For most that have followed the Furman Football program for a while, the 2021 campaign has seemingly hearkened back to 2003–one which Furman seemingly fielded one of its best defenses in program history, yet its offensive issues and red zone deficiencies ultimately proved to be its downfall in what turned out to be a 6-5 campaign, with Furman seeing Wofford claim the Southern Conference regular-season crown on its home turf with a 7-6 win on Senior Day at Paladin Stadium.
It was some salt in the wounds for underclassmen like Willie Freeman, Cam Newton, Mike Killian and Roy Ravenell, who would go on to be a big part of the two best defenses in Furman Football history in the 2003 and ’04 campaigns, respectively.
With Furman’s 13-3 loss at preseason Southern Conference favorite Saturday on a cold, dreary homecoming Saturday afternoon on a day not representative of what a great city the Scenic City of Chattanooga.
It marked the first time since 1979 that Furman will finish a season 0-2 against the two SoCon schools, which hail from the Volunteer State, and it is believed to be the first time since 1992 that the Paladins have failed to score touchdowns against two FCS opponents in the same season, losing 21-0 to Georgia Southern at home and 48-6 on the road on a night when Marshall christened its brand new Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Saturday’s defensive grinder was far from anything “scenic” and had more in common with the forecast than anything else, and had little in common with some the breathtaking views that Chattanooga garnered its nickname of “The Scenic City” from.
In two games this season, Furman has traveled a Bleek offensive road, which if it weren’t for Timmy Bleekrode and his stellar place-kicking capabilities, the Paladins would have been held with goose eggs on the scoreboard in two of its games this season.
Bleekrode, who has not had any trouble stepping into the role following Grayson Atkins’ departure as a grad transfer for the University of North Carolina, has a noteworthy season no doubt worthy of plenty of postseason plaudits and citations as a result.
His 46-yard field goal against Mercer and 29-yard effort in Saturday’s 10-point road loss were the only points the Paladins could muster offensively in two of its league contests this season.
Furman’s loss signaled the end of the rainbow–at least in terms of hopes of a league record 15th Southern Conference title and 20th FCS playoff appearance, as Furman fell to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in Southern Conference action with three games remaining in the season.
That being said, Furman, as one might expect by having played 15 games over the course of nine months, has been hit by injuries. It was without star running back Devin Wynn the entire afternoon, as he did not even dress out for the game, as well as return man/receiver Dejuan Bell, who also missed the game due to injury.
Jace Wilson had moments under center, but is still getting his bearings as a young signal-caller, and has faced two of the best defenses in the FCS each of the past two weeks, and he’s showed moxie, toughness and leadership and an uncanny maturity far beyond his class level. Wilson finished off fourth start of the season going 4-of-14 passing for 47 yards, with an INT.
Chattanooga rolled up 418 yards of total offense, including 245 on the ground and another 173 through the air. The Mocs held an incredible 39:48-20:12 advantage in time of possession. While Price led the way with 110 yards for the Mocs, Ford was just off the pace, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown on 24 rush attempts.
Mocs quarterback Cole Copeland was 13-for-20 passing for 146 yards and an INT.
The story for Furman was the play of its linebacking corps and secondary, who played excellent all day, despite adversity against the Paladin offense faced against an outstanding Mocs defensive unit.
Furman linebacker Braden Gilby set a career-high with 12 tackles and a tackle-for-loss, eclipsing an 11-tackle effort in his first-ever start for the Paladins a couple of years ago at Virginia Tech. Hugh Ryan added nine stops and two pass breakups for the Paladins, while Adrian Hope posted eight stops, a tackle-for-loss and a sack. His sack saw him increase his career outstanding career total to 25.5 sacks in his career, ranking third in program history.
On Chattanooga’s side, it’s outstanding, balanced defensive performance was led by linebacker Jay Person, who posted eight tackles, 2.5 TFL, a pair of sacks and a pass breakup. Jerrell Lawson added five stops and an INT, while Devonsha Maxwell upped his league-leading sack total to 11 on the season, with 10 of his sacks incredibly coming in the final quarter.
The Mocs kept their hopes alive for a Southern Conference crown by claiming their second-straight win over the Paladins in the series, and posted their third-straight win overall and fourth in the past five games, as Chattanooga improved to 5-3 overall and 4-1 in Southern Conference action.
The Mocs are tied atop the conference standings in the loss column along with East Tennessee State (7-1, 4-1), who had the week off, while No. 18 VMI (6-2, 4-1 SoCon) stormed back to take a 46-45 win at Foster Stadium over Samford in yet another wild finish between those two teams, while Mercer stayed a half-game ahead in the Southern Conference race with a 34-7 win to get to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in league play.
Chattanooga returns to the gridiron next week, traveling to Spartanburg to face Wofford at Gibbs Stadium, with kickoff slated for 1:30 p.m. The Terriers have lost a school-record 10-straight SoCon games, and dropped to 1-7 overall and 0-6 in league play. The Terriers are winless at Gibbs Stadium (0-4) this season.
Furman will be on the road next week up in beautiful Cullowhee, N.C., facing off against the Western Carolina Catamounts in the Battle for Purple Supremacy. The Catamounts are coming off two impressive back-to-back road wins, as they improved to 2-6 overall and 2-3 in Southern Conference play, with kickoff slated for 2 p.m. at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.
Chattanooga took initiative from the outset of the contest, as it took the opening drive of the contest and punched it in for seven points when Ailym Ford scored on a 3-yard run straight up the gut, 4:42 off the clock.
After UTC’s defense showed why it came into the game ranked as one of the top units in the nation by holding Furman to a three-and-out, the Mocs looked intent on taking a two-score lead on their second drive of the game, as the Mocs drove the ball 74 yards in 10 plays to get all the way down to the Paladin 5-yard line.
However, Furman brought a heavy blitz off the edge, as Elijah McKoy drilling Cole Copeland just as he got rid of the football and Travis Blackshear picked off the Copeland offering in the end zone to thwart the drive and alter the momentum of the game ever-so slightly, returning the ball out to the 20.
Furman’s most promising jaunt into UTC terrible