If you would have told most fans that follow Furman in some capacity were going to score 42 points in three quarters Saturday in Cullowhee, most if not all of those wearing the other shade of purple would have assumed the Paladins found an offensive elixir and would have breezed to a sixth-straight win over Western Carolina in the series.
All would have been wrong.
As the past has seemingly always proven, strange things happen to Furman in the mountain air of western North Carolina. The Paladins have a weird propensity for coming up point short in the mountain air of this particular geographical region of the old North State. Furman held a seemingly comfortable double-digit lead early in the fourth (42-31), but it wouldn’t stand up.
But whether, Richie Williams or Rogan Wells, it seems that those initials–“R.W”–have not been too kind to the Paladins in the mountain of western North Carolina over the past couple of decades.
On Oct. 9, 2004, Appalachian State’s Richie Williams set an NCAA record with 28-consecutive pass completions, completing 40-of-45 passes for 413 yards and no INTs, leading the former SoCon and FCS member Mountaineers to a 30-29 win a little over 17 years ago. All told, Williams accounted for 440 yards of total offense and three TD responsibilities
Rogan Wells’ day strong day offensively came despite throwing a pair of INTs, and was enough to help the Catamounts overcome four turnovers in the contest.
Along with his 386 passing yards and two touchdowns, Wells also rushed for 91 yards, which included a 33-yard rushing score in the third quarter, as he totaled 477 yards of total offense and three touchdown responsibilities. He finished the day completing 22-of-33 passes, and it could be argued that both of the INTs he threw were on the receiver, and not on bad throws.
With its third-straight win, including first home win of the season, the Catamounts improved to 3-6 overall and evened their Southern Conference mark, at 3-3, in league play. Western Carolina won for only the second time in the past eight meetings against Furman at E.J. Whitemire Stadium.
For Furman, which dropped to 7-9 since the start of the rare spring season at the end of last February, dropped their third-straight of the current fall campaign, falling below .500 overall, at 4-5 and 2-4 in league action.
Wells came into the contest as the reigning Southern Conference Player of the week.
His game overshadowed a career afternoon for Furman running back Dominic Roberto, who rushed for a career-best 196 yards and four TDs, eclipsiing his previous career record of 132-yard, one-touchdown effort, which came earlier this season in a win over The Citadel.
How it happened:
On the opening possession of the game, Furman’s Hamp Sisson was picked off by Jacob Harris, and he returned it 41 yards for a score, giving the Catamounts an early 7-0 lead.
Furman responded with an 10-play, 73-yard drive in which Dominic Roberto ate up a bulk of the yards, gaining 54 on his own, including a 45-yard gain on a 4th-and-1 -play from the Paladin 47 got the football all the way down to the Catamount eight. Three plays later, Roberto rumbled in from three yards out to tie the game, 7-7, with 9:26 to play in the first quarter.
The Catamounts responded with a big play on their second offensive play of the game, using a 54-yard pass from quarterback Rogan Wells-to-Terrence Horne completion, as he hauled it in with one hand, bobbling it momentarily before eventually going to the EJ Whitmire turf at the 47.
The Paladin defense would hold the Catamounts to a 32-yard Richard McCollum field goal to give the Catamounts a 10-7 lead with 7:12 remaining in the opening quarter of play.
After initial early hiccup from the Furman offense on the pick-six, Furman would put together a second-straight touchdown drive, putting together its most impressive drive of the afternoon, which spanned two quarters, using 17 plays to cover 75 yards, and it was capped by another Roberto 3-yard run to make it a 14-10 game with 13:48 left in the half.
It didn’t take Western Carolina long to respond, as the Catamounts would get their first offensive touchdown of the day when Wells tossed a five-yard scoring pass to Owen Cosenke on a 3rd-and-5 play, giving the Catamounts a three-point lead once again, 17-14, with 10:42 left in the half.
The Paladins started the next possession with their best field position of the day at their own third down, converting a pair of key third downs through the air, as Sisson completed throws to Joshua Harris of six and eight yards, netting first downs, before Devin Abrams capped the drive with a 4-yard TD run to complete the 10-play, 68-yard drive and give the Paladins a 21-17 lead, with 6:10 to play in the half.
A little less than a minute later on a 3rd-and-1 play from the WCU 34, Furman’s defense caused its first turnover of the day when Jalen Miller broke through and caused WCU runnbing back TJ Jones to cough up the football and the ball was recovered by Travis Blackshear to get at the WCU 28.
Roberto rumbled 23 yards and then three yards to get the ball to the two. On the next play, Sisson posted his first scoring pass and fifth of the season, finding on Ryan Miller on a beautifully executed play-action fake, making it a 28-17 Paladin lead with 4:10 remaining in the opening half of play.
Late in the opening half, the Catamounts would manage to take the momentum into halftime locker room, cutting Furman’s lead to four, as Jones made up for his earlier fumble on a 1-yard scoring plunge with “18 seconds remaining in the half, concluding a 12-play, 83-yard drive to trim Furman’s lead to 28-24 at the half.
The wild game would continue in the third quarter, as the Catamounts would retake the lead a little over 90 seconds in the second half. Wells connected with Jakobe Quillen to get the Catamounts to the Furman 33. On the next play, he executed a brilliant 33-yard QB draw straight up the middle, as The Catamounts took a 31-28 lead following the McCollum PAT with 13:21 to play in the third.
That would be the only points of the third quarter for the Catamounts, as Furman appeared to take control of the game on TD runs of 35 and 11 yards by Roberto to go ahead by 11, 42-31, with 3:11 remaining in the third.
A Bryce McCormick INT off a tipped ball appeared to set up another great chance for Furman to increase its lead, as the Paladins took over the WCU 39 with 1:33 left in the half. After reaching the WCU 31, Abrams and Roberto were both stuffed on 3rd and 4th-and-2 plays, respectively, as the Paladins squandered a golden opportunity to potentially put the game away by taking an 18-point lead.
Momentum would swing completely in the favor of WCU from there, as Jones scored on a 1-yard TD plunge with 10:19 remaining to get the Catamounts to within five, at 42-37, following a missed two-point conversion.
Furman was forced to punt for the first time all afternoon on its ensuing drive, as Timmy Bleekrode’s 42-yard punt was downed at the Catamount 15. Following a timeout, the Catamounts dialed up a perfect play, as Wells connected with running back Kenny Benjamin, who found himself without a Paladin defender within him and Haywood County, and Benjamin did the rest, racing 85 yards for the score to give the Catamounts the 43-42 with 6:41 left following a second-straight failed two-point conversion.
After Furman was forced to punt for a second-straight series, the Paladin defense did its job to force the Catamounts’ first punt of the day, as Paxton Roberson’s 39-yard punt was returned by Dejuan Bell, however, following would looked like it was going to be a great return deep into Catamount territory, as a big hit by WCU cornerback Ronald Kent Jr. from behind knocked the football free, and it was recovered by teammate Micah Nelson with 2:34 remaining.
Furman would then burn all three of its timeouts to force another WCU punt on its next possession, allowing the Furman offense to get the ball back with 1:21 left and no timeouts.
Sisson rushed for 34 yards to the Furman 49 with 1:10 remaining. However, Sisson would take a sack back to the Furman 41, but then on a fourth down play moments later, completed a seven-yard pass to Bell to give the Paladins the ball at the WCU 41. But for the second time on the drive, Sisson was sacked on the next play, eventually forcing Furman to spike the ball and attempt a 62-yard field goal from Axel Levpvreau–the Paladin kickoff specialist–into his first-ever field goal attempt with one second left, which was no good.
Furman rushed for 316 of its 418 yards in the game. Sisson finished the contest completing 14-of-20 passes for 102 yards with a TD and an INT. The Paladins will play their final home game of the season next Saturday vs. VMI, with kickoff set for 2 p.m. at Paladin Stadium.
The Catamounts will be back at EJ Whitmire Stadium to take on league leading East Tennessee State (8-1, 5-1 SoCon) in the Blue Ridge Border Battle, as WCU goes in search of a fourth-straight win. Kickoff is also set for 2 p.m.
Furman’s narrow losses in the WNC/East Tennessee Region:
Nov. 6, 2021 Western Carolina 43, Furman 42 (EJ Whitmire Stadium/Cullowhee, N.C.
Sept. 28, 2018 East Tennessee State 29, Furman 27 (William B. Greene Stadium/Johnson City, Tenn)
Oct. 12, 2002 Appalachian State 16, Furman 15 (Kidd Brewer Stadium/Boone, N.C.)
Oct. 9, 2004 Appalachian State 30, Furman 29 (Kidd Brewer Stadium/Boone, N.C.)
Oct. 7, 2000 Appalachian State 18, Furman 17 (Kidd Brewer Stadium/Boone, N.C.)
Oct. 21, 2000 East Tennessee State 23, Furman 21 (Memorial Center/Johnson City TN)
Oct. 4, 1997 Western Carolina 17, Furman 16 (EJ Whitmire Stadium/Cullowhee, N.C.)
Oct. 26, 1996 East Tennessee State 21, Furman 19 (Memorial Center/Johnson City TN)