Furman snaps one streak and keeps another alive in win over VMI

Furman 37, No. 20 VMI 31

Furman senior linebacker Elijah McKoy/photo courtesy of Furman sports information

If one were to define Furman’s offense this season with a phrase, it would ‘be big-play or bust’.In Saturday’s 37-31 win over No. 20 VMI, it would be a senior day defined by a bevy of big plays.

Furman had touchdown passes of 64 and 73 yards, and a scoring run of 39 yards in the opening half, which accounted for 21 of Furman’s 37 points on a day the Paladins honored 13 seniors (8-defense, 4-offense, and 1 specialist). 

The six-point win by the Paladins helped Furman improve to 5-5 overall and 3-4 in Southern Conference play heading into its league finale next Saturday at Samford (5-5, 3-4). VMI dropped to 6-4 overall and 4-3 in league action, as the Keydets will close out the home slate next Saturday vs. Western Carolina (3-7, 3-4 SoCon).

The win kept Furman’s streak alive of consecutive wins over VMI in Paladin Greenville to 15, as the Paladins improved to 14-0 vs the Keydets in Paladin Stadium. VMI got the better of Furman, 14-13, in the spring, as the win over Furman commenced the Keydets spring season league title run.

Saturday’s loss at Furman ended any shot of the Keydets repeating that, or its first-ever FCS playoff bid in the spring. Furman’s current run of success against the Keydets dates back to 1980, as the Keydets have not won in Greenville since 1979.

Furman was led by freshman signal-caller Jace Wilson, who completed just six passes for 50 yards in the opening half of play, the freshman quarterback from Missouri City, TX finished the second half by connecting on 7-of-12 throws for 219 yards and two scores, helping the Paladins snap what had become a three-game losing streak. 

Not only did the Paladins’ triumph on Saturday bring an end to a three-game skid, but it also marked Furman’s second win over a ranked foe this season, as Furman opened the campaign with a 29-18 victory over No. 24 North Carolina A&T. 

In terms of total yards, the Paladins were out-gained 538-472 in total offense, including seeing the Keydets put up a 448-269 edge through the air. VMI quarterback Seth Morgan connected on 33-of-56 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns, while talented Keydet wideout Michael Jackson hauled in an impressive 13 passes for 177 yards, with three scores. 

Morgan’s other primary target in the passing game was Max Brimigion, who hauled in nine passes for 136 yards. 

To no one’s surprise, Furman’s top receiving threat Saturday was once again Ryan Miller. He was targeted five times for 132 yards and a 73-yard scoring catch in the fourth quarter, as he would account for Furman’s final points on the day just 12 seconds into the final quarter. Through 10 games this season, Miller now has 41 catches for 684 yards and six scores, averaging 16.6 YPR. 

For the second week in a row, the Paladins posted a substantial advantage in rushing yards, completing the afternoon with a substantial 203-87 advantage on the ground. 

Furman’s ground game was powered by another 100-yard effort from redshirt freshman running back Dominic Roberto (17 rush att, 100 yds, 1 TD), who has posted three 100-yard outings this season, upped his season total to 493 yards and six touchdowns on 74 rush attempts so far this season. Roberto has been especially key during the absence of Devin Wynn, who has seen only minimal action since a mid-season win at Wofford. 

Wynn, who finish his career ranking somewhere on the Furman all-time rushing ledger, was one of the 13 seniors suiting up for the final time in front of the Paladin faithful on a chilly Saturday at Paladin Stadium. He has rushed for 2,953 yards and 29 touchdowns in his Paladin career. He currently ranks seventh on the school’s all-time rushing charts, while having rushed for 29 scores in his standout Paladin career, which is tied for eighth in program history.

How It Happened:

After the Furman defense forced a three-and-out by VMI on its first possession of the day, and used a 44-yard punt return by Dejuan Bell to set up its first points of the day. Timmy Bleekrode’s 38-yard field goal with () left in the opening quarter gave the Paladins an early 3-0 lead. 

Furman would tack more points on the board towards the end of the opening quarter, using 12 plays to cover 74 yards, with Devin Abrams scoring on a 4-yard run. After another defensive stop, the Paladins would increase their advantage to 17 points 31 seconds in the second quarter, as Wayne Anderson Jr sprinted 39 yards to give Furman a 17-0 lead with 14:29 remaining in the half. 

The Keydets would get on the board for the first time in the contest on the ensuing drive, with quarterback Seth Morgan hooking up with wideout Michael Jackson hauling in a 56-yard scoring pass to make it a 17-7.

Seizing on that momentum, the VMI defense stopped Furman on a 4th-and-1 play to give the ball to the Keydets in great field position. Buoyed by a pass interference infraction by Furman on a 2nd-and-4 play at the Paladin 16, it moved the football down to the Furman 2 and gave the Keydets a first-and-goal. On the next play, Hunter Rice’s 2-yard scoring plunge cut Furman’s lead to a field goal, at 17-14, with 8:17 remaining in the half.

The VMI defense would continue to stymie the Furman offense, forcing another Timmy Bleekrode punt. After having started at its own 17, the Keydets used a pass plays of 35 on a double-reverse pass completion to Max Brimigion to get the ball well inside Paladin territory, and eventually reaching the Paladin 15. 

However, on 4th-and-11, instead of Jerry Rice attempting a relatively short 30-yard field goal, the Keydets tried a fake field goal, as Aaron Vardell connected on a six-yard pass to Aidan Twombly to the Furman 9, however, remained well short of the first down and the Paladins took over on downs with 1:32 left in the half. The Paladins headed to the half maintaining that three-point lead.

Furman and VMI traded scores in the third quarter, with Roberto rumbling in from a yard out to give Furman a 24-14 lead following two long pass plays. VMI responded with a 3-yard pass from Morgan-to-Jackson to complete a 7-play, 61-yard drive with 6:28 remaining in the third to make it a 24-21 game.

Wilson and Furman would answer, as he posted the first of his two long scoring passes of the second half when he found reserve running back Chase Abshier on a short pass, and as the middle opened up, Abshier did the rest, racing past all VMI’s defenders for a 64-yard scoring catch and run. The Paladins restored a two-score, 30-21, advantage with 3:53 to play in the third. Bleekrode’s missed PAT, however, left the Paladins with only a nine-point lead. 

VMI offered a reply once again on the ensuing drive, as Morgan tossed his third score of the day to Jackson on a 6-yard scoring connection, completing a 3-play, 78-yard drive with just under a minute remaining in the frame, making it a 30-28 contest. 

After a pair of Roberto runs netted five yards to close out the third quarter, it would set the stage for Furman’s final score of the day, which came on the first play of the fourth, when Wilson found Miller over the middle, and he used a Zach Peterson outstanding block on the perimeter, which ended up allowing Miller to have enough free space to race the needed 73 yards for what would turn out to be the game-winning points. 

Rice posted a 28-yard field goal to cut Furman’s lead to 37-31 on VMI’s next drive, and the Keydets recovered a Wilson fumble after Keydet all-conference linebacker Stone Snyder recovered a fumble following a sack on a 3rd-and-10 play, giving VMI the ball at the Paladins 28 with 9:29 remaining.

But Furman’s defense would hold on a 4th-and-1 play, as Paladin linebacker Braden Gilby stopped Rice for no gain to thwart the potential go-ahead score for the Keydets. 

Furman wouldn’t punt the ball immediately back to VMI, getting a pair of first downs, and weathering near disaster by recovering a pair of its own fumbles, however, Bleekrode would eventually be forced to punt the ball back to VMI, which took over the ball at its own 17 with 4:28 remaining.

The Keydets would eventually reach the Paladin 6, but could get no closer to the end zone, as Morgan threw incompletions on second, third and fourth downs, and the Paladins took over the football, and got a crucial 6-yard run by Jace Wilson, which netted a first down to essentially end the game. VMI was also flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty on the play. Furman ran out the clock in the victory formation to close out the senior day victory.

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