Furman cruises past North Greenville in season opener

Furman senior running back Devin Abrams rushed for 49 yards on six carries as a part of 323 ground yards amassed by the Paladin offense/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Furman’s 2022 season got underway under the lights, playing a Thursday night home game for the first time in program history, and playing a first-time opponent, in North Greenville.

The 2022 season opened with a 52-0 demolition of the Crusaders, as the Paladins registered their first home shutout win to open a season since defeating South Carolina State 38-0 in 1988, which of course kicked off the Paladins eventual 13-2 campaign and ended with the school’s lone national championship.

The win also marked Furman’s first home shutout win since 2003, when the Paladins knocked off Gardner-Webb, 45-0.

The promotion was “Dins after dark” and the jerseys and pants were black, and for the first time since the Bob King era, Furman donned purple helmets, which saw the matte finish glimmer when the stadium lights came on.

It was that kind of home opener for the Paladins. It was one which left its offensive-starved fanbase with little to complain about by the end of the opening half.

Furman also had a new starter under center–Tyler Huff–running a brand new offense installed by first-year offensive coordinator Justin Roper.

The night almost seemed, at times, to be going too well. Obviously that isn’t true, however, given the offensive struggles in recent seasons, it gave off that vibe.

Huff, who came from non-scholarship Presbyterian College, left both media and casual fan alike baffled as to how no one offered him one a scholarship at an FCS or FBS program. He hadn’t even taken a snap in a real game in a year-and-a-half, missing the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL.

However, Huff showed no sign of rust. He was a forgotten asset in Clinton, much like the coach who recruited him, Tommy Spangler, who was also a new addition to the coaching staff, making his debut in Paladin Stadium as the special teams coach.

PC’s lack of wisdom and insight regarding its own football program is a major enhancement for Furman’s, which is already laden with plenty of tradition, including the aforementioned national title and the SoCon record 14 conference titles.

With that said, Huff’s performance was so good, he barely made it past the midway point of the second quarter.

His final act of the night would be a handoff to All-SoCon running back Dominic Roberto, who scored Furman’s second-to-last touchdown of the night on a 3-yard rumble with 7:32 remaining in the opening half.

Huff’s night was complete, having helped the Paladins generate 35 of their 42 points almost before darkness completely fell.

The graduate transfer finished the night going 10-of-12 passing for 189 yards and a pair of scores, while posting a 56-yard scoring run to highlight his team-leading 94 rushing yards on just five attempts. All told, Huff generated 283 yards of total offense to go with three touchdown responsibilities.

The Paladins enjoyed a big night offensively, out-gaining the Crusaders 589-227 in total yards, while amassing a 323-114 advantage in rushing yards.

The win in the 2022 season opener marked Furman’s fourth-straight win in the inaugural game of a new campaign, which dates back to a the 2019 season when defeated Charleston Southern, 46-13, at Paladin Stadium.

Furman has also won its last four home openers, lasting dropping a contest to open a season at Paladin Stadium in 2017, with a 34-31 setback to Elon, which also marked current head coach Clay Hendrix’s first home game as the head coach of the Paladins.

How it Happened:

Furman exploded out of the gates to open the 2022 season, and it did its best to quell any questions fans might have had about the offense heading into the contest.

After Furman received the game’s opening kickoff, it didn’t take long for the Paladins to reach the end zone for the first time, with Huff directing the Paladin offense.

The Paladins needed just seven plays to cover the needed 73 yards, which culminated when Huff found All-America tight end Ryan Miller open over the middle for 33-yard scoring strike.

It would be part of a solid night to open the season for Miller, who completed his first game of his final season as a Paladin tight end by hauling in four passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.

After getting the ball back following North Greenville’s first punt of the game from Myles Prosser, the Paladins saw their only blemish offensively in the opening half of play, driving 37 yards in seven plays before North Carolina State transfer Ian Williams missed what would have been a 54-yard field goal, as the kick sailed wide right.

Miller’s opening quarter scoring catch marked Miller’s 17th receiving touchdown of his standout Paladin career, ranking third overall in Furman history in receiving touchdowns, while also ranking as the school record for receiving touchdowns for a tight end.

Furman’s second score of the contest would come as a result of a big-play from its deep secondary. Junior cornerback Cally Chizik, who missed most of the 2021 season with a back injury, picked off a Bryce Fields pass and returned it 56 yards for a score. Axel Lepvreau added the PAT, giving the Paladins a 14-0 lead with 5:53 remaining in the opening quarter.

After the Paladin defense made quick work of stopping the Crusaders to force a Myles Prosser punt, it wouldn’t take the Paladin offense long to find the end zone once again. The Paladins needed just two plays to cover the needed 81 yards, with Huff doing a majority of the work on the drive, as he posted his first-career rushing touchdown as a Paladin quarterback, racing 56 yards on an option-keeper to make it a 21-0 contest with 4:01 remaining in the opening quarter.

A pair of early second-quarter touchdowns staked the Paladins to a 35-0 lead a little over three minutes into the frame. Following Ivan Yates’ first-career interception, it would lead to Dominic Roberto’s first touchdown of the 2022 season, as his 6-yard scoring run capped off the first of two 90-plus yard scoring drives in the contest by the Furman offense in the contest, giving the Paladins a 28-0 lead just six seconds into the second quarter of play.

Following a missed 44-yard Colin Karhu field goal attempt for the Crusaders, the Paladins would need only six plays to cover the needed 72 yards to increase their lead to 35-0 with 11:23 remaining in the second quarter. Huff tossed his second and final scoring pass of the night, hooking up with Wayne Anderson, Jr. for a 12-yard scoring strike.

Anderson made the move from running back to slot receiver just prior to fall camp, finishing the night with tied with Miller for the team lead in receptions, as he completed the night with four catches for 35 yards and a score. He also registered one rush for 11 yards.

Furman’s sixth touchdown of the opening half would be set up by the second North Greenville turnover of the opening half, as Crusaders quarterback Bryce Fields could handle the exchange from center, which saw Furman senior defensive tackle Trey Rogers pounce on the loose ball to set up the Paladin offense in good stead once again. Roberto capped the six-play, 36-yard scoring drive with his second scoring run of the night, rumbling over the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 42-0 with 7:35 to play in the opening half.

The Paladin defense forced yet another three-and-out, giving the Furman offense the ball back with a chance to fatten its lead even more. With Tyler Huff’s debut in a Paladin uniform officially complete, he made way for sophomore Jace Wilson, who would be at the command of the Paladin offense for almost the entire remainder of the game.

Wilson helped the Paladin offense engineer what was a 12-play, 50-yard drive, which culminated in Furman’s lone field goal of the contest, as Axel Lepvreau’s 18-yard field goal as time expired allowed the Paladins to enter the halftime locker room with its second-most points in a half (45) in facility history, bested only by the 2011 Paladins, which took a 48-14 lead to the locker room against Presbyterian.

Following what was a scoreless third quarter, the Paladins put the finishing touches on a resounding season-opening win in the fourth quarter, as Wilson helped engineer Furman’s longest drive of the night, as the Paladins used 11 plays to cover the needed 96 yards, which was fittingly capped by a 1-yard, acrobatic leap over the top of the Crusader defense by Wilson on apparent botched play. Sebastian Stubblefield’s PAT proved to be the final points of the night, giving the Paladins a 52-0 lead.

Furman’s defense did the rest, pitching a shutout over the final 13:31, as the Paladins cruised to their first win of the season. Wilson finished the contest completing 8-of-9 passes for 77 yards, while adding a rushing touchdown.

Paladin quarterbacks went a combined 18-of-21 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a pair of rushing scores to the offensive cause.

While Huff’s 94 yards and a touchdown on just five attempts led Furman’s 323-yard rushing output, it was balanced all the way around. Myion Hicks, who was seeing the first action of his Paladin career and did much of the grunt work in helping Furman tack on its final score of the night, finished as the Paladins’ second-leading rusher, finishing with 65 yards on 12 carries.

Roberto added 53 yards and a pair of touchdowns on nine carries, while Devin Abrams began his final season in a Furman uniform in strong fashion, finishing up with 49 yards on six carries, while Grant Robinson and Tyler Reid added 25 and 24 yards, respectively in the win.

Aside from Miller and Anderson, the Paladins had seven other receivers catch at least one pass in the contest. James Madison transfer Kyndel Dean hauled in three passes for 43 yards, while Lex Capitano hauled in a pair of passes for 10 yards. Two of the biggest plays of the night came from Paladin receivers, with Luke Shiflett and Ben Ferguson providing the fireworks, Shiflett hauled in a career-long 64-yard pass from Huff late in the first quarter, while true freshman Ben Ferguson hauled in a 21-yard pass from Wilson late in the opening half to account for his first-career grab as a Paladin.

Furman ‘spur’ linebacker Dae’one Wilkins led the Paladin defense with five tackles, while linebackers Braden Gilby, Dan Scianna and Amaah Achina added four tackles apiece. Lehigh transfer Xavier Stephens and Alex Maier combined for Furman’s lone sack of the night.

North Greenville was led offensively by quarterback Bryce Fields, who finished the contest hitting on 13-of-26 passes for 103 yards and two INTs. Fields also added 36 yards on the ground on seven rush attempts. North Greenville’s leading ground-gainer was EJ Humphrey, who added 72 yards on eight attempts.

Doug Washington hauled in five passes for 32 yards, while Tyree Funnye added three catches for 48 yards.

The Crusaders were led defensively by strong safety Ethan Alexander, who finished with nine stops.

Press Conference:

Defensive tackle Matt Sochovka, head coach Clay Hendrix and offensive tackle Anderson Tomlin
Cornerback Cally Chizik and Quarterback Tyler Huff

Up Next: Furman heads to No. 4 Clemson next Saturday to do battle with the Tigers in what will be the 58th all-time meeting between the two, with the Tigers holding a commanding 43-10-4 all-time edge in the series. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. EST at Memorial Stadium and will be televised by the ACC Network. The Tigers have yet to kickoff the 2022 season, and will face ACC rival Georgia Tech Monday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, with kickoff slated for 8 p.m. EST.

Furman is Clemson’s oldest gridiron rival, with the series having started way back in 1896. Clemson has won 31-straight games in the series, dating to 1938. The two last met to open the 2018 campaign, with the Tigers posting a 48-7 win in the season-opener for both teams.

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