Furman holds off feisty Catamounts

Furman running back Dominic Roberto rumbled for a career-high 252 yds and accounted for three TDs in Saturday’s 47-40 win over Western Carolina/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Furman hadn’t allowed a point in the fourth quarter this season, however, on Saturday, it had to find a way to win one in which it nearly surrendered a 24-point lead in the decisive frame, getting out-scored by Western Carolina 20-3, however, the Paladins held off the feisty Catamounts in what was a 47-40 Southern Conference victory Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.

It was Furman’s 13th win in its last 14 meetings with Western Carolina at Paladin Stadium, and 180th overall in facility history, as the Paladins improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in Southern Conference action. Meanwhile, Western Carolina fell to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in Southern Conference action.

Highlighting an afternoon that saw the two teams combine for 1,183 yards of total offense and 87 points, it was Furman running back Dominic Roberto that once again feasted in Saturday’s Battle for Purple Supremacy.

In last season’s 43-42 loss to the Catamounts, Roberto rumbled for 196 yards and four scores on 24 rush attempts. This year, Roberto bettered that and then some, finishing with a career-high 252 yards and two scores on 25 attempts. He also hauled in a 20-yard TD pass—the first scoring catch of his career—and now has totaled 448 yards and seven touchdowns (6 rushing) in the last two meetings with the Catamounts. This time, his efforts resulted in a victory.

In addition to Roberto, the Paladin ground game, which churned out 426 yards on the ground, outgaining the Catamounts, 426-229, Devin Abrams rushed for 92 yards on 19 rush attempts. Rounding out the ground attack for the Paladins was quarterback Tyler Huff, who rushed for 63 yards on five rush attempts.

In addition to Huff’s 62 rushing yards, the graduate transfer from PC, also connected on 7-of-10 passes for 66 yards and three scores, without an INT.

His favorite target in the passing game was once again Ryan Miller, who caught three passes for 27 yards, with two of his catches going for TDs. The senior from Jackson, TN, has hauled in touchdown passes of 13 and 14 yards, respectively, Saturday, as he hauled in touchdowns No. 22 and No. 23 in his Furman career, ranking second in program history. With his three catches Saturday, Miller now has a SoCon-best 45 receptions this season. He needs four more scoring catches this season to surpass Chas Fox’s 26-career TD catches, which he established from 1982-85.

Defensively, the Paladins were led by linebacker Evan DiMaggio, who posted 10 tackles, while redshirt senior cornerback Travis Blackshear and redshirt junior both had seven tackles and a tackle-for-loss. Rounding out a trio of Paladins with seven tackles was Ivan Yates, who also added three pass breakups.

Furman had some big plays as a part of its special teams unit in Saturday’s win over Western Carolina, which included a 97-yard kickoff return for a score to open the second half by Wayne Anderson Jr., a pair of Ian Williams field goals of 37 and 38 yards, respectively, a pair of blocked kicks—a PAT by Matt Sochovka and a blocked 27-yard field goal attempt by Sochovka—to round out what was a solid performance.

The Catamount offense was clicking on all cylinders Saturday, despite seeing Carlos Davis go down with an injury in the third quarter, as he had to be replaced by backup Cole Gonzales, but it didn’t matter, as the two Catamount QBs led an offense that out-gained Furman 691-492 in the contest, which included a 462-66 advantage in passing yards.  It marks the first time the Paladins have been out-gained in total yards in a game this season.

The Catamounts also held a 12-play advantage in total plays (79-67), however, the Paladins held an eight-minute edge in time-of-possession (34:00-26:00).

The 691 yards of total offense by the Catamounts is the most total yards in a single game ever allowed by a Paladin defense, eclipsing the 672 surrendered in a 46-13 loss at LSU back in 2013. The 462 yards passing by the Catamounts Saturday marked the fourth-highest total for passing yards ever allowed by a Paladin defense.

Western Carolina quarterbacks combined to complete 30-of-44 passes for 462 yards with four TD passes and just one INT. Davis finished the contest by connecting on 18-of-27 passes for 209 yards, with a pair of TD passes and one INT. The 462 passing yards were the most by a Southern Conference team this season.

In addition to his 209 yards passing on the day, Davis also led the Western Carolina ground attack, posting 104 yards 11 rush attempts. Also adding to the ground yardage was TJ Jones, who rushed for 67 yards and a TD on 12 attempts, while Jaylynn Williams finished with 58 yards on 12 rush attempts.

Cole Gonzales came into relieve an injured Davis in the third quarter and finished with a noteworthy performance in his young career, as the freshman signal-caller connected on 12-of-16 passes for 253 yards and a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes.

Censere Lee led the Catamounts in receiving, as he hauled in five passes for 164 yards and two scores, while All-SoCon wideout Raphael Williams was able to haul in 10 passes for 102 yards and a score. Rounding out the big-play receiving options for Western Carolina quarterbacks on Saturday was David White Jr., who caught two passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.

Lee was able to haul in TDs of 42 and 69 yards in the fourth quarter to make things especially interesting down the stretch, while White accounted for a 75-yard scoring catch in the second quarter.

Defensively, Western Carolina was led by Va Lealaimatafao, who posted 10 tackles, while All-SoCon safety Andreas Keaton added nine tackles and half-a-tackle-for-loss.

How It Happened:

When Ryan Miller hauled in his second TD pass of the game on a 14-yard strike from Tyler Huff and Axel Lepvreau’s PAT with 46 seconds left in the third quarter, it looked like Furman would coast to its fifth victory of the season and third Southern Conference win, as the Paladins led 44-20 and with the Catamounts relying on freshman quarterback Cole Gonzales having to replace an injured Carlos Davis under center, it certainly didn’t look good for Western Carolina.

But things looked a lot worse last Saturday in Macon, when Western Carolina trailed 42-0 at the half against No. 11 Mercer. Kerwin Bell even quipped to Mercer head coach Drew Cronic following that contest that he wished the Catamounts could have just one more half against the Bears. With the way things were going down the stretch in Greenville on Saturday at Paladin Stadium, just five more minutes might have been enough to escape with a win.

Just as the Catamounts did last season in Cullowhee to charge back from an 11-point deficit to garner a 43-42 win over Furman at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, these Cats coached by Kerwin Bell proved they have nine lives and were going to use every one of them once again.

Following Miller’s 14-yard scoring catch, which increased Furman’s advantage to 24 late in the third quarter, the Catamounts, who were now led by Gonzales, would scratch the scoreboard for the first of three scores in the fourth quarter when TJ Jones scored on a 9-yard jaunt to make it a 44-27 game and conclude an 8-play, 75-yard drive with 12:42 remaining.

After allowing one first down on Furman’s ensuing drive, Western Carolina would get the football back following a Ryan Leavy 43-yard punt gave the ball back to the Catamounts at their own 44. Gonzales needed just two plays to get Western Carolina to within 10 points with just under eight minutes to play, with both passes going to Lee.

After an initial 14-yard catch along the Catamount sideline on the first pass to get Western Carolina to the Furman 42, Gonzales threw a deep spiral down the right sideline for a 42-yard score to make it a 44-34 game following Richard McCollum’s PAT with 7:54 remaining.

It still seemed to be a comfortable lead, however, for Clay Hendrix’s Paladins. Furman would use heavy doses of Dominic Roberto and Devin Abrams to drive inside Catamount territory and faced a 3rd-and-6 play from the Western Carolina 31. The Paladins would turn the ball over for their only turnover of the game, as Roberto coughed up the football after a hard hit by Jaylen Floyd and the ball would be recovered by Catamount linebacker Samaurie Dukes with 2:26 remaining.

On the first play from scrimmage, the Gonzales again found a streaking Lee behind the Furman secondary, and he ran under the perfectly thrown pass in stride for a 69-yard scoring connection, sending the visiting fans from Cullowhee into wild celebrations in the visiting stands—a small sample size of what it was probably like in 1983—as Western Carolina cut it to a four-point game following the six-point play, at 44-40, with 2:18 remaining.

Just as he did in helping the Paladins generate the game-changing momentum last week by forcing a turnover following a big hit at The Citadel, Furman All-SoCon cornerback Travis Blackshear broke through and blocked McCollum’s PAT, which could have cut Furman’s lead to just a field goal. His blocked PAT helped Furman keep intact a 44-40 lead.

The Catamounts lined up for an onsides kick on the ensuing kickoff and it was Blackshear who caught the ball off one bounce, showing why he was part of the Paladin “hands team” and after fielding the football cleanly off the bounce, he returned it 20 yards to the Western Carolina 25, which was crucial because it gave the Paladins the football in excellent field position.

The Paladin offense, which took over with 2:13 remaining, was able to use four plays and run 1:06 off the game clock and force the Catamounts to use all of their timeouts, as Ian Williams lined up for his second field goal attempt of the afternoon, which would be from a yard closer than his 38-yarder in the third quarter. He hit the ball cleanly, however, it caromed off the left upright, but down through the goalposts for a successful attempt, giving the Paladins a 47-40 lead with 1:07 remaining.

The Catamounts got the ball back with 1:03 left and no timeouts following a 13-yard return by Blue Monroe to the Western Carolina 36 following a squib kickoff by Williams.

A 1-yard rush by Gonzales on first down was negated by a holding penalty, and after a pair of incompletions, Western Carolina faced a 3rd-and-20 from their own 26. Gonzales completed a 19-yard pass to Raphael Williams to bring up a 4th-and-1 at the Catamount 45. Gonzales found Williams over the middle once again for a gain of 14 yards down to the Furman 41.

Gonzales quickly rushed to the line of scrimmage and spiked the football to stop the clock with 10 seconds remaining. His deep pass to the right corner of the end zone intended for Terrence Horne Jr. was incomplete, however, the Paladins were flagged for pass interference and a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down placed the ball at the 26 with three seconds remaining.

On the final play of the game, Gonzales connected with a leaping Censere Lee at the Paladin 5, however, Blackshear sealed the win for the Paladin with a sure tackle, providing the ending to what was a wild Saturday at Paladin Stadium.

Leading 27-20 at the half, Furman opened the second half in electrifying fashion, as Wayne Anderson Jr. took the opening kickoff of the second half and raced 97 yards for a score to highlight what would end up being a 17-point third quarter for the Paladins.

A little over midway through the third quarter, the Paladins would increase their lead to 37-20 when Ian Williams connected on the first of his two field goals, connecting on a 38-yard field goal with 6:36 remaining in the frame to conclude a 10-play, 59-yard drive which ate up 5:44 off the game clock.

Furman would force a Western Carolina punt on the Catamounts ensuing possession, and after a Brandon Dickerson punt was fair caught at the Paladin 6, Huff and the Furman offense went to work with 2:20 remaining and needed only three plays to cover the 94 yards. After runs of 32 and 48 yards from Roberto netted the first 80 yards of the drive, Huff found Miller on a short 14-yard scoring strike in the far corner of the end zone to make it a 44-20 Paladin lead. That would ultimately be the final points until Ian Williams’ field goal with a little over a minute left, which increased the Furman lead back to a TD after a furious fourth quarter rally, which saw the Catamounts score 20 unanswered points to make things interesting down the stretch.

Furman held jumped out to a 27-10 lead in the opening half of play before the Catamounts closed to within 27-20 at the half. The Paladins would win the opening coin toss and defer until the second half. The Catamount offense went to work on their record-setting offensive day against the Paladin defense almost immediately.

Western Carolina looked like it was going to put points on the board on its first possession of the afternoon, driving down to the Furman 10, the drive stalled to force a Western Carolina field goal attempt, however, Richard McCollum’s 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Matt Sochovka to give the Paladins the momentum and keep points off the board for the opening possession of the game.

On Furman’s first play from scrimmage, running back Dominic Roberto, who rushed for 196 yards and four scores in a 43-42 loss to the Catamounts a year ago, rumbled 62 yards on the Paladins’ opening play from scrimmage to make it a 7-0 Paladin lead following Axel Lepvreau’s PAT.

The Catamounts would respond behind quarterback Carlos Davis, driving back down the field to find their first points of the game and tie the football game in the opening quarter. as Davis connected on a 6-yard scoring strike to Raphael Williams., tying the game 7-7 and concluding an 11-play, 74-yard drive with 7:27 remaining in the opening quarter.

Both teams would be forced to punt on their next respective drives, and it would be Furman that would put the final points on the board for the opening quarter. Following a 75-yard punt by Brandon Dickerson, the Paladin offense would take over the football at their own 27.  

Roberto found the end zone for the second time on the day and first time in his career via TD catch, as he hauled in a beautifully flighted pass from quarterback Tyler Huff for a 20-yard scoring connection to conclude a 5-play, 73-yard scoring drive to make it a 14-7 Paladin lead with 21 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

Early in the second quarter, Furman would force the first turnover of the afternoon, as Bryce Stanfield got pressure on Davis and forced a hurried, under-thrown pass, which was intercepted by Paladin safety Hugh Ryan and returned 39 yards to the Catamount 11. From there, the Paladins needed just three plays to cover the needed yardage and take a 21-7 lead on Roberto’s third TD of the day.

For the second-straight week down near the opposing goal line, a Furman running back took the direct snap in shotgun formation from center—last week Devin Abrams vs. The Citadel and this week Roberto—as the Paladins held a two-score lead following the redshirt junior’s 1-yard scoring plunge with 13:17 remaining in the opening half.

The Catamounts would answer on the ensuing drive by answering with a 10-play, 65-yard drive, however, had to settle for a Richard McCollum 20-yard field goal to cut the Paladin lead to 11, at 21-10, with 10:49 left in the half.

Furman’s final points of the frame would come on its ensuing offensive possession, as the Paladins used 11 plays to cover 65 yards, as Huff connected with tight end Ryan Miller for the first of the two touchdown connections between the two in the contest on a 13-yard touchdown scoring toss with 5:55 remaining in the half, giving the Paladins a 27-10 lead.

That lead would be brief, however, as the Catamounts needed just a one-play rebuttal, as Davis found David White Jr. in the flat, and he needed to outrun just one Paladin defender on his way to a 75-yard score, making it a 27-17 game just 12 seconds after Miller’s scoring catch for the Paladins.

Furman would put together a nice drive on its next possession—one that seemed it might yield points—however on a 4th-and-1 play from the Catamount 29, Dominic Roberto was stopped inches short of the first down marker, and the Paladins turned the ball over on downs with 1:38 remaining in the half.

From there, the Catamounts used 10 plays to cover 61 yards to set up a 27-yard McCollum field goal as the first half clock expired, getting Western Carolina to within a touchdown, at 27-20, at the half.

Furman heads to VMI next Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff time at Foster Stadium. The Catamounts return to Cullowhee to face The Citadel with kickoff time set for 2 p.m. at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.

Seven down…four to go:

With half the season now in the books, the Paladins sit 5-2 and 3-1 in the Southern Conference, with plenty of football still ahead and a lot of the grunt work still to do.

While Saturday’s win over Western Carolina can be deemed a good win, the way in which the Paladins won Saturday’s game—by holding on for dear life—is not a blueprint that will work with the remaining slate.

Since putting together maybe its best performance of the season in a 35-12 loss at No. 5 Clemson, out-gaining the Tigers 382-376 in the contest, there is a feeling that the Paladins have yet to put together a complete performance on both sides of the ball in a victory this season.

Furman’s defense has seemingly been a unit that has traveled this season, as the Paladins have done their best work on the defensive side of the football away from Paladin Stadium this season. Furman has surrendered 1,278 yards and 74 points in three home games this season, which computes to an average of 426 YPG and 24.6 PPG. When you consider that North Greenville didn’t score, the points have all been scored by two SoCon foes, and in that sense, the Paladins are surrendering 37.0 PPG at home to league foes.

On the road, however, the Paladins have been impressive on the defensive side of the football—Clemson game included. The Paladins have surrendered a total of 1,370 yards and 77 total points in four games. That averages out to 342.5 YPG surrendered in total yards on the road, as well as 19.2 points-per-game in four road games this season.

The outlier has been turnovers. The Paladins have forced them on the road, while not having as much success doing so in front of the home folks. Furman has forced only five of its 17 turnovers forced (10 INTs, 7 FRs) at home, including just two combined against SoCon foes Samford and Western Carolina.

In four games on the road, the Paladins have forced 12, turning teams over at an average of 3.0 per game away from Paladin Stadium.

The Paladins have been about as balanced as you can be offensively home or away so far this season, and after yesterday’s 492-yard outing against Western Carolina, have been the more consistent unit through the first seven games of the season. The ground game is starting to hit another gear, currently leading the SoCon in yards-per-game on the ground, averaging 225.6 YPG through the first seven games of the season.

Through the air, Furman’s numbers have taken a bit of a dip, however, that’s a good thing. Through seven games this season, Furman is averaging 201.4 YPG through the air. The 427.0 YPG through the first seven games ranks the Paladins third in the SoCon in total offense, while the 30.0 PPG scoring average has the Paladins ranking fourth in scoring offense.

Defensively, the Paladins currently rank fifth in the SoCon in total defense (378.3 YPG) but are a healthy third in the league in scoring defense (21.7 PPG). The Paladins currently rank second in the SoCon in turnovers gained (17), trailing only Mercer (18) in that particular category. Furman’s 10 INTs also rank second in the SoCon to the Bears, who lead the SoCon and the nation with 15 INTs this season.

The Paladins, however, must improve in red zone defense. The Paladins rank ninth in the Southern Conference in that particular category, with opponents scoring at an 88.2% clip, scoring on 15 out of 17 trips to that particular portion of the field this season. Furman’s defense has surrendered 11 TDs in those 17 trips to the red zone by the opposition, as well as four field goals.

Furman’s red zone offense, however, has been pretty solid, as the Paladins rank third in the SoCon behind only Mercer (88.5%) and Chattanooga (86.4%). Furman is scoring 82.8% of the time when it reaches the red zone, scoring on 24-of-29 opportunities, with 16 TDs and eight field goals.

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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