Furman survives at Charleston Southern

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has often said “it’s hard to win a football game.” On a warm Saturday early fall afternoon in North Charleston, Furman found out just how difficult it is against a Charleston Southern team that had been out-scored 147-54 in its first three games of the season, however, the Bucs from the Big South looked nothing like a winless foe. They more than met the challenge of their heavily favored in-state visitor from the Upstate of South Carolina.

It took everything Furman could muster in the second all-time meeting between the two, but in the end, Furman’s gritty defense did enough to help the Paladins come home with a 24-19 win to improve to 3-1, while dropping Charleston Southern to 0-4.

I sometimes tune in to local sports radio (105.5 The Roar), which also focuses mostly on Clemson football, and Mickey Plyler, who hosts the morning show and someone I call a friend and I hold in high regard for his perspective on all things college football once said—and I paraphrase– A good team will be up for seven of its 11 games. He added the other four games they will have to find a way to win, despite not playing well or coming out flat. 

Finally, he added that the difference between a good team and one that is an elite is those that are in the the latter category win the seven and find ways in the other four most of the time, despite not having a great day of football. The former category, or a “good team” will win six or seven games they are hyped up for and usually go 1-3 in the other four, which they play flat in or aren’t executing at a high level.

I have known Mickey since the summer of 1999 when I interned at WCCP, which was then 104.9 FM. I always enjoyed working the board for his afternoon call-in show. It’s where I really started to form an affinity for all things college football.

I was reminded of Mickey’s unique, but I think accurate college football perspective as I watched the Paladins and Bucs battle Saturday afternoon.

For Furman, its first of ‘those four’ came Saturday afternoon at Buccaneer Field. It came on the heels of what was an emotional SoCon opening win at No. 18 East Tennessee State last Saturday in Johnson City, and with nationally-ranked Samford on the horizon, the game had all the makings of being the oft-cliched’ “trap game.” It was indeed that, and it was a day in which Charleston Southern came out and played with a giant proverbial chip on its shoulder and was the aggressor in the opening half of football.

The win came despite Furman turning the ball over four times, including what seemed to be in a crucial fashion late in the contest, as Wilson was picked off by Charleston Southern linebacker and Upstate, SC native Garrett Sayegh, setting up the CSU offense in Furman territory with a 3:53 left and a chance to win the game. However, just like last week against the SoCon’s version of the those looting pirates known as Buccaneers, it was the Paladin defense that also came away with its own share of the booty, forcing four turnovers for a second-straight Saturday, including a late INT by Dominic Morris on the road to seal the deal.

Odds and Ends

–Furman had to do most of the dirty work on the offensive side of the ball without starting quarterback Tyler Huff, who left the game midway through the second quarter with an upper body injury. Enter Furman sophomore signal-caller Jace Wilson, who started six games for the ‘Dins last season, winning four as a starter, rushed for a pair of scores and threw another in leading the Paladins to the five-point win.

–In all, Wilson finished his afternoon by connecting on 7-of-15 passes for 109 yards, with the aforementioned TD and an INT. He also finished as Furman’s second-leading rusher, finishing with 48 yards on six carries, including TD runs of five and 22 yards, respectively. His 44-yard, third-quarter scoring toss to Ryan Miller marked Miller’s seventh-straight game with a scoring grab, extending his school record. It was also his 20th career scoring catch, which places Miller behind only Chas Fox for Furman’s career TD record, who finished his Hall-of-Fame career with 26-career scoring grabs.

–Miller now has 28 receptions for 313 yards and four scoring grabs through four games this season. In Saturday’s win, Miller was again Furman’s leading pass-catcher, as the senior from Jackson, TN., hauled in six passes for 94 yards and a TD. For his career, Miller currently ranks 12th in program history, with 107 catches for 1,697 yards and 20-career scoring grabs. With four more receiving yards against Samford next week, Miler will surpass Jordan Snellings (2011-15) to move into 11th place in program history.

–Furman ended the contest holding a 378-366 advantage in total offense, marking the fourth-straight opponent the Paladins have out-gained—including FBS No. 5 Clemson—to open the 2022 campaign. Dating back to last season, the Paladins have not out-gained their last five opponents, including Samford, which Furman defeated, 41-34, in the 2021 regular-season finale.

–Furman running back Dominic Roberto enjoyed his most productive action of the season in the win over the Bucs, rushing the ball 21 times for 88 yards, and was part of a Paladin ground game that posted a 235-202 advantage in ground yards.

–Furman’s 3-1 start matches its best start in now Clay Hendrix’s sixth season as the head coach, tying the COVID-compromised 2020 season, which also saw the Paladins start with a 3-1 record before finishing a disappointing 3-4.

–Furman has surrendered TD passes of 75 and 97 yards in each of the past two games. In the second half alone, the Bucs had plays of 82 and 97 yards, accounting for a total of 179 yards. That accounted for 48.9% of CSU’s 366 yards of total offense in the contest. The Bucs ran a total of 64 plays, with 179 of those yards coming on two plays, while the other 187 yards of total output came on the other 62 plays.

— The Paladins had two INTs, with Dominic Morris and Micah Robinson both picking off passes today, giving the Paladins a total of eight INTs this season. Furman’s eight picks now comfortably lead the Southern Conference, with the next closest team being Mercer, which has totaled five INTs through the first four games of the season. Those eight picks through four games helps the Paladins rank tied for fourth nationally in turnover margin, at +2.00. The Paladins finished the 2021 season with just nine total picks, with preseason first-team All-SoCon selection Travis Blackshear picking off five of those passes to tie with The Citadel’s Destin Mack for the SoCon lead.

–Furman quarterbacks Tyler Huff and Jace Wilson combined to connect on 13-of-27 passes for 162 yards, with one TD and a pair of INTs.                                   

–It’s been Miller’s time on defense for the Paladins this season, too. Over the past couple weeks against teams that sport the same mascot, Jalen Miller has made the most of his opportunity as a starter at outside linebacker this season. He’s enjoyed an unusual synergy with Paladin strong safety Kam Brinson. Following a big INT of a pass deflection from Brinson in the end zone helped the Paladins turned the tide in Johnson City, his forced fumble, which was recovered by Brinson, with just over 11 minutes remaining in Saturday’s contest gave the Paladins the ball in great field position, as it would drive down and score what would prove to be the game-winning points. Miller had also had a fumble recovery against Charleston Southern Saturday, and finished the contest with seven tackles, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble in the contest. In the win over ETSU last Saturday, Miller had one tackle and an INT. Through the first four games, Miller has 13 tackles, a quarterback hurry, an INT, a fumble recovery, and a forced fumble.

–Furman was without several key players for yesterday’s contest in Charleston, as center Evan Jumper, cornerback Travis Blackshear, and linebacker Bryce McCormick all missed the game with either illness or injury.

–Linebacker Braden Gilby led the Furman defense with 11 tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-loss, a sack, and forced a fumble.

How It Happened:

Furman backup quarterback Jace Wilson came off the bench to direct three touchdown drives, as the Paladins held off Charleston Southern in thrilling fashion with a 24-19-win Saturday afternoon at Buccaneer Field.

The Paladins found themselves behind 19-10 in the third quarter, as Vinson Davis hauled in a 97-yard scoring pass from Isaiah Bess midway through the third quarter and a Sam Babbush 28-yard field goal, which was highlighted by an 82-yard run from JD Moore, getting the Bucs well inside the Paladin red zone. The Paladin defense was able to hold the Bucs to the Babbush field goal attempt, and with 3:13 remaining in the third, the Paladins found themselves behind by nine.

On perhaps the most crucial drive of the entire game for the Furman offense, Wilson would rise to the occasion. In desperate need of points and with the Bucs having seized momentum of the game, the Paladins needed only six plays to drive 65 yards, taking a little over two minutes off the game clock, as Wilson found All-America tight end Ryan Miller on the near side of the field on a 3rd-and-2 play, and it would be Miller that did the rest, sprinting 44 yards for a score and following the Axel Lepvreau PAT, the Paladins were within two points, at 19-17 with 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Charleston Southern reached midfield, and had the ball with a first down at the 50. However, following a short completion from Bess-to-Davis, the Paladin defense forced its third turnover of the day, when outside linebacker Jalen Miller delivered a big hit to dislodge the ball from Davis, and strong safety Kam Brinson came away with the football at the Charleston Southern 49, giving the Paladins back the momentum and the football.

Furman would chew up all 49 yards on the ground against a suddenly tiring Bucs defense. Wilson did most of the work on the final run of the drive, dashing 22 yards to paydirt to help the Paladins re-take the lead, 24-19, with 10:30 remaining in the game.

The Paladins were far from out of the woods, however, for the second-straight week, the Paladin defense would help Furman close out an important road win.

On Charleston Southern’s ensuing drive of the game, the Paladins would see Isaiah Bess complete one of his five passes in the contest, finding standout wide receiver Cayden Jordan for a 24-yard gain on the opening play of the drive, getting the ball all the way to the Bucs 49. After a run of five yards by Bess on a 3rd-and-4 play got the ball down to the Paladin 40 and gave the Bucs a first down, the Paladin defense would stiffen.

On the very next play following Bess’ first down scamper, Paladin linebacker Dan Scianna broke through and brought down Bess for an eight-yard loss. From there, the Paladins eventually forced a David Gelb 39-yard punt, and the Paladin offense would get the ball back on their own 10 with 7:52 remaining.  

As Charleston Southern’s defense continued to show noticeable signs that it was tiring as the game wore on in the warmth of the Low Country sun, the Paladins in-turn continued to rely on its ground game, namely preseason All-SoCon running back Dominic Roberto. Roberto opened the drive with runs of 14 and eight yards to get the Paladins out to their own 32-yard line.

Following a false start penalty against the Paladins, Roberto rushed for a yard and then Wilson found Michigan State grad transfer tight end Parks Gissinger for a 10-yard gain and a first down to the Paladin 38.

Later in the drive, the Paladins faced a 3rd-and-3 at their own 45. Wilson made his lone mistake of the afternoon, as he didn’t see talented Bucs linebacker Garrett Sayegh covering the underneath receiver for the Paladins, and he stepped in front of the sophomore’s pass to intercept it and returned it 21 yards well inside Paladin territory to the 33 where he would be brought down by Wilson. During the return, Charleston Southern was flagged for an illegal block during Sayegh’s return, giving the Bucs the ball at the Furman 43 with 3:57 left.

A little over a minute later, the Paladins sealed the win on a 4th-and-7 play from Furman’s 21, as Dominic Morris intercepted a desperation pass from a Bucs quarterback for a second-straight week, picking off Bess’ pass to the corner of the end zone to give the Paladin offense the ball back with 2:43 remaining. Roberto and Devin Abrams rushed for a pair of first downs, allowing the Paladins to run out the clock on their third win of the 2022 season.

It appeared the Paladins were going to have an easy time coming up with the win in the opening moments of the game. For the second week in a row, the Furman defense got an early interception from its defense, as Micah Robinson picked off a Ross Malmgren pass at the Paladin 29, and his 25-yard return help set up the Furman offense in good stead for its first possession of the day, as the Paladins set up shop near midfield at their own 47.

Following a 25-yard completion from starting quarterback Tyler Huff to wideout Wayne Anderson Jr. on a 4th-and-4 play, the Paladins had the ball well inside CSU territory at the Charleston Southern 15. However, Abrams was stopped for a gain of one yard, and then Huff would be sacked for a loss of five yards on the next play. Huff would scramble and then opted to run the ball on the next play, however, he was stopped for a loss of four and fumbled the football in the process, as Chavon Fields recovered at the Bucs 24 to thwart the opening threat by the Paladin offense of the afternoon.

On the next drive, Paladin linebacker Braden Gilby, who led Furman with 11 tackles, would force Bucs running back TJ Ruff to fumble the football after hauling in a short pass from Malmgren, and it would be Furman linebacker Jalen Miller that recovered at the Charleston Southern 16. After the Paladin offense failed to get a first down, Axel Lepvreau trotted on for a 30-yard field goal, which split the uprights to give the Paladins a 3-0 lead with 8:10 remaining in the first quarter.

The Bucs settled into the game, scoring the next nine points to take control of the contest. The first touchdown of the day came after Furman’s second fumble of the day, as Cally Chizik fumbled David Gelb’s punt after a three-yard return, and the ball was recovered by CSU’s JD Moore at the Paladin 24.

Four plays later, the Bucs faced a 4th-and-goal at the Paladin 1, and it would be Roderick Hawkins who plunged through the Furman defense from a yard out to give the Bucs a 7-3 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the opening quarter. CSU would get another chance to put points on the board towards the end of the opening quarter, however, the Paladins nullified the opportunity.

On a 4th-and-4 play from the Furman 29, Sam Babbush lined up for a 46-yard field goal attempt, however, Furman’s Jack Barton leaped high and got a hand on the ball to knock the ball to the turf well short of the mark with 3:02 remaining in the opening quarter, preserving Furman’s four-point deficit.

Charleston Southern’s second score of the opening half would be set up by a David Gelb 77-yard punt early in the second quarter, as the ball would be downed at the Furman 1. Following a Paladin false start penalty, Dominic Roberto was stopped in his own end zone for a loss of a yard and the Bucs were awarded two points for the safety, taking a 9-3 lead with 11:14 left in the opening half of play.

Furman’s defense eventually forced a punt on the next Charleston Southern drive, and the field position battle continued, as Gelb continued to keep the Paladins hemmed deep in their own territory.

With 6:11 remaining in the half, Furman’s Chizik fair-caught a Gelb punt at his own seven. Huff completed passes of 6 and 7 yards to Kyndel Dean and Joshua Harris, respectively, to get the Paladin offense a little breathing room and got the Furman offense a first down out to its own 20. Huff then rushed for four more, and then found Miller on an 11-yard connection to get the ‘Dins to their own 40.

Roberto gained 4 and 5 yards, respectively, on the next two plays to set up a 3rd-and-1 play for the Paladins at their own 49. On the next play, Huff raced around the left side for a gain of 10 to the Charleston Southern 41, however, came out of the game with an upper body injury. He would not return the for the remainder of the game.

Jace Wilson to the rescue. Furman’s starter in four games last season, caught a high snap from Wyatt Hughes, who was making his first-ever start at center in place of Evan Jumper, who was out with a minor injury, and handed the ball to Roberto all in one motion, leading his talented running back with the ball, as the 231-lb running all-league running back already had a full head of steam going forward. His 11-yard run got the Paladin offense down to the CSU 30.

Wilson floated a well-thrown ball to the left corner of the end zone, which was intended for Harris on the next play, however, the ball fell incomplete. After another 9-yard gain by Roberto got the ball to the 21, his number was called again on 3rd-and-1, however, this time the Bucs defense was ready for it, stopping him for no gain.

Facing a crucial 4th-and-1 play at the 21 with under a minute remaining until the half, Wilson hooked up with Miller for a 16-yard pass around the right side, getting the Paladins down to the CSU 5 yard line with 38 seconds remaining in the opening half. On the next play, Wilson rolled left and opted to pull the ball down and sprinted to the left corner of the end zone, giving the Paladins the momentum and their first TD of the game with 27 seconds to play in the opening half. The drive concluded what was an impressive 14-play, 93-yard drive that took 5:44 off the clock and gave the Paladins a 10-9 halftime lead.

Offensively, the Bucs were led by quarterbacks Ross Malmgren and Isaiah Bess, who combined to complete 18-of-36 passes for 179 yards and a TD, with two INTs.

Vinson Davis was the favorite target of the two quarterbacks, as the Buccaneer redshirt freshman wideout hauled in seven passes for 105 yards, which included a 97-yard scoring catch.

On the ground, the Bucs got 122 yards and a touchdown from JD Moore.

Quick Notes on Samford:

–The tough road win in what was the Paladins’ third road game in succession, sets up a potential ranked matchup next week when No. 21 Samford visits Paladin Stadium for a 2 p.m. SoCon showdown. The Bulldogs impressively dispatched Western Carolina, 35-12, Saturday afternoon at Seibert Stadium. The win saw Samford improve to 3-1 on the season, and also saw the Bulldogs improve to 1-0 in Southern Conference play.

–Furman and Samford will be meeting for the 25th time, with the Paladins holding a 13-11 series edge, including having won each of the past three meetings between the two. Should Furman find itself in the rankings this week, it will mark the first time since 2017 the two have met as ranked foes. The 17th-ranked Bulldogs were able to get a 26-20 win over the Paladins in Birmingham in that ranked meeting. Since the Bulldogs joined the SoCon in 2008, the 2017 meeting marks the only other time the two have met as ranked foes.

–Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. next Saturday at Paladin Stadium.

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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