

Two plays later, Wilson was pressured and hit by Citadel freshman linebacker Saul Diaz, who forced and recovered the fumble to set up the Bulldogs at the Paladin 31. The Bulldogs needed just four plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard scoring plunge from Jaylan Adams.

Furman answered on the third play of the next drive, as Ryan Miller hauled in a 58-yard scoring pass from Jace Wilson, tying the score 7-7, with 11:02 remaining in the opening quarter.

Late in the opening quarter, The Citadel moved the ball deep inside Furman territory, but were faced with a 4th-and-3 at the Furman 12-yard line.

Following a timeout, Adams called his own number, and after initially avoiding a couple of Paladin would-be tacklers, was brought down a yard short of the first down by Paladin linebacker Bryce McCormick, forcing the Bulldogs to turn the ball over on downs.

Dominic Roberto capitulated on Furman’s first play on the next possession, as he took a handoff from Wilson and scampered 90 yards for a touchdown, giving the Paladins the momentum and a 14-7 lead with 1:56 remaining in the opening quarter.

Furman’s final points of the half came following a Kam Brinson tackle of Citadel all-conference punter Matt Campbell on The Citadel’s ensuing drive, allowing the Paladins to take over the football at The Citadel 23. The Paladins eventually had to settle for a 21-yard Timmy Bleekrode field goal with 14:10 left in the half, increasing Furman’s lead to 17-7.

Late in the half, The Citadel looked to go deep to Raleigh Webb, however, Travis Blackshear had good coverage on the play and recorded his fourth interception of the season, however, Furman manufactured one first down before having to punt the ball back to the Bulldogs with 31 seconds remaining.

Adams completed a 37-yard pass to Keyonte Sessions to set up a 42-yard field goal attempt by Colby Kintner on the final play of the half. Kintner was heavily pressured off the right flank by Blackshear, who affected the kick. 

Postgame Press Conference:

Up Next:

Furman’s first opponent at its current facility was ETSU

Furman faces a massive challenge in its bid to remain in the Southern Conference title race, facing East Tennessee State at Paladin Stadium next Saturday, with kickoff set for 2 p.m.

The Paladins are 27-8 all-time against East Tennessee State in series history, including having won the past two. The Paladins were forced to overcome a 10-0 deficit in the spring meeting between the two to come up with a 17-13 win in Johnson City.

The Paladins are 16-2 against the Bucs in Greenville, suffering one of their worst home losses in school history in 1997 to the Bucs, as ETSU delivered a 58-28 beat-down of the Paladins in Greenville. The Bucs also posted a 28-24 win in Greenville in 1979.

Furman has claimed the last two against ETSU, with both being defensive battles. In both wins, the magic number for wins has been 17 points, with Furman winning 17-13 in Johnson City in the spring, and a 17-10 win back in 2019 in Greenville.

ETSU is off one of its best starts in program history, having posted a 6-1 overall record, including a 3-1 mark in league play, as the Bucs are tied atop the league standings.

ETSU’s 6-1 start includes a 23-3 win over SEC foe Vanderbilt, marking its first win over a power five foe since 1987 when it defeated Dick Sheridan’s NC State team, 29-14, in Raleigh. The Bucs suffered their first loss of the season this past Saturday, with a 21-16 setback at preseason consensus SoCon favorite Chattanooga at Finley Stadium in the “Rail Rivalry” game.

ETSU broke through and won its first SoCon crown as a league member in 2018, tying Furman and Wofford for the league’s regular-season title with a 6-2 conference mark.

Catapulting that league title run was its largest comeback in school history, which came at the expense of the Paladins, who led 27-6 in the third quarter before Austin Herink led a heroic effort off the bench under center. The Bucs posted a 29-27 win at William B. Greene Stadium.

Furman used 113 hard-fought yards from Devin Wynn to come up with the come-from-behind win on the road. It was easily Furman’s best win of the spring.

The full recap of that contest can be found below.

https://soconsportsreport.blogspot.com/2021/03/furman-finds-its-motivation-for-first.html

Final Stats from Furman’s 24-14 win over The Citadel:

Other Notes:

–In Furman’s five SoCon championship seasons since Wofford joined the SoCon in 1997, Furman has defeated Wofford and The Citadel in the same season in all five (1999, 2001, 2004, 2013, 2018).

–Since Wofford joined the league in 1997, Furman has won the SoCon title five times and has made 10 FCS playoff appearances (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2013, 2017, and 2019).

–Furman has gone 2-0 against Wofford and The Citadel in eight of those 10 playoff seasons, with the 2019 and 2017 marking campaigns in which the Paladins lost at least once to one of the two. Furman was 1-1 against Wofford and The Citadel in 2017, dropping a 24-23 decision in the season opener at Wofford, while defeating The Citadel 56-20 in Greenville. In 2019, the Paladins made the FCS postseason despite going 0-2 against both Palmetto State foes.

–Furman has gone 2-0 against The Citadel and Wofford without making the postseason or winning a SoCon title since Wofford joined the SoCon in 1997. The only two campaigns in which Furman has claimed wins over both and not made the playoffs or won a league title are 1997 and 2011.

–Furman improved to 61-37-3 vs. The Citadel in the league’s most-played rivalry, ending a two-game skid to the Bulldogs.

SoCon Standings Following Saturday’s Action:

SoCon Scores from Oct. 16, 2021:

Furman 24, The Citadel 14

VMI 45, Mercer 7

Samford 27, Wofford 24

Chattanooga 21, No. 10 East Tennessee State 16

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