No. 16 Samford hands Furman first SoCon loss

Furman senior cornerback Travis Blackshear makes a tackle in Saturday’s loss to Samford/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Jaylan Thomas rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 16 Samford converted a pair of Furman turnovers into 14 points, as the Bulldogs snapped a three-game losing streak in the series against the Paladins, with a 34-27 Southern Conference triumph before 9,507 fans at Paladin Stadium.

Things looked good through a little over a quarter of action in Saturday’s SoCon showdown between Furman and No. 16 Samford, as the Paladins held a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, however, Samford found its offensive momentum midway through the second quarter, and out-scored the Paladins 34-7 to double up the score, leading 34-17 entering the fourth quarter.

With the win, the Bulldogs improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Southern Conference play—their best start since 2016. The Paladins fell to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in league action.

Thomas was outstanding all day, whether catching the ball out of the backfield, or running the ball. He finished the contest rushing for 104 yards on just five carries, with three touchdowns. He ended the contest averaging a whopping 20.8 yards-per-carry.

Samford quarterback Michael Hiers, who was the reigning Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Week, finished the contest connecting on 29-of-38 passes for 228 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and an INT.

His favorite target was once again Chandler Smith, which hauled in 11 passes for 83 yards. Kendall Watson hauled in five passes for 41 yards in the win.

The Paladin defense was able to limit leading running back Jay Stanton to just 17 yards on eight rush attempts, however, Stanton broke free to score in the second quarter on a 36-yard scoring reception on a wheel route.

All told, Stanton hauled in three passes for 66 yards, and has now posted two huge plays in the opening two league games for the Bulldogs. Along with a 36-yard scoring catch today, Stanton broke off a 49-yard scoring run in last week’s win over Western Carolina, which capped off a 35-12 win over the Catamounts.

Furman was led under center by Jace Wilson, who made his first start of the season under center for injured starter Tyler Huff, completed 38-of-59 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns and no INTs.  Wilson also rushed for 38 yards on 14 attempts and got sacked three times. All told, the sophomore from Missouri City, TX., accounted for 367 yards of total offense.

Wilson’s favorite targets were Kyndel Dean, who turned in his best game as a Paladin, and two-time All-American tight end Ryan Miller. Both hauled in 10 passes. Dean made 10 catches for 97 yards, while continued his outstanding season to-date, hauling in 10 passes for 87 yards and a TD. Joshua Harris, who caught six passes for 43 yards, hauled in his first two scoring passes of the season.

The Paladins ended being led on defense by safety Kam Brinson’s eight tackles, while Jalen Miller’s first quarter INT was Furman’s ninth as a defense this season, and Miller’s second in three-week span. The INT by Miller was his second in a three-week span, and the redshirt junior has shined as a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball this season. He also forced a key fumble in last week’s win at Charleston Southern.

The Paladin defense recorded five sacks and seven tackles-for-loss in Saturday’s loss. Luke Clark finished the contest with two of the team’s five sacks and totaled six tackles.

The Paladins out-gained the Bulldogs 457-360 in the contest, while holding big advantages in total plays (97-66), first downs (26-16), and time of possession (37:34-22:23).

Two Reviews…One Play

While the play below didn’t decide Saturday’s contest, as a decision made by an officiating crew never really does, it without question changed the momentum of the contest. Furman’s response defensively to the adversity was not the type of response that a team in hopes of winning a Southern Conference title should have.

That said, despite the decision rendered by the officiating crew following an unheard of “double-review” and a 20-plus minute stoppage of play, Samford won the game on its merits, playing an excellent football game on both sides of the ball. So, you be the judge of the play below. I think it speaks for itself.

This controversial play was reviewed twice and the ball was given back to Samford after it looked as if the ball had been intercepted by Furman. It was a key turning point in the game.

Odds and Ends:

–Ryan Miller extended his streak of games with a touchdown catch to eight games, when he hauled in a 4-yard scoring pass from Jace Wilson with just five seconds remaining in the opening half of play.

–Miller now has 21 TD receptions in his career, which ranks second in program history, while his 117 receptions put him just outside the top 10 in school history, needing just two catches against The Citadel to surpass Justin Stepp’s 118 career catches. With his 87 yards receiving on Saturday, he now has 1,784 career receiving yards to move into the Top 10 in Furman’s career receiving yardage, as he moved past Patrick Sprague’s 1,765 career receiving yards and now sits 10th on the school’s all-time ledger.

–Chris Hatcher improved to 5-6 in his time as the head coach at both Georgia Southern and Samford. He is now 4-4 against the Paladins in his eighth season at Samford. Furman’s Clay Hendrix fell to 3-3 in his sixth season as Furman’s head coach.

–The Paladins maintained their shutout against teams in the fourth quarter, as the Paladins are now outscoring their opposition 34-0 in the fourth quarter this season. The Paladins also hold an impressive edge in fourth quarter time of possession (48:04-26:53), plays (100-73) and yards (419-120).

–The Paladins have out-gained all five of their opponents in 2022 and extends to six-straight foes to include the regular-season finale against Samford.

— The Bulldogs pulled to within a game in the all-time series, trimming the Paladins all-time series advantage to 13-12.

–Furman has turned the ball over seven times in the past two games, while forcing five.

How it Happened

Furman opened the game in a much different fashion against No. 16 Samford than it did against a winless Charleston Southern last Saturday, as the Paladins scored 10 points in the opening quarter, with Axel Lepvreau splitting the uprights on a 19-yard field goal for the first points of the afternoon, while Joshua Harris hauled in his first TD pass of the season on a 10-yard strike from Jace Wilson, and the Paladin defense would hold the Bulldogs scoreless in the opening quarter, which included forcing their first turnover of the day on Jalen Miller second INT in a three-week span.

Early in the second quarter, Ivan Yates appeared to intercept a second Michael Hiers pass in the contest, however, after the initial review gave the ball to the Paladins at the 28, another replay gave the football back to the Bulldog offense, nullifying the Paladin offensive possession just outside the Samford red zone, and that would give the Bulldog offense the momentum they needed to find their first points of the afternoon.

Hiers then tossed his first scoring pass of the afternoon on a 36-yard pass to Jay Stanton out of the backfield with 10:35 remaining in the half. Matt Sochovka blocked the Samford PAT, keeping the Paladin lead at four.

After a Wilson fumble gave the ball back inside Furman territory at the Paladin 44, the Bulldogs would assume a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the afternoon.

Two plays later, Thomas found the end zone for the his first of three times in the contest, bolting 28 yards for a score, giving the Bulldogs a 13-10 lead with 7:05 to play in the opening half.

Following another Paladin punt with a little over six minutes remaining in the opening half, the Bulldogs would take over at their own 30 following a 38-yard punt by Furman’s Ryan Leahy.

The Bulldogs made the most of the possession, to find the end zone for the second time in the second quarter, as Thomas scored on a 14-yard run to give Samford a little bit of a cushion with a 20-10 lead with 2:36 left in the opening half.

Following a 21-yard return by Wayne Anderson Jr. on the ensuing kickoff, the Paladin offense made the most of its final possession of the opening half. Wilson engineered an 11-play, 70-yard drive, which he capped by tossing a perfectly lofted 4-yard pass to Ryan Miller with just five seconds left in the half, and the Paladins went to the locker room trailing 20-17.

With the ball to start the second half, the Bulldogs needed just five plays to stretch their lead back out to double digits. The final 44 yards of the drive came from Thomas, who was untouched as he raced through the middle of the Paladin defense to give the Bulldogs a 27-17 third quarter lead.

The Paladins officially playing catch-up.

The Samford defense held the Paladin offense on their next two offensive drives of the second quarter, and then on Furman’s third offensive drive of the third quarter, the Bulldogs came up with another big play from their defense to force Furman’s third miscue of the day.

After Furman took over the football at its own 16 following the Brad Porcellato punt, All-SoCon linebacker Nathan East came free on a blitz and got a clean hit on Wilson’s blind side, forcing the ball to pop loose and it would the ball was recovered at the Furman 8-yard line by nose guard Joshua Mathiasen.

It took the Samford offense just three plays to double up the score, as Hiers found a wide open J.R. Tran-Reno in the back of the end zone on a 6-yard pass, as the Bulldogs went ahead 34-17.

Furman concluded the third quarter the same way it the second, which is by scoring the final points of the frame. After 42-yard return by Wayne Anderson Jr., the Paladins took over the football in great field position at their own 45. However, the Bulldog defense was able the Paladin offense out of the end zone, forcing the Paladins into a Lepvreau 34-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Trailing by 14, the Paladin defense would give its offense some good opportunities to come back in the final frame, holding an opponent scoreless in the final frame for the fifth-straight game to start the season.

The Paladins only score came late in the game, as Wilson tossed his third scoring strike of the game, with Harris being on the end of his second TD reception, as he hauled in a 2-yard pass with 2:03 left to conclude what was a 15-play, 90-yard drive that got the Paladins within a touchdown, at 34-27.

That would end up being the final score, however, as Furman opted to kick off with a pair of timeouts to work with, but the Bulldogs were successfully able to run a minute off the clock, forcing Furman to burn both of its remaining timeouts. From there, the Paladins took over at their own 22-yard line, however, the Paladins turned it over on downs after gaining just nine yards in four plays, effectively ending any chance at a game-tying touchdown. The Bulldogs took the final knee of the game, running off the final three seconds to snap a three-game skid against the Paladins.

Both Furman and Samford return to Southern Conference action next week, with Furman traveling to bitter rival The Citadel for a 2 p.m. contest at Johnson-Hagood Stadium. Samford will host Wofford at Seibert Stadium in a 1 p.m. EST contest.

Post-Game Press Conference:

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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