Furman grinds Samford to close out a winning season

Furman quarterback Jace Wilson/photo courtesy of Furman sports information

Furman 41, Samford 34

Furman closed out its 2021 football season in a positive fashion, finishing the season with a bang, as the Paladins rushed for 358 yards en route to a 41-34 win over Samford at Saturday afternoon Seibert Stadium. 

With the win, the Paladins closed out their season with a 6-5 overall record and a 4-4 mark in SoCon action, while the Bulldogs completed the campaign with a 4-7 overall mark and a 3-5 record in league play.

The Paladins posted a huge 358-81 advantage in rushing yards, as Dominic Roberto pulverized the Bulldog defense for a career-high 216 yards on 22 rush attempts, however, did not record a rushing score in the contest. 

Also accounting for a large chunk of the ground production was Roberto’s backfield mate Devin Abrams, who finished with 110 yards on 18 carries, and Devin Wynn finished out a strong career rushing the ball for the Paladins, with a pair of scores via the ground, as he posted No. 30 and 31 rushing scores in his career to cap off a pair of Paladin scoring drives.

Along with the 358 yards on the ground, the Paladins were also able to have be effective through the air throwing the football, as signal-caller Jace Wilson completed 7-of-11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, finishing his rookie season with a 4-2 record as Furman’s starting quarterback. 

With the strong rushing performances of Roberto and Abrams, coupled with the passing efforts of Wilson, it led to a total of 503 yards of total offense, and marked the third time in the final four games the Paladins had posted a 400-yard day offensively. The 503 yards of total offense also marked the highest single-game total of total offense of the 2021 season. 

Not a bad way to close out the campaign, and with all but three starters returning on paper, the hopes are high that the Paladins can parlay Saturday’s regular-season finale in Homewood, Alabama into a very bright future. 

Junior tight end Ryan Miller capped off his 2021 season in style, with two catches for 65 yards, which included a 50-yard touchdown. Miller finished out the season hauling in 43 passes for 749 yards and seven touchdowns. Five of Miller’s seven scoring catches this season were 50 or more yards, including a season-long 87-yard scoring catch in the season-opening win over North Carolina A&T. Pretty solid for a player that was somehow left off the preseason All-SoCon teams. 

Not to be outdone, it was also a strong performance from the defense, which limited a high-powered Samford offense, which dropped 52 points and 464 yards of total offense against FBS Florida last Saturday, to just 34 points and 350 yards of total offense this past Saturday. The Bulldogs came into the final contest of the season with one of the nation’s most-potent offenses, averaging 38.3 PPG and 459.4 YPG of total offense, including 312.3 YPG through the air.

Furman’s defensive unit held the Bulldogs below all three totals, allowing four less points, 109 yards less total offense, and 43 less pass yards.

The Paladins ended up being led defensively by linebacker Braden Gilby’s 12 tackles, while DiMarcus Clay rounded out his career as a Paladin in strong fashion, posting six tackles and an interception and subsequent return of 32 yards to set up a Paladin touchdown in the first quarter.

How it Happened:

Samford came out and showed it was as good as advertised offensively, taking the opening drive of the football game and took a little over two minutes off the clock, as quarterback Liam Welch found wideout Jai’Rus Creammer on a 6-yard scoring strike to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead following Zach Williams’ PAT. The Bulldogs were able to cover 75 yards in eight plays and took just 2:11 off the clock to take their only lead of the day.

The Paladins would shut down the high-octane Samford offense on their next six possessions, allowing the Furman offense, which was under the direction of the rookie Wilson, more than enough time and cushion to overtake the Bulldogs. 

Furman would offer a response on their second possession of the day. Following a Samford three-and-out, the Paladins got the ball in good field position at their own 40 with 6:31 left in the opening quarter. After a 10-yard run by Roberto on the opening play of the drive, Wilson rolled right and found Miller on a dig route, which he converted into a 50-yard scoring strike to tie the game, 7-7, with 5:46 left in the quarter.

The Paladin defense would set up its second score of the day when DiMarcus Clay picked off a Liam Welch pass and returned it 32 yards to the Samford 2, setting up Furman’s second score of the day. Three plays following the Clay INT, Wilson scrambled right and ran it in from three yards out to make it a 14-7 Furman lead with 3:44 remaining in the the first quarter.

After Furman’s defense kept Samford’s offense in check, the Paladin offense would find the end zone for the third time in the contest two possessions later, as Wayne Anderson Jr. capped a five-play, 58-yard drive with an 8-yard scoring run with 11:19 remaining in the half, giving the Paladins a 21-7 lead.

Samford would score its final points of the opening half when Zach Williams connected on a 24-yard field goal with just 48 seconds remaining in the frame, making it a 21-10 game.

However, the Paladin offense wouldn’t be done scoring in the half, as Roberto took the Wilson handoff on the opening play of the ensuing drive and went 73 yards down to the Samford 2. The next play saw Devin Wynn find the end zone for the first of two scoring runs on the day, as his 2-yard scamper allowed Furman to take all the momentum to the halftime locker room, leading 28-10.

On the opening possession of the second half, Furman took full control of the contest when the Paladins used 11 plays, with 10 of them being of the rushing variety, to cover 75 yards and capped by another Wynn 2-yard scoring plunge to give the Paladins a 35-10 lead with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs would score the next 10 points of the game, closing out the third quarter with a 40-yard field goal from Williams and a Welch 1-yard scoring run to make it a 35-20 game with five seconds to play in the quarter.

Furman used Timmy Bleekrode field goals of 33 and 22 yards, respectively, to snuff out any hopes of a Samford comeback. The Bulldogs would get fourth quarter touchdowns from Jay Stanton on a 3-yard run, and Welch’s final pass of his collegiate career would end up being a touchdown, as Montell Washington hauled in a 26-yard strike from the senior to set the final scoring margin at seven, 41-34. Furman recovered the ensuing on-sides kick and ran out the clock to preserve the win and the winning season. 

ETSU wins title/photo courtesy of ETSU sports information

East Tennessee State claims Southern Conference title:

In what was a thriller befitting of a game with so much at stake, the de facto Southern Conference title game between East Tennessee State and Mercer was a game that showcased the best two teams the improved SoCon has to offer, and at the end of the contest, the Bucs were 38-35 victors over the Mercer Bears at a packed William B. Greene Stadium.

The win gave ETSU its first outright Southern Conference crown and second league crown overall. The 2018 league title was won in a three-way tie with both Furman and Wofford, but Wofford won the tiebreaker due to least points allowed of the three teams. This time, the Bucs would need no tiebreaker to decide their automatic inclusion into the FCS postseason with its narrow three-point win in a see-saw contest at William B. Greene Stadium on Saturday.

The win, which came before an announced school-record crowd of 10,594 fans on-hand at Greene Stadium, saw the Bucs improve to 10-1 overall and 7-1 in league play. The 10 wins marks the most in a single regular-season in school history, and also matches the 1996 ETSU team for wins in a season, as that Bucs team finished with a 10-3 record. It marks just the third ETSU team in program history to win 10 games. 

Quay Holmes, who rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown, is now the school’s all-time leading rusher, surpassing former great Brandon Walker (1996-99) and Holmes will head to the postseason with 4,142 rushing yards.

The Bears will await their playoff fate on Sunday afternoon, as they hope to receive an at-large invitation to the postseason. The Bears finished out a 10-game slate with a 7-3 overall record and a 6-2 mark in league play. The Bears were one of only two SoCon teams to have played a full eight-game spring slate, joining The Citadel in that distinction. 

Tune into ESPNU at 12:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, Nov. 21, to find all the playoff information for both ETSU and Mercer.

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