Furman’s season ends in heartbreak with road playoff loss at Incarnate Word

Cally Chizik/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Remember the Alamo. It is a phrase familiar those of us, who like me, are nerdy enough to still enjoy researching and reading about our country and the historical background all of its 50 states, but the saying is of particular importance to those who hail from the Lone Star State.

The Alamo, which is located in the beautiful locale of San Antonio, and is where the Texas military defended its land for freedom against the Mexican military, maintaining autonomy following the annexation of the Republic of Texas in 1845.

Furman came to play its first game in the Lone Star State on Saturday afternoon, engaging a prestigious Catholic school in a football battle of sorts, as the Paladins went up against the University of Incarnate Word—an institution in close proximity of that great battle fought at the Alamo some 186 years ago.  

While the comparison of sport to history is often trivial, Saturday’s battle between the Paladins and Cardinals, at least for those who both witnessed it or played in it, likely won’t soon be forgotten.

Despite a valiant effort by No. 11 Furman, it was UIW that maintained control of its fort and kept its season alive for at least one more week, despite the Paladins best efforts, as the seventh-seeded Cardinals captured a thrilling 41-38 in second round FCS playoff action Saturday afternoon at Tom Benson Stadium.

With the win, the Cardinals improved their regular-season mark to 11-1 and move on to the quarterfinal round of the postseason to play at No. 2 Sacramento State next week. The Hornets had to come from behind in their FCS second round playoff matchup against CAA member Richmond, defeating the Spiders, 38-31, to remain unbeaten (12-0) this season. Kickoff for the Dec. 9 contest in Sacramento is set for 10:30 p.m. EST.

Furman, which won 10 games in a season for the first time in 17 years, finishes off its 2022 campaign with a 10-3 overall mark. Furman also saw its seven-game streak. The Paladins also capped off a season which saw them win more Southern Conference games (7) than they have in 21 years.

The game was one that saw just about everything, and everything you knew or thought you knew about the team on both sides of the ball would be revealed over the course of 60 minutes of football Saturday afternoon.

UIW would show it was as good as advertised. Furman would show it was a more than worthy foe, and that it was a program at least as good as any the Cardinals have faced in a season, which has seen head coach G.J. Kinne’s squad putting up gaudy offensive numbers nearly every Saturday they took the field this season. And for Kinne, who announced he would be moving on at season’s end Friday by accepting the job offer at Texas State, saw his career on the sidelines extend at least one more week at UIW.

On Saturday afternoon in the second round of the FCS playoffs, the Cardinals played a foe that was worthy, and unlike most of opposition it faced and put up similar offensive numbers in the opening half of play this season—31 points and 438 yards of total offense against Furman’s stout defense—the Paladins didn’t follow the same script as the 10 other foes UIW has blitzkrieged this season. The Paladins fought and the Cardinals and UIW discovered, to its surprise and maybe for the first time since a Sept. 24 loss to Southeast Louisiana, that it was in a game that would require a fight to win in the second half.

The Cardinals finished the afternoon holding a 613-332 advantage in total offense. UIW held a substantial 394-171 advantage through the air, while posting a 219-161 edge in rushing yards. After heading the half with a 28-17 deficit, the Paladins would hold that prolific Cardinals attack in check in the second half, outscoring the Cardinals 21-13 and out-gained UIW 193-175 in total yards in the second half. For the second time this season, an opponent ran 90 or more plays against the Furman defense, with UIW totaling a 33-play advantage (97-64) in Saturday’s win. The 97 plays by UIW matched the 97 plays by run by Samford in a 34-27 win by the Bulldogs back on Oct. 1

Lindsey Scott Jr. is absolutely the best player in FCS football, and I watched him with my own eyes do it consistently over 60 minutes against a talented Furman defense, however, the Paladin defense made even him look human at times in the second half, and even a couple of times—thanks to Cally Chizik—in the first.

Scott, the favorite to take home the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the top player in FCS football, connected on 33-of-49 passes for 394 yards, with five touchdowns and two INTs. He also added 124 yards on the ground on 23 attempts, totaling 518 yards of total offense in the UIW win.

Furman’s Tyler Huff would come alive in the second half, utilizing his arm and legs to get the Paladins back in the football game. He finished the contest completing 16-of-28 passes for 171 yards, with one TD and a pair of INTs, while rushing for 64 yards and another two touchdowns in the losing effort.

Furman’s outstanding defensive effort was highlighted by several players worthy of mention, with the most notable of course being Chizik, who added six tackles and a tackle-for-loss to along with his two picks, totaling 69 return yards and one score.

Strong safety Kam Brinson finished with 13 tackles and 3.5 tackles-for-loss, while Braden Gilby posting 11 tackles, forced a fumble and had half-a-tackle for loss. McCormick finished out the Paladins in double digits in tackles, with 10 tackles, half-a-sack and a fumble recovery.

 How It Happened

It looked as if it might be a great day to be a Paladin early in the contest. On the opening drive of the game, Furman would get first glance at UIW’s prolific offense and Walter Payton Award finalist and quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. It didn’t take long for Cally Chizik to send a message from the Paladin defense to Scott and the Cardinal offense after picking off the talented UIW signal-caller and returning it 36 yards for a score to give Furman a 7-0 lead just four plays into the contest.

UIW went to work on its second drive and went about tying the football game, using nine plays to drive 75 yards, scoring on somewhat of a fluke pass play from Scott to wideout Darrion Chafin for a 21-yard scoring strike. Facing a heavy rush, Scott, who was falling backwards, lofted the ball up towards the end zone and Chafin hauled it in for the score to even the score, 7-7, with 10:51 remaining in the opening half.

Furman was forced to punt on its first offensive possession of the contest, and when UIW’s offense got the ball back, it wouldn’t take them long to assume its first lead of the day. Scott’s second touchdown toss was his longest completion of the day, finding Chafin behind the Paladin secondary for an 80-yard pitch-and-catch, giving the Cardinals the 14-7 lead with 7:23 still remaining in the first quarter.

The Paladin offense would put more points on the board on the ensuing possession, getting their only field goal of the day from Ian Williams, who connected on a 49-yard field goal with 6:01 left in the opening frame, cutting UIW’s lead to four points, at 14-10.

On the third play of UIW’s next drive, Chizik would pickoff a Scott pass for the second time of the day, returning it 33 yards all the way to the UIW 5. On the second play of the drive, Dominic Roberto plunged in from a yard out to make it a 17-14 lead with a little over two minutes left in the first quarter.

The second quarter would belong to the Cardinals, outscoring the Paladins 14-0 to take a seemingly commanding 28-17 lead into halftime locker room. UIW quarterback tossed TD passes three and four of the opening half, as he first found Chafin on a 27-yard strike before hooking up with Taylor Grimes on a circus catch in the back of the end zone, capping an 88-yard drive, with 42 of those yards coming on the touchdown connection between Scott and Grimes.

Late in the half, Furman’s defense was finally starting to slow Scott and the UIW offense. With a chance to increase the margin even more and the Cardinals driving deep inside Paladin territory, with the ball resting at the Furman 3 and facing a 4th-and-1 play with under a minute remaining in the second quarter. Instead of opting to kick the short chip shot field goal, Cardinal head coach G.J. Kinne took a timeout to draw up a play. The Paladin defense was equal to the task, as a short pitch to wideout to Taylor Grimes was stuffed short by Furman linebacker Bryce McCormick, allowing the Paladin offense to run out the clock and take a small measure of momentum into the halftime locker room.

Furman got the ball on the opening possession of the second half, however, Paladin quarterback Tyler Huff threw his first of two INTs of the day, as much like Chizik intercepted Scott on the fourth play of the game, UIW’s Brian Mayes returned the favor on the fourth play of the second half, picking off Huff, only his INT wasn’t returned for a score, but it did give the Cardinals the ball deep inside Furman territory at the Paladin 30.

Furman’s defense was beginning to gain confidence, however, and would hold the Cardinals to just three points, which kept the Paladins hopes for a second half comeback very much alive. After UIW initially got the ball down to the Furman 18 on a 12-yard run from Marcus Cooper, and eventually got all the way to the Paladin 1. However, on a 3rd-and-goal play, Furman strong safety broke through the line and brought down Scott for a loss of three and forced UIW to settle for the three this time around, and he trotted on to knock through the 22-yard field goal and give the Cardinals a 31-17 lead.

A defensive battle began to take shape in the third quarter and for the first time all day, the UIW offense was struggling to find the success and points that they were in the opening half.

With just under seven remaining in the third, Huff and the Paladin offense took over the football. The graduate transfer from Presbyterian College would help engineer a 10-play, 52-yard drive, which he capped with an 11-yard scoring run on a 4th-and-4 play with 3:28 left in the third quarter. Furman was back in the football game, trailing just 31-24.

Things would get even more interesting in the fourth quarter. After the Cardinals went back up by double digits once again following a 43-yard field goal by Mohr just a little less than a minute into the final quarter, giving UIW the 34-24 lead.

After the two teams exchanged punts, Furman got the football back with just over 10 minutes remaining. It wouldn’t take the Paladins long to make things really interesting, getting to within a field goal when Huff found wideout Joshua Harris behind the UIW secondary for a 50-yard scoring strike to get Furman to within a field goal, at 34-31.

On a 2nd-and-6 play on UIW’s ensuing drive, Cardinals running back Marcus Cooper was tackled by Braden Gilby, and it was Furman’s All-SoCon middle linebacker, who not only forced the football free, and it would be Bryce McCormick who recovered the fumble to set up the Furman offense in outstanding field position at the UIW 32.

On the first play, Huff rushed 12 yards up the middle to get the Paladins a first down at the UIW 20. Another 13-yard scamper on 3rd-and-8 got the Paladins a first down inside the 10. Three plays later, Huff called his own number once again, and Furman took its first lead since holding a 17-14 lead early in the second quarter, as following Axel Lepvreau’s PAT, Furman held a 38-34 lead with 6:55 remaining.

Furman’s defense would hold UIW on downs on the Cardinals next possession, despite the Cardinals moving the football 50 yards in 12 plays. Furman’s offense took over the football at their own 20 with 2:59 left. Furman only took 27 seconds off the clock, however, forced UIW to use all three of its remaining timeouts before having to punt deep out of their own end zone, ensuring UIW would get excellent field position. Furman’s drive used three plays, and was plagued by two huge penalties, which come on a holding call following a 19-yard run by Dominic Roberto on first down, and then a false start on the next play.

Losses of three and four yards by Roberto on back-to-back carries meant the Paladins would lose a combined 15 yards on the possession compared to where it took the ball over, ending up at their own 5 and forcing Ryan Leahy to punt deep out of his own end zone. Furman would give the ball back to the Cardinals with 2:32 remaining, as they took the ball in great field position at the Paladin 25.

On 3rd-and-10 on UIW’s ensuing drive, Scott lofted a pass to the back left corner of the end zone, which wideout Kole Wilson ran under and caught for a 32-yard touchdown, giving the Cardinals the lead back, 41-38, with just under two minutes remaining.

When the Paladins got the football back at their own 25, they would have 1:54 on the clock and the luxury of all three timeouts. Huff and the Paladins moved the ball quickly, aided by a pass interference penalty and a holding penalty against the Cardinals to get the ball down to the UIW 32 with 1:32 left and all three timeouts. However, on first down, Huff’s pass was intended for All-American tight end Ryan Miller intercepted by a diving Eliott Davison, who provided the perfect safety over the top coverage, essentially ending any comeback hopes for the Paladins. After gaining one first down on a Scott 15-yard run up the middle, in which the Paladins were trying to rip the football free, the Cardinals ran out the remainder of the clock en route to holding on for the 41-38 second round win.  

Stay tuned later in the week for a look back at the outstanding accomplishments for the 2022 Furman Paladins football team, as I take a look back at the exciting season that transpired for Clay Hendrix and the Paladins in 2022.

Postgame 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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