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 the 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 four games for the ‘Dins last season, and he would win his post his third win as a starter, rushing for a pair of scores and throwing another, 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 Furman 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.

Furman set for final non-conference game at Charleston Southern

Furman and Charleston Southern have met only once before in 2019/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Furman looks to improve to 3-1 on the young 2022 season, as it heads to Charleston Southern for its final non-conference game of the slate. It will mark just the second all-time meeting between the Paladins and Buccaneers, with two having met to open the 2019 season, with the Paladins claiming what was a 46-13 decision in that particular contest.

The Bucs are off to an 0-3 start, having faced three solid opponents so far on the young season, having taken on Southern Conference member Western Carolina (L, 38-52), North Carolina State (L, 3-55) and Eastern Kentucky (L, 17-40).

Charleston Southern is led by former Notre Dame star running back Autry Denson (12-17), who is now his fourth season at the helm. In fact, the last time the Paladins and Bucs met also turned out to be Denson’s first game as the head coach of the Bucs. Denson is still the all-time leading rusher in the storied history of Fighting Irish football.

While the Paladins came into the season with 15 returning starters (8-offense, 7-defense), Charleston Southern came into the season with 11 regulars (4-offense, 7-defense) from a team that finished 4-6 overall, which included a 3-4 record in the Big South, which was good enough for a four-way tie for third. The Bucs are projected to finish third again this season in the preseason Big South poll.

A home win Saturday would help put an end to what is a four-game losing streak for the Bucs, which dates back to a 56-7 setback to eventual national champion Georgia in the 2021 regular-season finale.

For Furman head coach Clay Hendrix (33-24) –now in his sixth season at the helm of the Paladin football program–a win Saturday on the road would give the Paladins a 3-1 start to the campaign, which would match his best start during his time as the head coach. The Paladins also got off to a 3-1 start to the COVID-19 shortened 2020 campaign, which was played in the spring of 2021.

In the only other meeting between the Paladins and Bucs, Furman was able to amass 509 yards of total offense, which included 369 yards on the ground en route to what ended up being a lopsided victory. The 46 points scored by the Paladins turned out to be the most points scored by the Paladins against an NCAA Division I FCS opponent.

The one common opponent so far between Furman and Charleston Southern is Western Carolina. Obviously, the Paladins have yet to face the Catamounts in a game as of yet, however, it’s an opponent that on film that is at least recognizable to the Paladin coaching staff in terms of scheme.

In the loss to the Catamounts, the Bucs were impressive in some areas. CSU was able to rack up 481 yards of total offense in the loss to the Catamounts, getting 342 of those yards through the air.

That’s been the primary mode of operation for the Bucs offense this season, as CSU comes into Saturday’s non-conference clash averaging 254.3 yards-per-game through the air.

The Bucs come in averaging a total of 318.2 YPG to go with 19.3 PPG, and are led by quarterback Ross Malmgren, who has connected on 67-of-115 passes for 703 yards, with six touchdowns and four picks.

The Bucs have a pair of talented wideouts to keep an eye on, as four wideouts have at least 120 yards receiving through the first three games of the season. Seth Anderson (18 rec, 268 yds, 3 TDs, 14.8 YPR), TJ Ruff (12 rec, 137 yds, 1 TD, 11.4 YPR), Cayden Jordan (7 rec, 124 yds, 17.7 YPR) and Vinson Dale (21 rec, 21 rec, 120 yds, 2 TDs, 5.7 YPR) have been the primary targets offensively for Malmgren in the CSU passing attack this season. Cayden Jordan was a preseason All-Big South pick.

The 254.3 passing yards per game for the Bucs ranks them as the 27th-best passing attack in the FCS this season. The leading ground option for CSU this season has been TJ Ruff (30 rush att, 101 yds, 3.4 YPC), however, the Bucs are averaging just 56.3 YPG on the ground this season, which ranks 120th out of 122 teams ranked in FCS football in rushing output per game. Ruff has been equally a threat as a receiving option out of the CSU backfield, as noted above.

Defensively, as you might expect, the Bucs have struggled to stop the caliber of offenses they have faced in their first three games this season, and that task will not be lessened by the fact that Furman visits Ladson on Saturday afternoon. The Bucs are surrendering 49.0 PPG (119th in FCS) and 534.0 YPG (118th in FCS) in total defense so far through the first three games of the season.

The leaders on the defensive side of the football for the Bucs are defensive end Anton Williams (7 tackles) and middle linebacker Garrett Sayegh (20 tackles, 1.0 TFL). Both were chosen as preseason All-Big South selections. Williams is currently tied for fourth in program history in sacks, having posted an impressive 16.5 sacks in his CSU career.

Hombre Kennedy (16 tackles, 1 FF), who rounds out the trio of All-Big South selections on defense, anchors the CSU secondary at safety. Kennedy is one of the veterans still around from the 2019 meeting between the two teams, as he posted seven stops for the Bucs defense in the 2019 season opener.

Furman counters with an offense that has been outstanding so far through the first three games of the season. Leading that offense for the Paladins this season is quarterback Tyler Huff (65-of-92 passing, 666 yds, 5 TDs, 1 INT/27 rush att, 217 yds, 1 TD, 8.0 YPC). The PC grad transfer leads a Paladin offense that currently ranks 12th nationally in total offense (460.7 YPG). The 460.7 YPG is tied with Eastern Kentucky, who the Bucs just played last week. Huff comes in leading the Southern Conference in total offense, having totaled 883 yards of total offense so far this season.

While Huff currently leads the Paladins in rushing this season, the top ground option has been Dominic Roberto (29 rush att, 159 yds, 3 TDs, 5.5 YPC), who sealed last Saturday’s win over East Tennessee State with a 46-yard touchdown run.

Roberto has tag-teamed the ground attack with Devin Abrams (21 rush att, 85 yds, 4.0 YPC), as the senior also can be a dual threat as a receiving threat coming out of the backfield, hauling three passes for 45 yards so far in 2022.

Abrams posted seven carries for 35 yards and a score against the Bucs in the 2019 meeting.

Huff is blessed with several options to throw to in the passing game, with two-time All-American Ryan Miller (22 rec, 219 yds, 3 TDs, 10.0 YPR) being the top option, while Joshua Harris (14 rec, 141 yds, 10.1 YPR) is starting to come into his own in this his sophomore season for the Paladins.

Miller extended his school-record for consecutive games with a touchdown reception in last Saturday night’s 27-14 win over East Tennessee State, hauling in five passes for 39 yards and touchdown. Miller’s streak of TD receptions in six-straight games breaks a record, which was originally set by Chas Fox (1985) and tied by Colin Anderson (2011) and Andy Schumpert (2017).

Furman has a veteran offensive line, which entered the season with four returning starters along its offensive front. The Paladins are anchored up front by a pair of all-conference selections, in offensive tackles Anderson Tomlin and Pearson Toomey.

The defense has been solid this season, and through the first three games of the 2022 season, the Paladins 25th nationally in total defense (318.3 YPG) and 16th in scoring defense (16.3 PPG).

Leading the Paladin defensive line has been Matt Sochovka (4 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 QBHs) and Cameron Coleman (6 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 QBH), as both were preseason All-SoCon picks. Both were influential in last Saturday night’s road win at East Tennessee State, especially in the second half of the game, as the Paladins seemingly got more pressure on ETSU signal-caller Tyler Riddell as the game progressed.

Furman’s LBs don’t put up huge numbers, but all four across the middle of the defense are solid, and the Paladins have some quality depth at all three levels of the defense. Bryce McCormick (18 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 QBH) and Braden Gilby (13 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QBH) form the teeth of the Paladin defense in the middle, while Luke Clark (6 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sacl) and Jalen Miller (6 tackles, 1 INT) provide solid play at outside linebacker. Miller came up with a key INT, which thwarted a potential ETSU scoring drive in the win over the 18th-ranked Bucs.

The secondary may well be the deepest part of the Furman defense, with the unit anchored by preseason first-team All-SoCon selection Travis Blackshear (8 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 PBU) at cornerback.

Evidence of Furman’s depth within its secondary was provided by Dominic Morris (5 tackles, 1.0 INT, 3 PBUs) in the win over ETSU last time out, as Morris was entered the game for Blackshear, who was suffering from cramps, and he recorded a pair of pass breakups and a crucial INT to help the Paladins close out their first win over a ranked foe since 2007.

The Paladins have a pair of the SoCon’s best safeties, in Hugh Ryan (19 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 FF, 2 PBU, 1 INT) and Kam Brinson (4 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR). Both played a major role in Furman’s Road win to open SoCon play last weekend, with Ryan recording his fifth-career INT on the second offensive play from scrimmage, while Brinson registered a fumble recovery and had a big hit, which caused a pass breakup and subsequent INT by Jalen Miller to put an end to a potential scoring drive for ETSU, turning the tide of the game.

Final Thoughts and Prediction: Furman hasn’t played Charleston Southern since 2019, but I look for the Paladins to continue their momentum going forward with a matchup against ranked SoCon foe Samford in what looms as a potentially huge SoCon home opener between a pair of ranked teams should the Paladins take care of business in Ladson on Saturday afternoon. I think they will, winning on the road in emphatic fashion.

Furman posts SoCon opening win at No. 18 East Tennessee State

Furman wideout Joshua Harris/Photo courtesy of Furman athletics

If Furman’s statement wasn’t made loud enough by its performance in out-gaining (384-376) the fourth-ranked Clemson in what was a respectable 35-12 loss in Tiger Town last Saturday, it made yet another, perhaps more resounding statement in its most recent outing against No. 18 and defending Southern Conference champion East Tennessee State in its Southern Conference opener, defeating the Bucs, 27-14, before a capacity of 9,836 fans on hand Saturday night at William B. Greene Stadium.

With the win, Furman improved to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in SoCon action, while ETSU dropped to 1-2 overall and 0-2 in SoCon action. The win marked the fourth win in the last five outings at William B. Greene Stadium, and with the win, the Paladins snapped ETSU’s nine-game home winning streak at Greene Stadium, which dates to March 21, 2021, when Furman came away with a 17-13 win.

The Paladins ended the night holding what was a 409-352 advantage in total yards, with Furman’s defense imposing its will upon the game in the second half, holding the Bucs to just 104 yards of total offense in the latter half of play.

It was Furman’s secondary that made some key plays in both halves to highlight the defensive performance, showing the depth and talent the Paladins possess at all four defensive back positions.

“We knew what kind of game it was going to be…a tough, defensive game and anytime we can get our hands on the ball in the secondary  as a secondary and help the offense in these kinds of games is huge and we did that tonight and we helped force four turnovers, so that was also huge,” Furman defensive back Hugh Ryan said.  

Furman’s defense forced four turnovers in the game, picking off three Tyler Riddell passes, while also recovering a fumble in the win. Free safety Hugh Ryan and linebacker Bryce McCormick led the Furman defense with eight tackles apiece, while Ryan also added a forced fumble and an interception off a tipped pass on ETSU’s first possession of the game. In addition to Ryan’s INT, the Paladins also got INTs from cornerback Dominic Morris and linebacker Jalen Miller.

Furman strong safety Kam Brinson turned in his second strong performance in the Paladin secondary, finishing with one tackle, a forced fumble and a de-cleating hit, which forced to pop up in the air and off the carom, Miller recorded the interception. After the hit was reviewed for a potential targeting call, the call was overturned, and Brinson remained in the game and the interception stood for the Paladins. Brinson also had an INT off a tipped pass last Saturday in Furman’s respectable 35-12 loss at Clemson.

Offensively, Furman was led once again by quarterback Tyler Huff, who once again, was strong leading the Paladin offense in a game that saw the Paladins arguably face its most adversity of the season.

“I think tonight was a lot to do with me…I didn’t have a good game and I wasn’t hitting open receivers and I wasn’t putting the ball in the receiver’s hands in good spots  and a lot of it is on me tonight and when they were stopping the run and they were putting it on me to throw the ball and I wasn’t performing tonight, but I knew when it came down to it I knew I could depend on my safety blanket Ryan Miller and just get it into his hands and let him do what he does,” Furman quarterback Tyler Huff said.

The adversity came on third down for the Paladins on Saturday night. After converting 10-of-18 third down attempts against Clemson outstanding defense last Saturday, Furman’s offense was just 3-of-13 on third down in its Southern Conference opener against the Bucs, yet found a way to win the game.

Last season, Furman found itself in a similar game with the Bucs, only to see its lead, which it had held the entire game, taken away with just nine seconds remaining on a 3-yard scoring pass from Riddell to former ETSU wideout Malik Murray, as ETSU went on to the 17-13 win.

That loss last season all but spelled doom for Furman’s FCS playoff hopes. In the press conference earlier this week, words like “heartbreaking” were used to describe last year’s ultimate result, while Ryan Miller and defensive lineman Matt Sovochka made it a point that Saturday night against the Bucs, the Paladins were looking for “revenge” and “redemption” for the feeling of having the Bucs rip away that game at Paladin Stadium last October—they got that redemption Saturday night.

Huff finished the night connecting on 24-of-40 passes for 218 yards, with two touchdowns and no INTs, while also finishing as Furman’s leading rusher, gaining 98 yards on 13 attempts. All told, Huff accounted for 313 yards of total offense in the win.

Miller, a two-time All-America tight end, who hails from the Volunteer State (Jackson, Tenn.), ended up hauling in five passes for 39 yards and a touchdown.

Furman’s leading pass-catcher and maybe its best offensive threat in the contest was sophomore wideout Joshua Harris. A SoCon All-Freshman selection a year ago, Harris ended the night hauling in eight Huff passes for 95 yards. In addition to Miller’s five grabs, James Madison transfer Kyndel Dean also had five catches for 29 yards, while Luke Shiflett added three grabs for 19 yards.

ETSU quarterback Tyler Riddell finished the night connecting on 22-of-43 passes for 272 yards with two touchdowns and three INTs. Riddell’s top target was Einaj Carter, who had three catches for 87 yards and a pair of TDs. The 75-yard scoring catch by Carter was his first as a Bucs receiver.

Preseason Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Saylors finished the night with 54 yards on 19 carries. The Paladins limited ETSU’s star running back to minus two yards rushing in the second half.

The game had the notable backdrop of familiarity for the two opposing teams, with Clay Hendrix facing off against a former teammate for the second time in his tenure as the Furman head coach, with the first time coming against former Mercer head coach and Paladin quarterback Bobby Lamb, who he faced each of his first three seasons as the head coach in Greenville.

Saturday night provided another opportunity to face off against a former teammate and friend, with George Quarles being on the opposing sidelines as the Bucs head coach. Quarles was coaching his first home Southern Conference game as the ETSU head coach. Following the game, former Furman and current ETSU offensive line coach Dru Duke greeted Hendrix with a hug and congratulations after a battle well fought between two good football teams.

The Paladins improved to 5-2 against the Bucs since ETSU re-joined the SoCon in 2016, while the Bucs fell to 20-12 all-time in SoCon home openers.

How it Happened:

Furman got on the board first in the contest utilizing Hugh Ryan’s fifth-career interception off a tipped ball. That set up the Paladin offense at the ETSU 27. After three incompletions from Tyler Huff, Ian Williams came on and knocked through a 44-yard field goal to make it a 3-0 contest with 13:48 remaining in the first quarter.

On the first play following the ensuing kickoff, Furman brought an all-out blitz and the Bucs burned the Paladins for the longest play surrendered this season by the Paladin defense, as quarterback Tyler Riddell hooked up with Einaj Carter for a 75-yard score to give ETSU a 7-3 lead.

After three turnovers, two of which came from the Bucs on a Jalen Miller INT and a Kam Brinson fumble recovery forced by Ryan, the Paladins got their second field goal of the night early in the second quarter, as Williams knocked through a 43-yard attempt to get within a point with 12:20 left in the half.

Furman’s offense would squander one major second quarter opportunity to put more points on the board, getting stopped on a 4th-and-2 at the ETSU 17, as Dominic Roberto was brought down after gaining only a yard. Furman, which already had two long field goals from Williams on the evening, could have attempted a third, however, head coach Clay Hendrix instead opted to attempt it on fourth down instead of attempting a third Williams field goal. It left the Paladins behind by a single point with 6:38 remaining in the opening half of play.

ETSU saw the ensuing offensive possession end with a missed field goal of its own, as the Bucs drove the ball down to the Paladin 28, however, had to settle for a 45-yard field goal attempt from Tyler Keltner, which he missed wide left with 3:27 left in the half.

After both teams were forced to punt on their ensuing possessions, Furman would get the ball back with just 1:05 remaining in the half, with excellent field position at its own 47 following a 15-yard punt return from Cally Chizik. Huff completed a 20-yard pass to Wayne Anderson Jr. on first down and then hit Kyndel Dean on a 9-yard pass to get the Paladins to the Bucs 24-yard line with under a minute left.

Huff’s 9-yard got the Paladins deep in the Bucs red zone and down to the 15. Two plays later, Huff fired a 15-yard strike to Anderson for the Paladins’ first touchdown of the night, giving Furman a 13-7 lead following the Axel Lepvreau PAT with 22 seconds remaining in the half. The Paladins had stolen momentum and taken it into the locker room.

ETSU’s defense made notable adjustments at the break and came out and played some inspired football to open the second half. The Bucs halted Furman’s momentum it had carried into the half, forcing Furman into a three-and-out on its opening drive of the second half.

Furman’s defense was also strong to start the second half, forcing ETSU to punt the ball on its opening drive of the second half after the Bucs reached their own 45.

The Paladins would make the most of their next possession, as they increased their advantage to double digits for the first time all night. Furman used 14 plays to cover 89 yards, with Huff completing 7-of-10 passes for 66 yards on the drive, with the key completion coming to Harris on a 23-yard connection to get the Paladins a first-and-goal from the ETSU 3. On the next play, Huff found Miller for his second scoring toss of the night, giving the Paladins a 20-7 lead with 6:13 remaining in the third quarter.

The Bucs’ response would be swift, as they showed why they were the defending Southern Conference champions and had won nine games in a row in the friendly confines of William B. Greene Stadium. The Bucs, nine-play, 75-yard drive, would also be aided by a pair of 15-yard penalties—a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike penalty—which yielded a combined total of 30 of yards for what would be ETSU’s second trip to the end zone of the evening. Riddell capped the drive with his second scoring toss of the night, finding Carter for a second time, with this one coming on a beautifully lofted 11-yard pass to the left corner of the end zone, pulling ETSU to win six again, at 20-14, with 3:14 left in the third quarter.

It would ultimately turn out to be the final points the Bucs would score in the contest, as Furman’s defense did the rest, surrendering just 41 yards on ETSU’s final 23 plays of the game, which combined the Bucs final possession of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter.

The Paladins would put the game away in the final two minutes. Trailing 20-14 and facing a crucial 3rd-and-9 play from its own 11, it appeared Riddell had completed a 22-yard pass out to the Bucs 33 to standout all-league wide receiver Will Huzzie, however Huzzie was flagged for offensive pass interference to negate the potential big play and first down. Riddell’s pass intended for Huzzie was dropped on the ensuing 3rd-and-19 play, and then on 4th-and-19, Furman cornerback Dominic Morris picked off Riddell’s pass at the ETSU 46 to give the Paladins the ball back with 59 seconds left.

On the first play on the ensuing possession, the Paladins put the game on ice, as Dominic Roberto took the hand-off from Huff, who also helped pave the way with a down field block, as the second-team All-SoCon selection Roberto rumbled 46 yards for a score to put the Paladins back up by two scores, providing the final margin.

“It feels really good to win one like this and it took every single body we brought up here and we made the trip up here today, which some people would say is not an easy trip, but our kids managed that really well and I thought our coverage was great and I was even going to let him kick the last one if would have run a little time, but we scored there and we were pretty solid kicking the football tonight…We came in and kicked those two field goals and I felt like that was huge…But I think there was a lot of adversity out there and it was kind of who’s going to blink…who’s going to flinch and our kinds didn’t flinch, they just kept playing,” Furman head coach Clay Hendrix said

SoCon Football 2022: Week 2 Power Rankings

Following week two, the Southern Conference picture is starting to get a little clearer as we get closer to starting conference play in-earnest. Below I have put down some thoughts and put together my power rankings heading into week three.

  1. Chattanooga (2-0, 1-0 SoCon)-Projected league champions continue to impress, especially offensively, which is something that was a little bit of a question entering the season. New quarterback Preston Hutchinson was selected as the Southern Conference Player of the Week following his performance in UTC’s 38-20 win at Eastern Illinois. The Eastern Michigan transfer completed 17-of-27 passes for 278 yards, which included a 51-yard scoring toss and posted 64 yards rushing and a pair of scores on just six attempts. Hutchinson averaged an impressive 10.7 yards-per-carry and had scoring runs of 20 and 14 yards, respectively.
  2. Furman (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)-We didn’t know much about the Paladins after their 52-0 win in the season opener against North Greenville. We got a clearer picture with a respectable 35-12 loss at No. 4 Clemson, as the Paladins out-gained the Tigers, 384-376. The Paladins got a record-setting performance from tight end Ryan Miller, who tied a 53-year-old school record with 13 catches for 95 yards and a 25-yard scoring grab in the second quarter. The Paladins also got a strong effort out of graduate transfer quarterback Tyler Huff, who connected on 30-of-39 throws for 256 yards, with one TD and an INT.
  3. Mercer (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–The Bears were idle this past Saturday. They opened the season with a huge 63-13 win over Morehead State before turning around to face the Auburn Tigers last week, which saw the Bears drop a 42-16 contest at Auburn. The Bears have been powered offensively so far by James Madison running back Austin Douglas (180 rushing yards, 2 TDs), quarterback Fred Payton (32-of-53 passing, 445 yds, 6 TDs, 0 INT) and wideout Ty James (8 rec, 234 yds). The Bears will open Southern Conference play Saturday.
  4. Samford (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–Bulldogs dropped a 33-0 decision on the road at defending national champion and current No. 1 Georgia. The visiting Bulldogs from Homewood Alabama struggled to muster much of anything all day, and it marked just the second time Samford has been shutout during Hatcher’s seven-plus seasons as the head coach. The only other time came in 2019 with a 52-0 setback to Auburn. The Bulldogs opened the season with an impressive 27-17 win over then No.8 Kennesaw State. Interestingly, Hatcher gave current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart his first coaching job.
  5. The Citadel (1-1, 1-0)–Following its season-opening loss at Campbell, The Citadel Bulldogs responded in a big way, getting a win over Top 10 win over No. 8/9 East Tennessee State with a 20-17 win over the Bucs inside the friendly confines of Johnson Hagood Stadium. The win marked the first over a Top 10 foe since Oct. 15, 2016, when the Bulldogs knocked off No. 5 Chattanooga, 22-14, in Charleston. The Bulldogs got a 39-yard field goal from SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week Colby Kintner to secure the victory. One of The Citadel’s TDs was set up by another important special teams play, as sophomore defensive back Dominick Poole set up a Bulldog touchdown with a 50-yard punt return in the third quarter.
  6. Western Carolina (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–Like Furman and Samford, Western Carolina was respectable in its performance against FBS competition, dropping a 35-17 contest at Georgia Tech. After taking a 14-7 lead in the opening quarter on a pair of Carlos Davis TD passes, the Catamounts then struggled to hold on to the football, totaling four turnovers in the contest, leading to 28 unanswered points from the Yellow Jackets. Like Furman did against its ACC opposition–the Clemson Tigers–the Catamounts also followed suit against Georgia Tech, out-gaining the Yellow Jackets, 390-343.
  7. East Tennessee State (1-1, 0-1 SoCon)–Though the Bucs remained in the FCS STATS poll at No. 18 this week, they had a stark drop in my weekly SoCon power rankings, falling from third all the way to seventh with their road loss at The Citadel. While it might seem like a free-fall to Bucs fans, they can make up quick ground with a win over visiting Furman this weekend, who looked like a ranked FCS team in its performance at No. 4 Clemson. The Bucs got an outstanding effort from Jacob Saylors in the road loss to the Bulldogs, as he gashed The Citadel’s defense to the tune of `187 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, averaging an impressive 7.8 yards-per-carry. Also in the loss, linebacker Chandler Martin set a school record with 23 tackles, eclipsing the previous standard set back Nakia Thomas in a 20-16 loss at Appalachian State back in 1993. It was the most tackles in a game by a SoCon player since 2012.
  8. VMI (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–VMI picked up its first win of the season this past Saturday, with a 24-14 win in its home opener against Bucknell, racing out to a 24-0 lead before holding on for a 24-14 win. Quarterback Seth Morgan led a more balanced Keydet offense, completing 13 passes for 138 yards with a touchdown and an INT. The Keydets have dedicated themselves more to the running game through the first couple of games of the season. VMI ended up out-gaining the visiting Bison 326-183 in total offense. It was a dedicated effort on the defensive side of the football, which limited the visitor’s to just 34 rushing yards. Hunter Rice ended the day leading the ground game for the Keydets, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown on 23 rush attempts. Stone Snyder posted 11 tackles to lead the defense, while Jerry Rice knocked home his 30th-career field goal, which is third all-time in program history.
  9. Wofford (0-2, 0-1 SoCon)–Wofford’s football program is the lone program in FCS football to have not scored a point through eight quarters of football this season. The Terriers enter Saturday’s contest at Virginia Tech having lost 12-straight games, which is the second-longest streak in FCS football behind only Wagner. Things don’t seem to be getting any better for Josh Conklin’s Terriers, and we think his seat is getting warmer by the week, but we can’t be too sure on that.

No. 4 Clemson hands Furman first loss

Furman quarterback Tyler Huff/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

No. 4 Clemson 35, Furman 12

Fourth-ranked Clemson claimed its 35th-straight home win by scoring 35 points, but its oldest gridiron rival, whom it now has 32-straight wins against, certainly made life difficult at times, as the Tigers posted a 35-12 win over visiting FCS foe Furman in front of 78,302 fans on-hand at Memorial Stadium.

The loss saw the Paladins fall to 1-1, while the Tigers won their second game in less than a week to improve to 2-0.

In a game that pitted No. 5 Clemson against un-ranked FCS Furman, it was an opportunity for both teams to see what improvements had been made from each team’s respective season opener.

For Clemson, it was a chance to see the improvement at several positions in the wake of its season-opening, 41-10 win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Though Furman knew it was playing against an FBS national title contender, what Clay Hendrix and the Paladins didn’t have a good gauge of is just what areas of improvement they needed to focus on following a 52-0 drubbing of North Greenville.

Now the Paladins have a better idea of where they stand following the 23-point point loss to the Tigers.

Furman, which out-gained Clemson by eight yards (384-376), won’t see a team on its remaining 2022 slate as talented as Clemson, and if it plays the way it did Saturday afternoon, it will have a shot to win every game remaining every game remaining on their regular-season schedule.

It was a record-tying afternoon for Furman All-America tight end Ryan Miller, who hauled in 13 passes for 95 yards and a score.

Furman quarterback Tyler Huff was outstanding for a second-straight start in a Furman uniform, connecting on 30-of-39 passes for 256 yards, with a touchdown and an INT.

Both Joshua Harris and Wayne Anderson Jr. put up identical receiving numbers for the Paladins, as each hauled in five passes for 41 yards.

The Paladins, which gained 128 rushing yards in the contest, were led by Myion Hicks, who rushed for 33 yards on five rush attempts, while senior running back Devin Abrams added 29 yards on seven attempts, while Dominic Roberto finished with 26 yards on on 10 rush attempts.

Huff added 25 yards rushing to go with his 256 yards passing, accounting for 281 yards of total offense.

Clemson was led by quarterback D.J. Uiagaleilei had a strong home-opening performance for the Tigers, connecting on 21-of-27 passes for 231 yards, with a pair of touchdowns and an INT.

Uigaleilei’s top target in the Clemson passing attack was Beaux Collins, who hauled in four passes for 57 yards and a TD, while Joseph Ngata added three catches for three catches for 39 yards.

Joseph Ngata and E.J. Williams also added three catches apiece, with the duo finishing with 39 and 38 yards receiving, respectively.

Clemson reserve tight end Jake Briningstool had the other receiving touchdown from Uigaleilei on a 2-yard catch with 2:35 left in the opening quarter.

The Tigers’ ground game was paced by All-ACC running back Will Shipley, who finished the contest with 68 yards and a pair of TDs on 10 carries.

How It Happened:

Clemson started fast, but Furman settled in and finished strong. The Tigers came out and scored 21 first-quarter points, fashioning impressive drives each of their first three offensive possessions of the contest.

The Paladins deferred the opening kickoff, and Clemson made the most of its first offensive opportunity of amid cloudy conditions, with the threat of heavy rain, which thankfully, never arrived.

The Tigers looked every bit the juggernaut that a 45-point favorite and 2022 national title contender might look like against its unranked FCS opposition, using seven plays to cover 75 yards, with Will Shipley’s 1-yard scoring plunge capping the scoring drive.

The key play for the Tigers in the scoring drive on a 3rd-and-6 play on the opening drive, as D.J. Uiagalelei found Beaux Collins for a 40-yard gain, with Furman’s Travis Blackshear making a shoe-string tackle to prevent a touchdown.

That put the Tigers in business inside Furman territory for the first time. After a 2-yard rush by Will Shipley, Uiagaleilei completed a 25-yard pass to Joseph Ngata down to the Furman one. On the next play, Shipley plunged through the Paladin line to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead following B.T. Potter’s PAT.

The Paladins, however, weren’t intimidated, and through some punches of its own on its opening drive of the contest. Alex Lepvreau’s 30-yard field goal with 7:58 remaining in the opening quarter cut Clemson’s lead to 7-3.

The two big plays in the drive for the Paladins came in quick succession, as Tyler Huff completed a 27-yard screen pass to Dominic Roberto on a 3rd-and-8 play, which was followed by a 28-yard completion to Ryan Miller on another screen pass against heavy pressure from the Clemson defense.

After gaining only two yards on a Huff-to-Luke Shiflett completion on a 3rd-and-7 play from the Clemson 15, the Paladins were forced to settle for the field goal.

Clemson would keep up its strong play on the offensive side of the football on its ensuing possession, however, as the Tigers would use 11 plays to cover 75 yards, with Uiagaleilei tossing his first TD pass of the afternoon.

His 2-yard touchdown toss to backup tight end Jake Briningstool gave ex
tended the Tigers’ lead to 14-3 with 2:35 remaining in the opening quarter.

Clemson would forced a Ryan Leavy punt on the next possession, as the Tigers took over at its own 31 with 13:35 remaining in the second quarter and would find the end zone for the third time in the contest, as Shipley scored for the second time, finding a hole off the right side of the Paladin defense and rushing 17 yards for a score with 9:10 remaining in the half to conclude a nine-play, 69-yard drive to give Clemson a seemingly comfortable 21-3 lead.

Furman and Huff, however, weren’t going to go away easily, showing its own version of “grit” to answer the call.

The Paladins drove right back down the field and appeared to be ready to punch the ball in the end zone for the first time in the contest.

However, on a 16-yard completion from Huff-to-Miller, which would have gotten the Paladins down to the Clemson 12, the ball was jarred loose by Malcom Greene and recovered by Fred Davis II to thwart the Paladin scoring threat and giving the ball back to the Clemson offense with 5:33 remaining in the half.

Clemson freshman phenom quarterback Cade Klubnik entered the lineup for the first of two series he would see as a member of the Clemson offense on the afternoon.

However, Furman’s defense would respond, and Klubnik wouldn’t find the treading against Furman’s defense quite the same as it was in the season-opener against Georgia Tech, which saw him enter the contest late in the 41-10, helping engineer a 10-play, 66-yard drive, which culminated with his first touchdown pass of his career-a 3-yard strike to Will Taylor-capping the Clemson point total in the season-opener.

In the lineup for the first time against Furman’s defense, the Paladins saw Kobe Pace total 13 yards and a first down on a pair of handoffs from Klubnik to garner a Clemson first down.

From there, however, Furman put the clamps on Klubnik and the Clemson offense and forced a punt for the first time in the contest. After Furman outside linebacker Emanuel Adebayo chased Klubnik out of bounds no gain on first down, Klubnik was hurried by Jalen Miller on second down, completing a pass to Antonio Williams for no gain.

On third down, the Paladins got their lone sack of the day, as Alex Maier and Xavier Stephens combined to take down Klubnik for a loss of two, giving Furman some momentum back following Miller’s fumble on the previous offensive possession. Aidan Swanson’s 41-yard punt would give the Paladins the ball back at their own 46 with 3:08 remaining in the half.

With the Furman offense re-energized by the first defensive stop of the day, Huff and the Paladins went to work. Devin Abrams got things going with a 14-yard run on 2nd-and-10, getting the ball into Clemson territory.

Following a 20-yard screen pass from Huff to Abrams netted a Furman first down after the Paladins were penalized for an offsides infraction, it would yield Furman’s lone trip to the end zone of the day two plays later.

After an incomplete pass from Huff, which was intended on first down, he found Miller over the middle for a 25-yard scoring strike on second down, getting the Paladins to within 12 points following a missed PAT by Axel Lepvreau after the snap was bobbled, keeping the score 21-9 with just under two minutes left.

Clemson would make the most of its final possession of the opening half, and with DJ Uiagaleilei back under center, would drive 75 yards in nine plays, as Kobe Pace gained the final needed yard for the score, and following B.T. Potter’s PAT, extended Clemson’s lead to 19 points at the break.

Furman got the ball to start the second half, however, after a 19-yard pass completion to Abrams from Huff got the opening drive off to a strong start on a 3rd-and-14 play, the Paladins would suffer their second turnover three plays later, when Huff’s pass was tipped up by Fred Davis II and subsequently intercepted by Tiger linebacker Barrett Carter to give Clemson’s offense great field position at its own 48.

Clemson needed just five plays to put its final points of the day on the board, as Uiagaleilei sealed the TD drive with undoubtedly his best pass of the day, throwing a 9-yard touch pass to the corner of the end zone, placing the football where only Beaux Collins could come up with it, as both feet touched in the corner for the Tiger wideout.

Collins’ scoring catch made it a 35-9 contest following Potter’s PAT with 10:08 remaining in the third quarter.

Furman would tack on its final points of the day with 48 seconds left in the third frame, as Axel Lepvreau connected on a 30-yard field goal made it a 35-12 contest.

Furman was unable to put more points on the board in the fourth quarter, despite moving the ball efficiently into Clemson territory, with the best of those attempts coming late in the game, as the Paladins were stopped at the Clemson 1-yard line on 4th-and-goal.

The Paladins return to action next Saturday, when they travel to East Tennessee State for their Southern Conference opener at William B. Greene Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Post-game audio (tight end Ryan Miller)

Furman tight end Ryan Miller

Noting Miller:

–Miller’s 13 receptions against Clemson in Saturday’s 35-12 loss tied a school-record, matching Byron Trotter’s 13 catches against Wofford in 1969.

–Through two games so far this season, Miller has 17 catches for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

–Miller now has 18 scoring catches in his Paladin career, which ranks him tied for third in Furman history for career scoring catches. His 18 scoring grabs are also the most in Paladin history for a tight end.

— Miller enters Saturday night’s Southern Conference opener against East Tennessee State having posted 96 receptions for 1,564 yards and 18 TDs in his Paladin career. His receiving yardage total ranks him just one yard behind former Paladin tight end great Luther Broughton, who is Furman’s all-time leader in receiving yardage for a tight end.

–Miller’s 13 catches against Clemson are tied for the most ever against a Clemson defense, and account for the most reception recorded by an opposing tight end. (Stat via retired Clemson Hall-of-Fame Sports Information Director Tim Bourret)

Next Opponent: East Tennessee State (1-1, 0-1 SoCon)

All-Time Series: Furman leads 27-9

Last Season: No. 9 ETSU 17, Furman 13

Furman Hoops 2022-23: non-conference schedule preview

Team Dream

GREENVILLE, S.C.– Just sixty days remain until the most anticipated basketball season tips off in recent memory for Furman basketball. Take a look back at the 2021-22 highlights in the video below.

The Paladins, which enter the 2022-23 season with three starters returning off a team that finished the 2021-22 campaign with a final NET ranking of 82, which was just one below Clemson (No. 81) and 11 spots higher than South Carolina (No. 93), comes off a 2021-22 campaign, which ended in heartbreaking fashion, losing at the buzzer in the SoCon Championship game against Chattanooga (L, 63-64) in overtime on a David-Jean Baptiste 36-footer as time expired. Furman ranked higher than both Clemson and South Carolina in the KenPom’s adjusted metric, which is the primary metric used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

However, despite the heartbreaking setback, Furman, which has won 153 games since the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign, including a sterling 84-14 record inside the friendly confines of Timmons Arena, has seemingly gathered momentum as the summer has progressed, and with the announcement of both SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Slawson (14.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG. 125 assists, 58 steals, 58 blks) and senior guard Mike Bothwell (15.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG), the Paladins feel they have some unfinished business.

Furman lost its all-time leading three-point shooter, Alex Hunter (13.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG/113 three-pointers), to graduation, as well as fellow graduate transfer Conley Garrison (9.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG), leaving the two vacancies in the backcourt. One of those vacated spots in the backcourt could be filled by highly-regarded Wake Forest transfer Carter Whitt, who was ranked as the No. 62 guard in the country and a four-star recruit coming out of Leesville Road High School, which ironically, also produced the aforementioned Hunter.

Furman Milestone Moments

Stephen Croone’s performance in the 2015 SoCon Tournament helped a program believe it could

The Paladins finished 22-12 in 2021-22, which included a 12-6 mark in Southern Conference action and that was good enough for a second-place finish a year ago.

Furman has posted five 20-win seasons over the past seven, finishing no worse than three games over .500 in all seven, heads into its a highly anticipated season, as the Paladins look to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.

Much like the 2021-22 slate, Furman head coach Bob Richey and staff have structured a non-conference slate of 13 games designed to prepare the Paladins for another grueling Southern Conference slate, which is again expected to be among a handful of mid-major conferences expected to be among the nation’s best.

Richey is one of the most successful young head basketball coaches in the country, having won 111 games over his five seasons. Wins in that span include the likes of No. 8 and defending national champion Villanova and perennial mid-major power Loyola-Chicago in 2018-19, as well as knocking off Loyola-Chicago (W, 89-62) in 2019-20, and at Louisville (W, 80-72, OT) last season.

He helped lead the Paladins to its best start in school history in 2018-19, which was a 12-0 start, highlighted by the program’s first-ever Top 25 ranking, ascending as high as No. 23 over the two weeks the Paladins appeared in the nation’s Top 25 poll. The Paladins would go on to win a school-record 25 games and make the NIT for the second time in school history, and for the first time since the 1990-91 season.

The ingredients of Furman’s foundational success were first implemented by Niko Medved, and then added to and elevated under Richey, who heads into his sixth season as the head coach of the Paladins and is responsible for 111 of those wins, are both simple and complex at the same time. The simplicity of it has to do with fun and relationships.

The hard part of the buy in is always getting guys to value the pricelessness of those relationships against what playing basketball in a power conference after spending one or two years of success in Greenville.

It’s a factor that Medved—when he took over in the 2015-16 season—didn’t really have to prepare for, however, even though it might have been unknown to him at the time, he was helping implement many of the values that would make player’s wanting to stay in a program like Furman, had some big power five come calling back then.

Foundational wins

Furman knocks off 2018 defending national champion Villanova

Feb. 26-Mar. 9, 2015—Furman starts an amazing close to the season, as it claimed a hard-fought win over Western Carolina (53-49) and fought hard before dropping a 62-60 game in the regular-season finale against the SoCon’s top team, Wofford. The Paladins would reel off three-straight wins before losing in the title game to that very same Terrier team. The 11-22 season was the spark to the current run off success. It was Medved’s second season in charge of the Paladin basketball program following a nine-win campaign in his inaugural campaign.

Jan. 9, 2016—A 70-55 win over preseason prohibitive and eventual league champion Chattanooga would be a harbinger of big wins to come in the future for Paladin basketball. The win snapped the Mocs’ eight-game winning streak, as Devin Sibley (18 pts) and Stephen Croone (17 pts) would be a major part of the win over the Mocs, as would Kendrec Ferrara, who came up big on the defensive end of the floor, as he finished with six blocks. The Mocs went on to win a program record 29 games and win the SoCon regular-season and tournament titles, respectively.

Jan. 23, 2016—With the backdrop of a pretty significant snowstorm by Greenville, S.C., standards, the Paladins came away with another major foundational moment. It was one of the most thrilling moments in the history of Timmons, as the venue played witness to its first Furman buzzer-beating effort in its 18 years of operation. Senior guard Stephen Croone tipped in a missed Devin Sibley driving layup attempt at the buzzer, and Furman ended its six-game losing streak to Wofford in thrilling fashion, with a 63-62 win over Southern Conference victory on Saturday afternoon in front of a rowdy crowd 2,252 fans at Timmons Arena. Croone had just two points in the opening half, but posted 15 in the second frame, with none more important than the final two, as Furman posted its first win over Wofford since Jan. 14, 2013, when the Paladins posted a 69-65 win over the Terriers at Timmons Arena.

Mar. 14, 2016–For the second time in the 2015-16 season, Furman sent an opponent away with a heartbreaking loss, as the Paladins claimed an unprecedented 14th home win in a, 58-57, win over Louisiana-Monroe on Daniel Fowler’s fade-a-way shot at the buzzer in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Tuesday night at Timmons Arena. “It’s never happened before, I’ve never hit a buzzer-beater in my career,” Fowler said. “I saw the ball got tipped back out by Kris Acox and no one boxed me out and I really didn’t know how much time I had, and I just put up the shot and it went in and that’s pretty much it.” The appearance in the tournament marked the first non-conference postseason appearance since a trip to the CIT in 2010, and first postseason non-conference tournament win since defeating South Carolina in the opening round of the 1975 NCAA Tournament.

–Nov. 16, 2016 Another breakthrough win for the Furman basketball program occurred early in the 2016-17 season when the Paladins went to the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) and ended a 26-game homecourt winning streak, with an 84-74 win at Bartow win in the third game of the 2016-17 season. The game was part of the CBE Hall-of-Fame Classic.  Daniel Fowler had one of the best games of his career, posting a career-high 23 points, while grabbing seven rebounds and dished eight helpers in leading five Paladins in double figures.

Mar 17-29, 2017 Making its second postseason tournament appearance in a row, the Paladins had some unfinished business. Furman, which tied with both East Tennessee State and UNC Greensboro for the SoCon’s regular-season title, and headed to Asheville as the No. 2 seed in the SoCon Tournament. It would turn out to be a disappointing finish to their ultimate NCAA Tournament hopes, however, dropping a 67-63 contest to No. 7 Samford, despite a 30-point effort from SoCon Player of the Year Devin Sibley. However, the Paladins made accepted an invitation to the CIT for the second-straight season, knocking off USC Upstate (79-57), Campbell (79-64) before losing to eventual CIT champion St. Peter’s, (51-77) in the CIT Final Four. The win over Campbell would be Medved’s last game as the head coach of the Paladins, while the loss to the Peacocks would be the first under Richey. Richey would shed the interim tag the very next season. Furman’s 23 wins during the 2016-17 campaign tied a program record.

Feb. 25, 2018–Furman evened the series from its earlier season loss to East Tennessee State in Greenville by ending the Bucs chances at claiming a share of the regular-season Southern Conference title, with the Paladins taking home a 79-76 win in Freedom Hall. It was Furman’s first win over ETSU since it moved to its new facility during the 2013-14 season and marked the first win for Furman in Johnson City since 2005. Though the Paladins failed to appear in the college basketball postseason, turning down a bid to the CIT after a disappointing setback to the same ETSU Bucs in the semifinals of the SoCon Tournament in a game that saw Furman post one of its most difficult shooting nights of the season. The 23 wins would tie a program record, marking the third time in the school’s history that it had won as many games as possible, matching the 1979-80 Paladins and the 2016-17 team.

–Nov. 9, 2018–One of the biggest wins in the regular-season in Furman basketball history came early and it comes as no coincidence that Matt Rafferty, Clay Mounce, Jordan Lyons and Andrew Brown all had roles to play in the important program-elevating type victory, almost as if the 2016 win over UAB was a foreshadowing of how the events would unfold in the second game of the 2018-19 season, which was of course came in thrilling fashion at Loyola-Chicago’s Gentile Arena. With time winding down it was Clay Mounce who took the feed from Matt Rafferty and flushed a one-handed tomahawk dunk off the left side with 1.6 seconds remaining to seal a special win for the Furman basketball program, and for the Southern Conference. The 2018-19 campaign, as the Paladins went to Loyola-Chicago and knocked off the reigning Final Four participant, 60-58, at Gentile Arena.

Nov. 15, 2018—Furman’s win over North Greenville was expected—a 107-67 thumping of Bob Richey’s alma mater.  Earlier in the 2018-19 season, Furman debuted its new video boards by honoring the first player in college basketball history at any level to score 100 points in a single game, which Frank Selvy accomplished on Feb. 13, 1954. Jordan Lyons would put his name in NCAA basketball lore with another amazing NCAA record performance.  A week earlier, Furman woke up nine-point underdogs to 2018 Final Four participant Loyola Chicago. A week later, the Paladins were off to a 4-0 start, with Sports Center top play on a game-winning dunk, an NCAA record-tying performance for three-pointers made in a single game, and had a player score the most points in an NCAA Division I college basketball game since 2009. All in a week’s work, right? Jordan Lyons’ 15 three-point goals, which was part of a 54-point—the most points in a game since Jodie Meeks for Kentucky in 2009 vs. Tennessee—tied an NCAA single-game record, which was first set by Keith Veney in 1996 and had been tied just a night earlier by Robert Morris sharp-shooter Josh Williams.

Nov. 17, 2018—Furman got the attention of the entire college basketball world on Nov. 17, 2018, as the Paladins were able to knock off defending national champion and If Furman’s early win over Loyola-Chicago didn’t raise enough eyebrows around the nation, then surely its 76-68 overtime win at reigning national champion Villanova did the trick. This win was not only one of the biggest wins in the regular-season history of Furman basketball, ranking up there with wins over nationally-ranked Davidson (1963-64) and East Tennessee State (1990-91), it also kept the Paladins in NCAA Tournament conversations as an at-large bid for the remainder of the college basketball season, and would ultimately see the Paladins find their way into the Associated Press NCAA Top 25 a month later. It was also Furman’s first-ever win over a nationally-ranked program on the road.  Furman’s win over the defending national champions marked the second-straight season a team from the Southern Conference had defeated a reigning national champion, as the Wofford had defeated reigning national champion North Carolina on the road, 79-75, just a year earlier.

The Non-Conference Schedule Preview

Furman opened the 2021-22 season in style with a win over North Greenville at Timmons Arena

Furman’s season will open on Nov. 7, as for the second-straight season, the Paladins will open up against Richey’s alma mater, North Greenville, who makes the short 13-mile trek from Tigerville to Timmons Arena.

Furman also opened its 2022 football season against North Greenville, defeating the Crusaders 52-0 in the first-ever meeting between the two, as well as the first-ever Thursday night home game at Paladin Stadium.

The Paladins and Crusaders met in the season-opener last season, with Furman posting what was a 118-66 win in the 2021-22 season opener at Timmons Arena. In the lopsided win, Furman set school records for three-pointers in a game (22) and total assists (34), breaking a pair of records set during the 2020-21 campaign against South Carolina State, when the Paladins knocked down 21 triples and dished out 33 assists in a 66-point win. Furman has won all four meetings between the two.

Furman senior guard Rett Lister has a major tie to North Greenville University, as his father, Chad Lister, is the head basketball coach at North Greenville.

A couple of key dates highlight the month of November. The second game of the 2022-23 slate has perennial mid-major power Belmont visiting Timmons Arena on Nov. 11. The Bruins have made 15 postseason appearances in the past 17 seasons.

Bruins head coach Casey Alexander will have a bit of a rebuilding project ahead of him, as he will need to replace four starters from a squad that finished with a 25-8 record last season, bowing out in the opening round of the NIT with a loss to cross-town rival Vanderbilt, dropping an 81-72 contest.

Ben Sheppard, who was a first-team All-OVC selection last season, is the lone returning starter from a year ago, and will head into the season as a potential preseason Player of the Year in the Bruins’ new conference, which will be the Missouri Valley, as Belmont will begin play in its new conference this season.  Belmont has won 20 or more games in every season since 2009-10.

The other significant event during the opening month of the season will involve Furman’s appearance in the highly-regarded Shriner’s Charleston Classic from Nov. 17-20.

The tournament will showcase some of the nation’s top power five conferences, along with some top-tier mid-major perennial NCAA Tournament and NIT participants, will be played on the College of Charleston’s home floor at TD Arena.

Aside from Furman, the participants in the eight-team tournament field will include Colorado State, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Davidson, Old Dominion, College of Charleston and Penn State.

The Paladins will actually open the 2022-23 tournament on Nov. 17 at 11:30 am, as the Paladins will face off against the Penn State Nittany Lions, in what will mark the first meeting since Penn State claimed a 70-49 win over the Paladins on Nov. 28, 2010. It marks the only previous meeting between Furman and Penn State.

The Nittany Lions will be under the direction of second-year head coach Micah Shrewsbury, who enters the 2022-23 season with a Top 40 recruiting class, as he looks to help Penn State build its own winning tradition on the hardwood, with the school mostly known by its perennially strong football program.

That said, Shrewsbury has hit the ground running, and has done so with some hard work on the recruiting trail, helping sign one of the top classes in program history in the process.

The good news for the Nittany Lions heading into the 2022-23 campaign is that two of the top three scorers are back. Leading the way, a year ago was Jalen Pickett (13.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG), and he is back for a fifth year.

The 6-4 super senior guard started his collegiate journey at Siena, and with a year left in his career afforded due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will enter his senior season as one of only six active NCAA players with 1,500 career points, 500 career rebounds and 500 career assists, and is one of only two active players in the NCAA to reach all three marks in just four seasons.

Following he tournament opener, the Paladins will face the winner/loser of the Virginia Tech-Old Dominion matchup the following day.

Furman opened the 2020-21 season against Tusculum

Furman will also take on Tusculum on Nov. 25–a team the Paladins met during the COVID-19 limited campaign of 2020-21, as the Paladins opened with a 95-62 win over the Pioneers.

The Paladins will close out the opening month with a trip to Boone on Nov. 29 to take on former Southern Conference rival Appalachian State.

The Paladins and Mountaineers played a hard-fought contest last season in Greenville, with the Paladins able to emerge with a 73-65 win at Timmons Arena, in what was the first meeting between the old SoCon foes since the 2015-16 season.

The win marked Furman’s fourth-straight in a series that dates back to Dec. 9, 1971, when the Paladins were able to take a 101-91 win over the Mountaineers at the Memorial Auditorium in downtown Greenville.

Furman hoops last traveled to the High Country on Nov. 15, 2015, picking up a 79-70 win/photo courtesy of App State athletics

The 2022-23 meeting at the Holmes Center will mark Furman’s first trip to the High Country to take on Appalachian State since the Nov. 17, 2015, as the Paladins were able to emerge from the Holmes Center with a 79-70 win in what was the intial season that saw the stark turnaround for Paladin basketball.

The Mountaineers have begun their own turnaround under head coach Dustin Kerns, and despite dropping the eight-point decision to the Paladins in Greenville last season, the Black and Gold went on to have another good season under then third-year head coach Dustin Kerns, as the Mountaineers finished 19-15 overall, including a 12-6 mark in Sun Belt play, which was good enough for a second-place finish overall in the league standings.

After opening the Sun Belt Tournament with a 73-60 win over Georgia Southern, the Mountaineers would see their dream of making the NCAA Tournament for a second-straight season end one game short of getting back to the title game in Pensacola, FL, as the Mountaineers dropped a 71-66 decision to eventual tournament champion Georgia State.

The Mountaineers did except a postseason invitation to The Basketball Classic, where they were knocked out by Big South member USC Upstate, dropping an 80-74 contest on their home floor.

The Mountaineers were a veteran team with championship pedigree and know-how last season when the Paladins and Mountaineers duked it out towards the latter half of non-conference play.

Three key starters have moved on, however, and the 2022-23 season will see fourth-year head coach Dustin Kerns (54-42) have a much younger lineup.

The Paladins open the month of December by welcoming South Carolina State to Timmons Arena on Dec. 3. The Bulldogs basketball program will be under the direction of a new head coach this season, as former West Virginia assistant Erik Martin, who inherits a team coming off one of the biggest turnarounds in college basketball last season. The contest against the Bulldogs will mark the beginning of a three-game homestand for the ‘Dins.

The Bulldogs went 15-16 a year ago, which included a 7-7 mark in the MEAC, which was good enough for a fifth-place finish in the league standings.

That came on the heels of a COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 campaign, which saw the Bulldogs finish just 1-17 overall and posted a 1-7 mark in MEAC play.

Furman posted a 66-point win over SC State in 2020-21

Furman and South Carolina State last met just before Christmas during the 2020-21 campaign, with the Paladins claiming one its second-largest margin of victory over an NCAA Division I opponent at Timmons Arena, as the Paladins posted a 66-point, 118-52 win over the Bulldogs.

The Paladins used a barrage of three-pointers, knocking down a school-record matching 21 three-pointers and set a new school mark with 33 assists. Furman’s blistering 71.4% field goal percentage in the 66-point win marked the second-highest in a game in program history, which was best only by a 71.4% shooting effort against James Madison on Dec. 1, 1984.

The win represented what was the 17th-straight win at Timmons Arena by the Paladins. The Dec. 3, 2022 meeting will mark the 19th all-time between the two programs, with the Paladins holding the commanding 13-5 all-time series edge.

Following the Dec. 3 contest against the Bulldogs, the Paladins will host a much-improved High Point basketball program, which like South Carolina State, will be under the direction of a new head coach after legendary alum and former national championship winning coach Tubby Smith decided to retire following the 2021-22 campaign.

Set to take the reins of the program will be his son, G.G. Smith, who was promoted following his father’s retirement last spring. He was on the sidelines for what was an up-and-down campaign, which saw the Panthers finish with a 14-18 overall mark, including a 7-9 mark in Big South, and that was good enough for a third-place finish in the Big South’s North Division.

Furman and High Point played a thriller last season at the Qubein Center/Photo courtesy of Tim Cowie and High Point Athletics

The biggest loss from a year ago for the Panthers is John-Michael Brown, who led High Point and Big South in scoring, averaging 18.4 PPG. The Paladins have won all three previous meetings between the two programs, including a thrilling 74-70 double-overtime win over the Panthers last season.

On a night when neither team would use this particular offensive display for any instructional coaching videos on execution, particularly shooting wise, the Paladins knocked down the big shots when needed. Furman connected on 38.0% (27-of-71) from the field, including just 25.9% (7-of-27) from the three-point line. 

It would be Mike Bothwell that came up big for the Paladins on this early December night a year ago, as he first forced overtime, and then forced it again, keeping Furman from defeat. Free throws Alex Hunter eventually allowed the Paladins to collectively exhale and leave the Gate City with a win.

Bothwell finished the night just 5-for-20, including going 0-for-4 from three, the senior guard seemed unphased when the Paladins needed a layup to force overtime, and then another. He finished with 11 points. He went 2-for-2 with time winding down and the game on the line.

Jalen Slawson recorded the program’s first-ever triple-double in the meeting with Winthrop last year

On Saturday, Dec. 10, the Paladins will close out the three-game homestand with a game against perennial Big South and mid-major power Winthrop, who the Paladins will be meeting for the sixth-straight season, with the Eagles winning five of those.

No other mid-major program outside the Southern Conference has had as much success as the Eagles have had against Furman since the 2016-17 campaign, winning five out of the six matchups, with Winthrop handing the Paladins two of those 14 losses at Timmons Arena since the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

Furman’s lone win over the past six meetings came on Dec. 14, 2020 with a good Winthrop basketball paying a visit to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, as the Paladins posted what was an impressive 80-73 win over the Eagles in front of its largest non-conference home crowd of the season—a crowd of 2,752, with an impressive student turnout for a campus located about seven miles away.

It was Furman’s first appearance in the artist formerly known as the BI-LO Center in 13 seasons and 12 years, with the last being on Feb. 19, 2007, when the Paladins dropped an 80-77 decision to College of Charleston. Tonight’s win snapped a four-game losing skid for the Paladins inside the facility, with the last win for Furman inside the BI-LO Center coming in a 68-54 victory over Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference.

The 2020-21 meeting at Winthrop Coliseum saw the Eagles never really threatened in the contest en route to handing the Paladins their largest margin of defeat for the entire season, posting an 87-71 win inside the friendly confines.

The Paladins dropped an 85-80 contest in Rock Hill in 2021-22, in what was a heated, contested affair. For Winthrop then first-year head coach Mark Prosser, it was his first victory against Furman and head coach Bob Richey, having dropped each of the previous six meetings, as he spent three seasons as the head coach of the Western Carolina Catamounts prior to taking over as the head coach of Winthrop in April of 2021.

The Eagles finished off the 85-80 win by connecting on 56.1% (32-of-57) from the field and 52.9% (9-of-17) from three-point land. The Eagles’ nine three-pointers were one off their average of 10.4 per game entering the contest. Leading the charge was one of the more unlikely heroes for the Eagles, in wing guard Michael Anumba, who led the Eagles with 18 points while Western Carolina transfer Cory Hightower chipped in with 16.

Jalen Slawson had one of his signature performances as a Paladin in the loss, however, as he posted the program’s first-ever triple-double, showcasing his array of skills before the sparse pre-Christmas crowd on-hand at Winthrop Coliseum.

Despite first-ever triple-double in school history from senior big man and reigning Southern Conference Player of the Week Jalen Slawson (15 pts, 10 pts, 12 assists), Furman would drop what was a hard-fought, 85-80, contest at perennial Big South power Eagles Tuesday night at the Winthrop Coliseum. 

Winthrop, which lost in the Big South title game to Longwood, 79-58, last March, finished with a 23-9 record and finished second in the Big South regular-season standings, posting a 14-2 record at home. Despite having leading scorer and rebounder D.J. Burns (15.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG) transfer to N.C. State in May, the Eagles return a good core group of players that should have them once again in the mix to win the conference crown.

Cory Hightower (11.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG), Kelton Talford (8.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG) and the aforementioned Michael Anumba (7.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG) highlight a strong list of veteran returnees for the Eagles. The meeting on Dec. 10 at Timmons Arena will mark the 14th all-time meeting between the two, with Winthrop holding the narrow 7-6 series edge.

In both the 2015-16 and ’17-18 campaigns, Furman traveled to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on the Duke Blue Devils, and last year, took on North Carolina. The Paladins are 0-3 along tobacco road so far, and if you look back to the 2012-13 season, when the Paladins lost 79-55 at Wake Forest, the Paladins are 0-4 over the past decade along the road paved with college basketball success and lore.

Furman will hope that its fifth trip up that very same road on Dec. 13, facing off against the N.C. State Wolfpack for the first time since the 1985-86 season, will yield a more favorable outcome.

Last season, of course, Furman went into ACC country and captured the program’s first win over an ACC member since Dec. 4, 2000, when Bob Richey’s Furman Paladins were able to knock off Louisville, 80-72, in overtime in the second game of the 2021-22 season.

The win 22 years ago came against Florida State, and like the Louisville win, came in overtime, as the Paladins captured a 79-74 victory under then head coach Larry Davis.

Furman hasn’t been all that successful, as one would expect, against the Wolfpack in the series between the two. The Wolfpack have won 31 of the 33 meetings between the two, which includes having won the past seven meetings between the two, which dates back to the 1978-79 season.

Furman’s last win over the Wolfpack came back in the 1977-78 season, as the Paladins captured what was a 68-67 win over the Wolfpack at the North-South Classic in Charlotte, N.C.

On Feb. 4, 1978 and led by a 26-point effort from Furman star forward Jonathan Moore, the Paladins were able to capture the one-point win over the Wolfpack.

That win over the Wolfpack was against pretty good N.C. State basketball team, which went to finish the 1977-78 campaign with a 21-10 record under then head coach Norm Sloan. That Wolfpack team posted a 7-5 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which was good enough for a third-place finish in the standings by season’s end.

The Wolfpack would feature in one of the best ACC Championship games in the history of the league that same season, losing a 109-108 decision to Lefty Driesell’s Maryland Terrapins.

Sloan’s Wolfpack would move onto the National Invitational Tournament, knocking off South Carolina (82-70), Detroit-Mercy (84-77) and Georgetown (86-85, OT) before eventually running out of gas in the championship game, dropping a 101-93 decision to Texas.

NC State featured players like sophomore guard Hawkeye Whitney, who led the Wolfpack in scoring, averaging 15.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 1.8 APG, as well as others like such as 6-6 junior forward Tony 9Warren (11.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.4 APG) and sophomore guard Clyde Austin (12.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.2 APG).

Furman, meanwhile, would go on to capture the Southern Conference Tournament title following a fourth-place finish in the league. The Paladins would finish 19-11 under the direction of then head coach Joe Williams, and lost a heartbreaking, 63-62, contest to the Indiana Hoosiers.

The Paladins defeated Chattanooga (W, 83-73), Appalachian State (W, 72-68) and Marshall (W, 69-53) en route to capturing the Southern Conference Tournament crown.

In addition to Moore, that Paladin basketball team featured greats like guard Al Daniel (17.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG), as well as guards Bruce Grimm (17.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.4 APG) and Rodney Arnold (13.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG).

N.C. State, which was a member of the Southern Conference from the 1921-22 season until playing their last season as a league member in 1952-53. The final seven years of N.C. State’s Southern Conference membership saw them win seven-straight SoCon Tournament titles, while winning six of the final seven SoCon regular-season titles before leaving to join the ACC at the conclusion of the 1952-53 season.

The 1950-51 Wolfpack team, which was coached by the legendary Everette Case, finished off one of the most memorable seasons in Southern Conference basketball history, finishing the campaign with a 30-7 overall record, and had a 13-1 mark in league play.

North Carolina State enters the 2022-23 season coming off what was a forgettable 2021-22 campaign, as the Wolfpack could muster just an 11-21 season, which included just a 4-16 mark in ACC play, as the Wolfpack finished 14th (dead last) in the league standings.

Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts enters his sixth season as the head coach of the storied program in Raleigh, and his seat might be the only one hotter than Clemson’s Brad Brownell heading into the 2022-23 campaign.

Keatts has posted a 90-68 record as the head coach, which includes a 43-50 mark in ACC games. Prior to the debacle that was the 2021-22 season as the head coach of the Wolfpack, Keatts had been just the second N.C. State in the past four decades to lead the Wolfpack to four-straight .500 or better seasons in the ACC.

The Wolfpack return three starters from the 2021-22 squad, including the second-leading scorer from a year ago, in 6-4 guard Terquavion Smith (16.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG). Smith has a chance to establish himself as one of the top players in the ACC for the upcoming campaign. Smith was an outstanding scorer for the Wolfpack during his rookie campaign.

He came to NCSU as a consensus four-star recruit and lived up to his high marks as a recruit coming in according to several recruiting services. Smith finished the 2021-22 campaign leading the ACC in made three-pointers, as he finished the season with 96 made three-pointers, averaging three made trifectas per outing. Smith scored a career-high 34 points in an 84-74 loss to North Carolina.

Smith was named ACC Freshman of the Week on three occasions last season, posting 23 double-figure scoring performances, including posting 13 games in which he scored 20 or more points.

One of the key additions the Wolfpack made via the transfer portal during the off-season is D.J. Burns from Winthrop. Burns, of course, was a perennial All-Big South performer, and has faced off against the Paladins each of the past three seasons during his time with the Eagles, going 2-1 against the Paladins.

Burns is one of four pickups for head coach Kevin Keatts via the transfer portal, and he should be an immediate impact player for the Wolfpack for the 2022-23 season.
The Rock Hill, S.C., native ended the 2021-22 campaign as the Big South Player of the Year after averaging 15.0 PPG and 4.5 RPG a year ago. In Winthrop’s 85-80 win over Furman last season, Burns finished with 12 points and six rebounds, posting a 6-of-13 shooting performance.

Perhaps Burns’ most impressive attribute last season and really throughout his career at Winthrop is his efficiency in scoring around the basket. He finished the season shooting 62.6% from the field.

Additionally, he scored in double figures in 26 games last season for the Eagles and had a career-high 30 points in the 2021-22 season season opener against Mary Baldwin. Burns will join the Wolfpack with two years of eligibility remaining.

Other transfers that could help impact N.C. State in a major way in the upcoming season include guards Jarkel Joiner (Ole Miss) and Jack Clark (La Salle), as well as 6-10 forward Dusan Mahoric (Utah).

Joiner, a 6-2 guard from Ole Miss, will have two years of eligibility remaining and comes off what was a productive couple of seasons in Oxford. He ended up leading the Rebels in scoring last season, averaging 13.2 PPG. As a freshman two years ago, Joiner ranked second on the team in scoring, posting 12.0 PPG.

He finished the 2021-22 campaign with 15 double-figure scoring performances, which included a career-high 33-point effort against Alabama. He ended the season with 35 made three-point field goals in 22 games.

Clark will give the Wolfpack some length and athleticism at one of the wing positions. The 6-8 transfer from La Salle will have two years of eligibility remaining, and he ended up averaging 12.0 PPG and 5.8 RPG last season for the Explorers, scoring in double figures in a total of 17 games. He dropped a career-high 30 points in an impressive 13-for-19 shooting performance against Duquesne.

Mahoric, a 6-10 transfer forward from Utah, will have one season of eligibility remaining. The native of Belgrade, Serbia finished the 2021-22 season averaging 5.5 PPG and 4.1 RPG after appearing in just 12 games for the Utes last season.

Furman and NC State will be matching up on the college basketball hardwood for the first time since the 1985-86 season, which saw the Wolfpack throttle the Paladins, 94-56, in Raleigh. The Wolfpack hold a commanding 31-2 advantage in the all-time series.

The Paladins will close out their non-conference slate at home against a pair of programs they have never faced on the college basketball hardwood, facing Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 17 as a part of the Greenville Winter Invitational, and closing out the non-conference slate with a game at Timmons Arena against the Anderson University Trojans.

The Lumberjacks play as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, and are coming off a 2021-22 season, which saw the ‘Jacks finish with what was a 22-10 overall record, including a 14-4 record in the WAC to tie with Seattle for the regular-season conference title.

The Lumberjacks were knocked out of the conference tournament in the quarterfinals, as Abilene Christian knocked off the Lumberjacks, 76-62. That loss may have put an end to the NCAA Tournament hopes of the Lumberjacks, however, it did not put an end to the postseason hopes for SFA.

SFA accepted an invitation to play in the College Basketball Invitational, where the Lumberjacks were knocked out of the tournament in the opening round by UNC Asheville, who knocked off the Lumberjacks, 80-68.

The Lumberjacks under the direction of head coach Kyle Keller, who enters his seventh season at the helm of the SFA basketball program.

Keller has generated plenty of excitement in the East Texas region for his basketball program, catching the nation’s attention during the 2019-20 campaign, which saw the Lumberjacks finish with a 28-3 record, including an impressive 19-1 mark in conference play.

During that remarkable season, the Lumberjacks will be best remembered for going into Cameron Indoor Stadium and handing the Coack Mike Krzyzewski-led and top-ranked Duke Blue Devils an 85-83 non-conference home loss.

The win was arguably the biggest win in the history of SFA basketball, and arguably its biggest athletic accomplishment.

Keller sports a nearly identical record to that of Furman’s Bob Richey, having posted a 110-52 record in his five previous seasons at SFA. He has led the Lumberjacks to a pair of 28-win campaigns during his time as the head coach in Nacogdoches.

Prior to his arrival at SFA, Keller spent five seasons as an assistant at Texas A&M and has led the Lumberjacks to three 20-win seasons in his five as the head coach, with the lowest win total being a 14-win campaign during the 2018-19 season.

He has led the Lumberjacks to an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017-18 and in 2019-20 was on course to achieve that goal for a second time until the COVID-19 pandemic deprived him with a chance to follow up leading the Lumberjacks to a regular-season title with

a conference tournament title. The Lumberjacks basketball program is one of three involved in NCAA sanctions as a result of not meeting the NCAA required academic progress report (APR) criterion for NCAA Division I basketball programs.

In May of 2020, it was found that SFA had the lowest APR score of any team in NCAA Division I men’s basketball, at 810. The NCAA requires a score of 930 over a four-year period. The fallout from the NCAA’s findings meant the Lumberjacks were forced to forfeit three conference titles.

Not only has SFA become a mid-major power, but it has also enjoyed a rich history as a strong NAIA power prior to joining the NCAA Division I classification.

In the 1969-70 season, the Lumberjacks had one of their finishes in school history, as SFA completed the campaign with a 29-1 record, which included an 18-0 record in the Lone Star Conference. Needless to say, there will be plenty of purple in the Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Dec. 17.

Finally, the last matchup of non-conference play is kind of a neat story. Furman assistant coach Jimmie Williams took the reins of the Anderson University basketball program this past April, and he’s hit the ground running.

Williams was one of the main cogs as a top assistant for a program that has won 153 games over the past seven seasons. Williams joined the Furman staff prior to the 2018-19 season–a season which saw the program make historic strides as a basketball program.

Williams inherits an Anderson basketball program that finished 11-17 a year ago, including an 8-16 mark in the South Atlantic Conference.

Williams has secured a couple of familiar faces already to SoCon hoops fans, bring in a pair of sharp shooters from Mercer and The Citadel, respectively, as he acquired the services of both Jacksen Greco (Mercer) and Jackson Gammons (The Citadel) via the transfer portal.

The entire 2022-23 non-conference slate is listed below.

Mon. Nov. 7 vs. North Greenville

Fri. Nov. 11 vs. Belmont

Thurs. Nov. 17 vs. $Penn State

Fri. Nov. 18 vs. $Virginia Tech/Old Dominion

Sun. Nov. 20 vs. $TBD

Fri. Nov. 25 vs. Tusculum

Tues. Nov. 29 at Appalachian State

Sat Dec. 3 vs. South Carolina State

Tues. Dec. 6 vs. High Point

Sat. Dec. 10 vs. Winthrop

Tues. Dec. 13 at N.C. State

Sat. Dec. 17 #vs Stephen F. Austin

Mon. Dec. 19 vs. Anderson University

$-Denotes Shriner’s Charleston Classic

#-Denotes Greenville Winter Invitational

SoCon Football 2022: Week 1 recaps and power rankings

Samford knocked off No. 8 Kennesaw State to open the season/photo courtesy of Samford athletics

Samford 27, No. 8 Kennesaw State 17

Without question, the most impressive win of the opening weekend in Southern Conference football belongs to the Samford Bulldogs, who posted a 27-17 win over No. 8 Kennesaw State Thursday night at Seibert Stadium.

In what was the lone win by a SoCon team over a ranked FCS foe in the opening weekend of play, the Bulldogs headed into the matchup with some uncertainty at quarterback. However, those concerns were more than answered by new starter Michael Hiers, who shined in his first start under center for the Bulldogs. He finished the night completing 18-of-24 passes for 289 yards, including throwing an impressive four touchdowns.

Kendall Watson caught nine of those 18 completions from Hiers, as he had a career-best 187 yards receiving to go along with a pair of scores. Chandler Smith also caught three passes for 67 yards to round out Hiers’ main targets in the passing game for Samford.

All told, the Bulldogs held an impressive 402-328 edge in total offensive yards. As impressive as the offensive performance was in the season opener, it new defensive coordinator Chris Boone’s defense that ended up being the story of the night. Samford surrendered over 500 yards per game last season, and ranked last (123rd) in all of FCS football last fall.

It was Kennesaw State, however, that ended up putting the first points on the board of the night, as the Owls went 80 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead following a Presto Daniels 26-yard run with 8:55 left in the opening quarter.

However, the Bulldogs would respond with a pair of scores to take a 14-7 lead, following a 28-yard pass from Hiers-to-Watson before the same duo would hook up again, with Hiers’ completion this time going for six yards to Watson.

Kennesaw would respond in the third quarter, however, as the Owls got a 38-yard field goal from Nathan Robertson, and then later in the quarter, All-American quarterback Xavier Shepherd gave the Owls the lead back, at 17-14, as he completed what was a five-play, 13-yard drive with 3:51 remaining in the third quarter, giving the Owls a 17-14 lead. The short field was awarded to the Owls as a result of a fumble by the Bulldogs.

But Samford showed mettle in the fourth quarter, and with the backing of a rowdy crowd of 5,333 fans on-hand at Seibert Stadium, the Bulldogs would get back-to-back scoring drives to put win No. 1 of the 2022 season on ice, using scoring tosses of 15 yards and 31 yards, respectively, to Chandler Smith, to take a two-score lead with 5:40 remaining.

The Bulldogs held a KSU offense to just 193 yards on the ground in the contest. Last season, the Owls averaged 278 yards-per-game on the ground.

With the win, it marked the SoCon’s second-straight win over Kennesaw State in contiguous seasons, as East Tennessee State ended the Bulldogs’ 2021 season, with a 32-31 victory in the second round of the FCS playoffs in Johnson City.

Samford will have its proverbial hands full next Saturday, traveling to No. 3 and defending national champion Georgia (1-0) next Saturday. The Bulldogs were 49-3 victors over No. 11 Oregon on Saturday.

East Tennessee State 44, Mars Hill 7

Reigning Southern Conference champion East Tennessee State got the George Quarles era off to a flying start, as the Bucs knocked off nearby opponent Mars Hill, 44-7, as ETSU improved to 6-0 in home openers at William B. Greene Stadium since 2017, which includes a pair of victories over Mars Hill, while also posting wins over Limestone, UVA-Wise, Shorter, and Samford. It also marked the third-straight season-opening win for the Bucs.

SoCon preseason Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Saylors got his season off to a strong start, posting a pair of rushing touchdown and had a 29-yard scoring catch, finishing the night with 92 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 63 yards on 13 carries to lead an ETSU ground game that generated 107 yards on the ground for the night, out-gaining the Lions on the ground, 107-18.

The Bucs held a 304-262 edge in total offensive yards, and the defense was impressive by forcing four turnovers. Preseason All-SoCon selection Alijah Huzzie posted a pick six, returning a Jimmy Urzua pass 38 yards for a touchdown to make it a 34-0 lead for the Bucs at that point. Huzzie also had a 62-yard punt return that would set up a Saylors 2-yard touchdown.

Will Huzzie, who is the cousin of Alijah Huzzie, had a big night as well for the Bucs, as he hauled five catches for 67 yards and a pair of scoring catches. Huzzie, also like his cousin, was a preseason All-SoCon selection. Huzzie hauled in scoring passes of 17 and 26 yards, respectively.

Tyler Riddell finished out his first game of the 2022 season by completing 14-of-19 passes for 197 yards and three TDs, with one INT. The Bucs ended up holding a 304-262 advantage in total offense in the contest.

Mars Hill’s lone points came in the third quarter on a five-yard scoring run from Ty Snelson to make it a 41-7 game with 3:23 remaining in the quarter.

ETSU all-conference place-kicker finished out the scoring on a 44-yard field goal with 2:08 remaining in the frame, closing out the scoring in the contest.

The Bucs improved to 22-7 overall in William B. Greene Stadium in the win, and will open Southern Conference play next Saturday with a trip to face The Citadel in Charleston. The Bucs went 7-1 in SoCon play last season to claim the league title.

Campbell 29, The Citadel 10

The Citadel was on the road to start out the 2022 season, and it did not go well from the outset, as Campbell captured a 29-10 win at Barker-Lane Stadium to open up the 2022 season, which is the Camels final campaign as a member of the Big South Conference before joining the CAA.

The Camels held a 373-222 advantage in total offense, which surprisingly included a 198-187 edge on the ground. The Bulldogs averaged 268 YPG on the ground last season. The Bulldogs would find the end zone until under three minutes remaining in the contest. Trailing 29-3, the Bulldogs got a 19-yard scoring strike from Peyton Derrick-to-Tyler Cherry to provide the final score.

Campbell, which had the top recruiting class in FCS football, highlighted by 11 four-star recruits coming out of high school, or either via the transfer portal. The Camels were paced by senior standout signal-caller Malik Hajj-Williams finished the contest showing the kind of savvy you would expect to see out of a quarterback that sports such experience, as he completed 12-of-21 passes for 175 yards with one TD, while adding 19 yards rushing.

The leader on the offensive side of the ball for the Camels was running back Bryant Barr, who rushed 19 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. Ezeriah Anderson finished as the top target for Hajj Malik-Williams, as he hauled in four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown.

The Camels got on the board on early, as the Camels took the opening possession of the night, and it was Hajj Mailk-Williams hooking up with Ezeriah Anderson for a 14-yard scoring strike to make it 7-0 early.

The Bulldogs scored their lone points until late in the game, when Colby Kintner connected on a 33-yard field goal to cap a 14-play drive for the Bulldogs in the opening quarter, making it a 7-3 contest with 3:35 remaining in the opening quarter.

The Camels would score the next 22 points of the game to essentially put the game on ice. Lamagea McDowell scored on a 7-yard scoring run in the second quarter, with Caleb Dowden connecting on a 36-yard field goal later in the second frame, making it a 17-3 Camels lead at the half.

Two Dowden field goals of 31 and 26 yards, respectively, in the third quarter made it a 23-3 Camels lead, and then with just under six minutes remaining in the contest, Barr helped put the Bulldogs away with a 2-yard run to make it 29-3.

Derrick, who got the start and went the full way in the contest, completed the contest by completing 3-of-5 passes for 35 yards, with a TD and an INT, while also rushing for 38 yards. Cooper Wallace led the Bulldogs’ rushing efforts, gaining 53 yards on 10 carries.

The Citadel returns to action next Saturday, hosting defending Southern Conference champion East Tennessee State in its home opener at Johnson-Hagood Stadium. Kickoff for that contest is set for 4 p.m. EST.

Furman 52, North Greenville 0

Furman opened the 2022 season in strong fashion, as the Paladins played their first-ever Thursday night home game at Paladin Stadium, and recorded a 52-0 win over nearby Division II North Greenville, as the two teams met on the gridiron for the first time.

The win marked Furman’s first home-opening shutout win since a 38-0 win over South Carolina State to open the 1988 season, and it marked Furman’s first shutout win at home since the 2003 campaign, when the Paladins recorded a 45-0 win over Gardner-Webb at Paladin Stadium back in 2003. The shutout win marks the second-straight season in which the Paladins have registered a shutout win, as Furman claimed a 26-0 on the road at Tennessee Tech last season.

The Paladins had a new starter under center, in Presbyterian graduate transfer Tyler Huff, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. Huff was nearly flawless in his debut for the Paladins.

Playing his first game in 1.5 years, Huff ended the his season opener before halftime, completing 10-of-12 passes for 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while also rushing for 94 yards and a score. He powered the Paladin offense to a 45-0 halftime lead–the second-most points scored in a half at Paladin Stadium–which was bested only by a 48-14 lead over Presbyterian in 2011.

Furman’s defense was also impressive, holding the Crusaders to just 227 yards of total offense, out-gaining North Greenville, 589-227, on the night. Highlighting the defensive effort for the Paladins was Cally Chizik, who picked off a Bryce Fields pass and proceeded to return it 56 yards for a score in the opening quarter, giving the Paladins a 14-0 lead.

Furman’s preseason All-SoCon selection Dominic Roberto had a pair of rushing scores on the night, as he finished with 53 yards on nine rush attempts. All-America tight end got his final campaign off to a strong start for the Paladins, hauling in his 17th-career touchdown for Furman, as he got the scoring underway in the contest. His 17 TDs, which are already a school record for a tight end, also moved him into third place in program history in career receiving scores. He finished the season opener by hauling in four passes for 85 yards and a touchdown to lead the Paladin receiving efforts.

Furman returns to action next Saturday, traveling to No. 4 Clemson. Kickoff for that contest is set for 3:30 p.m. EST and is set for the ACC Network.

VMI fought hard in Thursday night loss to Wake Forest/photo courtesy of VMI athletics

No. 22 Wake Forest 44, VMI 10

VMI opened its 2022 campaign Thursday night at Truist Stadium against No. 22 Wake Forest, and fought valiantly before eventually falling, 44-10, to the 2021 ACC Atlantic Division champions.

The Keydets saw both quarterbacks Seth Morgan and Colin Ironside combine to throw for 139 yards, while VMI churned out 83 yards on the ground, however, the powerful Wake Forest offense countered with 212 rushing yards and another 294 through the air en route to the 34-point win.

VMI finished with a total of 222 yards of total offense, highlighted by Colin Ironside’s 34-yard scoring strike to Grant Swinehart with 2:01 remaining in the third quarter, which made the score 30-10 in favor of the Demon Deacons at that point in the contest. All told, the Demon Deacons ended up out-gaining the Keydets 506-222 in total offense.

The Demon Deacons raced out to a 23-3 halftime lead, getting on the scoreboard first when Matthew Dennis connected on a 33-yard field goal with 10:43 remaining in the opening quarter of play. A 35-yard scoring run from Christian Turner and a 23-yard pass from Demon Deacon quarterback Mitch Griffiths-to-Taylor Morin made it 17-0, and that’s how the opening quarter of play would finish out.

The Demon Deacons added two more field goals from Dennis in the second quarter, as he connected from 31 and 33 yards, respectively, to make it 23-0. VMI’s own Jerry Rice helped close out a six-play, 60-yard drive to get the season and on the board for the first time in the 2022 season and gave Scott Wachenheim’s team a bit of momentum heading into the halftime locker room, as Rice’s 42-yard field goal cut Wake Forest’s lead to 23-3 at the half.

In the third quarter, Turner put the Demon Deacons ahead 30-3 when he scored on a 1-yard plunge with 9:46 remaining in the quarter, capping off a five-play, 43-yard drive.

That would set the stage for VMI’s lone touchdown of the night later in the quarter. The Keydets would cover 60 yards in eight plays, as Ironside found Swinehart out of the backfield for a 34-yard scoring strike, making the score respectable 30-10 with 2:01 remaining in the third.

However, Wake Forest would answer moments later, as Griffiths found Blake Whitehart for a 27-yard scoring strike to make it 37-10 with just 42 seconds remaining in the third.

The Demon Deacons capped the scoring in the contest early in the third quarter when Jahmal Banks hauled in a 14-yard pass from Griffiths to increase the lead to 44-10 with 11:44 left. It concluded a four-play, 62-yard drive.

Griffiths, who was making his first-ever start for Wake Forest under center, finished the contest connecting on 21-of-29 passes for 288 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. VMI’s Seth Morgan completed the contest connecting on 13-of-27 passing for 79 yards, while Ironside was 6-of-9 passing for 60 yards, with one scoring toss.

VMI will return to action next Saturday, as the Keydets will host the Bucknell Bison in their home opener, with kickoff slated for 1:30 p.m. at Foster Stadium.

Carlos Davis throws for 400 yards and six TDs as Western Carolina begins the season with a 52-38 road win at Charleston Southern/photo courtesy of WCU athletics

Western Carolina 52, Charleston Southern 38

Western Carolina picked up right where it left off the 2021 campaign, which is rolling up yards as if they were going out of style, as well as lighting up its side of the scoreboard.

On Saturday, that would be the visitor’s side of the scoreboard, as the Catamounts went on the road to capture a 52-38 win over Charleston Southern in Ladson, S.C., as quarterback Carlos Davis finished the day connecting on 28-of-36 passes for 433 yards and a school-record six scoring tosses, which impressively went to six different receivers. Davis also threw a pair of INTs in the contest.

Dating back to last season, it marks WCU’s fifth win in its last six games after it started off the 2021 season and the Kerwin Bell era 0-6. It was Davis’ second 400-yard passing effort of his career, and it marked his third start in the past couple of seasons. His other 400-yard passing effort came in Charleston last season, as he helped lead the Catamounts to a 45-31 win at The Citadel en route to garnering SoCon Offensive Player of the Week accolades in the process.

He passed for 401 yards on that particular trip to the Lowcountry and his 433-yard passing effort Saturday punctuated what was the 10th 400-yard passing effort by a WCU signal-caller all-time. His 433-yard passing effort ties him for the second-highest passing total in a single-game in school history, alongside Don Dalton, who passed for 433 yards against Emory & Henry in 1969.

The Catamounts and Davis got off to a strong start, racing out to a 31-7 lead late in the second quarter, as Davis connected on 10 of his first 12 throws in the contest.

His first two scoring strikes went to a pair of talented freshmen wideouts, finding Tori Keigley on a 18-yard scoring strike before connecting with speedy Censere Lee on a 72-yard hookup, which made it a 17-7 game late in the opening quarter.

In the second quarter, Davis found Terrence Horne on a 30-yard scoring strike before tossing his fourth scoring pass of the afternoon on a 12-yard pass to University of Toledo transfer running back Jalynn Williams.

The Bucs would close the deficit to 14 points by the time the two teams went to their respective locker rooms for the halftime break. Sam Babush connected on an impressive 50-yard field goal, which split the uprights, and then with only four seconds to play in the opening half, Kale Anderson hauled in a 28-yard pass from quarterback Ross Malmgren to make it a 31-17 game at the break.

Davis wouldn’t take long to get going in the second half, tossing a 53-yard scoring strike to David White Jr. on the opening possession of the second half, putting the lead back to 21 points for WCU, at 38-17, following the Richard McCollum PAT with 13:30 to play in the third.

Charleston Southern would make things interesting from there, answering with a pair of third quarter scores to get back within seven, with Ross Malmgren recording a pair of his own TD tosses. He found Seth Anderson on a nine-yard scoring strike for the first to cut the Catamount lead to 38-24, and then tossed a 43-yard scoring pass to Anderson moments on the ensuing Buccaneer possession to make it a 38-31 game with 10:15 to play in the third.

Order would be restored, however, shortly thereafter, as the Catamounts registered their first rushing TD of the 2022 campaign when Desmond Reid rushed for 43 of his team-leading 69 yards rushing for a score, giving the Catamounts a two-score cushion once again, at 45-31, with 7:42 left in the third.

With 4:25 remaining in the game, Davis tossed his school-record sixth touchdown pass of the afternoon when he found All-SoCon wideout Raphael Williams on a 9-yard hookup to all but seal the road win. It was part of a strong start to the season for Williams, who finished the day with 10 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown for WCU.

The Bucs would tack on a late score, as Malmgren tossed his fifth scoring pass of the contest, finding Vinson Davis on a 15-yard scoring connection. All told, Malmgren connected on 30-of-45 throws for 392 yards, with five scoring tosses and only one INT.

Interestingly enough, the Catamounts have surrendered at least 21 points to every foe in each of their five wins over the past six outings.

The Catamounts will be on the road next Saturday at Georgia Tech for a 7 p.m. battle with the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech will battle No. 4 Clemson Monday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium in the Chic-Fil-A Kickoff Classic.

Kickoff for that contest is set for 8 p.m. The Catamounts and Yellow Jackets will be facing each other for the first time since 2011, and will mark the sixth all-time meeting between the two programs. The Catamounts have lost all five previous meetings.

As was the case in 2011, when the Catamounts dropped a 63-21 decision in Atlanta against Catamount grad Paul Johnson, Western Carolina will be facing another of its graduates, as Geoff Collins, who is in his fourth season leading the Yellow Jackets’ football program.

Chattanooga shuts out Wofford to open SoCon play/photo courtesy of Chattanooga athletics

No. 12 Chattanooga 31, Wofford 0

In the lone Southern Conference matchup of the opening weekend of action on the SoCon gridiron, preseason title favorite Chattanooga posted an impressive 31-0 win over Southern Conference rival Wofford, marking the first shutout win in a home opener over a Division I opponent since 1995, when the Mocs blanked Charleston Southern 41-0 at historic Chamberlain Field.

For Wofford, it marked the Terriers’ 11th-straight loss dating back to last season, as well as its 13th-consecutive Southern Conference setback, which dates back to February of 2021 when the Terriers posted a 31-14 win over Mercer.

The Mocs defense was as good as advertised, shutting the Terrier offense down all night, limiting Wofford to just 231 yards of total offense, and even recorded a pick six, which saw Reuben Lowery III step in front of a Jimmy Weirick pass and return it for a 45-yard touchdown to increase UTC’s lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter.

In the opening quarter of play, the Mocs got their opening score of the game after the stout Mocs defensive unit forced a Wofford punt on their opening possession of the contest.

That would set the stage for Eastern Michigan transfer Preston Hutchinson to make his debut under center as the Chattanooga signal-caller. He helped engineer a 10-play, 81-yard drive, which took 5:06 off the game clock and was capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from preseason All-SoCon running back Ailym Ford.

It would be the beginning of a big night for Ford–a Florence, S.C. native–as he completed the contest with 18 carries for 156 yards and a pair of scores. The Mocs would make it 10-0 on a 21-yard field goal from Andrew Southard with 1:33 remaining in the opening quarter.

In the second quarter, Lowery picked off a Jimmy Weirick pass in the flats and had nothing but green grass in front of him, housing it from 45 yards out to give the Mocs a comfortable 17-0 lead with 13:38 remaining in the first.

Exactly 10 minutes later, Hutchinson would toss his first scoring pass as a Chattanooga Moc, hooking up with Javon Burke on a 17-yard scoring strike to give UTC a 24-0 lead with 3:38 remaining in the first half. The scoring pass from Hutchinson capped a seven-play, 79-yard drive by the Mocs.

Ford would put the finishing touches on the first win of the season for Chattanooga in emphatic fashion, breaking off an 86-yard run with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter to increase the Chattanooga lead to 31-0 following Southard’s PAT. That would prove to be the final points of the evening.

The Chattanooga defense would force three turnovers on the night, forcing and recovering a pair of fumbles to go along with Lowery’s pick-six. All told, the Mocs held a 361-230 advantage in total offense.

Hutchinson finished his first start connecting on 11-of-18 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown, while Wofford’s Jimmy Weirick finished the contest by connecting on 14-of-21 throws for 133 yards, with one INT. Kyle Parson rushed for 46 yards on 12 attempts to lead the Terriers ground attack, which generated just 97 yards on 45 attempts, averaging only 2.2 yards-per-carry against the stout Mocs defense.

All-SoCon linebacker Ty Boeck led the defensive efforts for the Mocs with seven stops and a fumble recovery, while fellow linebacker Jay Person recorded six tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack and forced a fumble. Preseason SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Devonnsha Maxwell posted a pair tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a sack.

Chattanooga will be back in action next Saturday, traveling to Eastern Illinois for a 7 p.m. EST contest, while Wofford returns to Gibbs Stadium looking to put an end to an 11-game losing streak, when it hosts Elon in a 6 p.m. EST contest.

Auburn gets off to a fast start to upend Mercer/photo courtesy of Mercer athletics

Auburn 42, Mercer 16

In the final game of the opening weekend of Southern Conference football, Mercer fell for the first time in the 2022 season, as Auburn ran out to a 21-0 lead in the first half and never looked back en route to capturing a 42-16 win over the Bears before a sellout crowd of 84,562 fans on-hand at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Leading the Bears offensively was quarterback Fred Payton and wide receiver Devron Harper. Payton finished the night connecting on 21-of-36 passes for 197 yards and a pair of scores, while Harper hauled in nine passes for 40 yards and a pair of scores.

The bigger, faster and stronger Tigers overwhelmed the Bears at times, as is expected when SEC meets SoCon on the gridiron, as Auburn finished the contest with a healthy advantage of 497-271 in total offensive yards, including a sizeable 285-74 margin in rushing yards.

Auburn opened its 2022 campaign impressively, as the team picked to finish last in the SEC West, looked far the team many had projected to have its share of struggles with a new quarterback under center, and plenty of unknowns entering the season.

The Tigers scored on their first four drives of the 2022 season to take a 28-0 second quarter lead when Tank Bigsby barreled in from two yards out to give Auburn a four-touchdown advantage with a little over five minutes remaining in the opening half.

Bigsby’s TD was followed up by the first of two Mercer passing TDs in the contest, as Harper hauled in a 5-yard scoring pass from Payton with 20 seconds remaining in the half, as the Bears cut the Auburn lead to 21, at 28-7, at the half.

Rushing scores of one and 39 yards by Jaquez Hunter and Bigsby increased Auburn’s lead to 42-7 in the third quarter before Mercer closed the game with the final 10 points in the fourth, getting a 33-yard field goal from Devin Folser and an 8-yard pass from Payton-to-Harper to close out the scoring.

Mercer will have a bye week next Saturday before returning to action against The Citadel on Sept. 17, hosting the Bulldogs at Five Star Stadium in a kickoff slated for 6 p.m

Power Rankings:

  1. Chattanooga (1-0, 1-0 SoCon)–Took care of business in SoCon opener in emphatic fashion.
  2. Samford (1-0, 0-0 SoCon)–Win vs. No. 8 Kennesaw State was easily the best win of the week, and thus, the Bulldogs deserve the high ranking after week one.
  3. East Tennessee State–Bucs took care of business like they should against an overmatched Mars Hill team to get the George Quarles era off to a strong start.
  4. Mercer (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–Bears fought hard on the road against the bigger, faster and stronger Tigers and were respectable in defeat.
  5. Furman (1-0, 0-0 SoCon)–Tyler Huff put together a strong effort in his first-career start for the Paladins, as Furman did what it was supposed to in its dispatching of North Greenville.
  6. Western Carolina (1-0, 0-0 SoCon)–The Catamounts got a sterling performance from Carlos Davis, who passed for 433 yards and six scores to open the 2022 season with a 52-38 at Charleston Southern.
  7. VMI (0-1, 0-0 SoCon)–The Keydets fought hard and were respectable in season-opening loss at Wake Forest.
  8. Wofford (0-1, 0-1 SoCon)–Terriers have a lot to figure out after 11th-straight loss and 13th-straight SoCon loss.
  9. The Citadel (0-1, 0-0 SoCon)–The Citadel was dominated in every phase of the game in its loss at Campbell.

SoCon Players of the Week:

Offensive: QB Carlos Davis (WCU)

Defensive: Reuben Lowery III (Chattanooga)

Special Teams: Alijah Huzzie (East Tennessee State)

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.

SoCon Football set to open with full slate this weekend

Dins After Dark

The Southern Conference football season is finally here. The 2022 campaign began this past Saturday night, with Mercer demolishing Morehead State, 63-13, in Macon. With that said, a full slate awaits this weekend, starting with five games Thursday night and three on Saturday, which will include the first Southern Conference battle of the season. The schedules for Thursday and Saturday are listed below.

Thursday night’s schedule (Sept. 1, 2022)

The Citadel (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) at Campbell (0-0, 0-0 Big South)(6 p.m. EST/Barker-Lane Stadium/Buies Creek, N.C.)

North Greenville (0-0, 0-0 GSC) at Furman (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) (7 p.m. EST/Paladin Stadium/Greenville, S.C.)

Kennesaw State (0-0, 0-0 A-Sun) at Samford (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) (7 p.m. EST/Seibert Stadium/Birmingham, AL)

Mars Hill (0-0, 0-0 SAC) at East Tennessee State (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) (7:30 p.m. EST/William B. Greene Stadium/Johnson City, TN)

VMI (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) at Wake Forest (0-0, 0-0 ACC), (7:30 p.m. EST/Grove Stadium/Winston Salem, N.C.)

Saturday’s schedule Sept. 3, 2022)

Western Carolina (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) at Charleston Southern (0-0, 0-0 Big South) (12 p.m. EST/CSU Stadium/Ladson, S.C.)

*Wofford (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) at Chattanooga (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) (6 p.m. EST/Finley Stadium/Chattanooga, Tenn)

Mercer (1-0, 0-0 SoCon) at Auburn (0-0, 0-0 SEC West) (7 p.m. EST/Jordan-Hare Stadium/Auburn, AL)

A quick overview of the first full weekend of SoCon Football:

Some intriguing opening weekend clashes are set to take place for each of the nine SoCon member institutions. Thursday night’s slate is a full menu of matchups, with five league team’s kicking off their respective 2022 campaigns.

The Citadel’s game with Campbell, which is playing its final game as a Big South member prior to joining the Colonial Athletic Association following the 2022 campaign, was moved to Thursday night from Saturday early in the summer. The Bulldogs and Camels will be meeting for the first-time ever on the college football gridiron.

The George Quarles era at East Tennessee State will officially get underway Thursday night, as the defending SoCon champion Bucs host local Division II program Mars Hill at William B. Greene Stadium with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. It will mark the first meeting between the Bucs and Lions since 2018, when ETSU commenced what would eventually end up being a SoCon championship campaign, getting a 28-7 victory over the Lions.

The team ETSU beat in miraculous fashion in a second-round clash at Greene Stadium Kennesaw State–will be back in SoCon territory looking for redemption against the league that ended its season in such heartbreaking fashion, as the Owls will be in Birmingham looking to slow down the ‘Hatch Attack’ and Samford in what will be the first matchup between the two since 2018, when KSU claimed what was a 24-10 win over the Bulldogs at Kennesaw.

Furman will be at home for a 7 p.m. game against North Greenville to open its 2022 campaign. Despite hosting a school from just 13 miles up the road, the Paladins and Crusaders have never met on the college football gridiron. In fact, Furman hasn’t played all that much on Thursday nights in its history and will be taking the gridiron with purple helmets for the first time in program history.

It will be Furman’s first Thursday opener since Sept. 1, 2005, when the Paladins got a miraculous 37-35 win over Jacksonville State on a 9-yard scoring strike from Ingle Martin-to-Justin Stepp as time expired.

VMI and Wake Forest have been among the best stories in FCS and FBS football, respectively over the past few seasons. There is much intrigue with this matchup, given the Demon Deacon staff and their FCS roots.

Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson cut his teeth in the FCS, as he started his career known as an offensive genius during his time under Andy Talley as the offensive coordinator from 1996-98 before moving on to to his first head coaching job at Fordham (1999-2003) and then Richmond (2004-07).

Clawson coached some great Richmond teams, taking the Spiders to the postseason in 2005, led by outstanding quarterback Stacey Tutt, who was also known as “King Tutt.” Furman would knock the FCS Playoffs in the quarterfinals that season, as Ingle Martin and the Paladins won a thrilling 24-20 game at the old Richmond Motor Speedway.

In his final season at the helm of the former Southern Conference program, Clawson led the Spiders a round further in the playoffs, as future NFL running back Tim Hightower and the Spiders were able to run past Wofford, 21-10 at Gibbs Stadium, however, Richmond would be no problem for the other SoCon co-champion–former member Appalachian State–who downed the Spiders 55-35 thanks to a 313-yard rushing performance from quarterback Armanti Edwards at a raucous Kidd-Brewer Stadium. ASU went on to win its third-straight national title the following week.

The VMI-Wake Forest clash also offers of a clash of coaches recently named “Coach of the Year” in their respective conferences. VMI’s Scott Wachenheim was named the SoCon Coach of the Year during the COVID-19 compromised 2020-21 season, leading the Keydets to their first Southern Conference title since 1977, and their first-ever FCS playoff appearance.

Clawson, meanwhile, was the 2021 ACC Coach of the Year, leading the Demon Deacons to an ACC Atlantic Division Title and 10 regular season wins. The Deacons dropped a 45-21 contest to the Kenny Pickett-led Pitt Panthers in the ACC title clash in Charlotte but did end the season in strong fashion with a 38-10 over Rutgers in TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.

There is also one more prominent coaching connection to both the FCS and SoCon.

Kevin Higgins, who enters his ninth season as the offensive coordinator for Wake Forest, is a name known to SoCon Football fans, and most folks that keep their finger on the pulse of FCS football. Higgins was the head coach of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks from 1994-2000, building a Patriot League powerhouse in the Patriot League before leaving to embark on a four-year stint as an offensive assistant with the Detroit Lions.

After spending four seasons with the Lions, he moved back to the FCS ranks and into another head coach role at The Citadel, spending nine seasons as the head coach at The Citadel before joining Clawson’s staff in Winston-Salem.

Saturday’s slate opens with an early game in what should be sweltering heat in Ladson, S.C., as Charleston Southern hosts Western Carolina in Ladson, S.C., as the Catamounts kick off a much-anticipated campaign facing off against the Buccaneers in what will be the first-ever meeting between the two. The Catamounts were picked to finish fifth by both the league’s coaches and media.

At approximately 6 p.m. EST on Saturday evening, the first Southern Conference game of the 2022 season will kickoff, as preseason SoCon favorite Chattanooga hosts Wofford–a team picked last by the league’s coaches and eighth by the media in the preseason–as the Terriers look to put an end to a 12-game SoCon losing streak.

The meeting between the Mocs and Terriers will mark the 29th all-time meeting in the series between the two, with the Terriers holding a narrow 15-13 series edge.

The final game Saturday will see the lone matchup between the SoCon and the FBS, as Mercer travels to Auburn for a 7 p.m. EST game. It will mark the 13th all-time clash between the Bears and Tigers, with the two having most recently met in 2017. The Bears forced five Tiger turnovers on that occasion to put a bit in a bit of a scare at Jordan-Hare before the Tigers finally were able to pull out what was a 24-10 win on five years ago.

It will mark the 13th all-time meeting between the Bears and Tigers, with Auburn having won all of the previous 12 matchups.

The Bears, of course, got off to a 1-0 start with a 63-13 rout of Morehead State last Saturday night at Five Star Stadium

Thursday night game previews and predictions:

The Citadel (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) at Campbell (0-0, 0-0 SoCon), 6 p.m. EST

Venue: Barker-Lane Stadium (5,500), Buies Creek, N.C.

The Series: First meeting

The Coaches: The Citadel–Brent Thompson (32-37/7th season); Campbell–Mike Minter (39-54/10th season)

Players to Watch for The Citadel: RB-Logan Billings, QB-Peyton Derrick, QB-Ahmad Green, DB-Destin Mack, DL-Carson Hatchett, OL-Tereis Drayton, RB-Alex Ramsey

Players to Watch Campbell: QB-Hajj Malik Williams, TE-Julian Hill, OL-Tyler McClellan, DE-Brevin Allen, RB-Bryant Barr, WR-Jalen Kelsey

Previewing the Matchup: The Citadel opens the 2022 season on the road at Big South member Campbell in a game that was originally slated for Saturday, Sept. 3. The Camels come into the 2022 season with as much excitement entering a campaign maybe in the 10 seasons that Mike Minter has been the head coach of the program situated in eastern North Carolina.

The Camels, who finished the 2021 campaign with a 3-8 mark, were picked to finish second in the preseason Big South poll behind projected 2022 league champion North Carolina A&T. The Camels return a healthy 19 starters (8-offense, 6-defense, 5-special teams) to the fold for upcoming season.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were selected to finish eighth in the SoCon by the league’s head coaches, while the media poll had the Bulldogs ninth, as The Citadel enters the 2022 campaign off a 4-7 campaign a year ago, with the Bulldogs placing seventh in the final SoCon standings, with a 3-5 league ledger. The Citadel enters the 2022 campaign with 17 starters (5-offense, 10-defense, 2-special teams) returning to the fold for the upcoming season.

Since winning the league title in Thompson’s first season as the head coach of the Bulldogs, The Citadel has struggled to find the consistency of being an elite contender among the perennial SoCon title chasers, as the Bulldogs sport just one top four finish in the league standings (2019) since Thompson’s rookie season as the head coach, which saw The Citadel repeat as SoCon champion by posting a perfect 8-0 run through SoCon play in his first season at the helm.

Thompson held on to his job in the Low Country last season primarily because of how the Bulldogs completed the campaign, closing out the season with wins over rival Wofford (45-44) and at Chattanooga (24-21), allowing the Bulldogs head into the 2022 season with plenty of momentum.

That momentum, however, was almost entirely eradicated when veteran quarterback Jaylan Adams, who finished the 2021 season as the SoCon’s leader in rushing touchdowns, and ranked third in rushing yards, announced he was transferring out of the program. For Campbell, it’s been a rocky road for Minter in his 10 seasons at the helm in Buies Creek, which has seen the program go from not existing-to non-scholarship football-to-scholarship football.

With money well spent on facilities, a prestigious name as the head coach, and with the support of the surrounding rural flat lands of eastern North Carolina, the small private school could draw some at least some comparisons to the SoCon’s own Mercer Bears in terms of how the football program is trying to build itself into a perennial conference title and FCS playoff contender. With that said, the road has been a little bit rockier than that of the Bears, however, progress is being made. The Camels weren’t long for the Big South, as the Camels are set to join the CAA after 11 years of membership in its current affiliation.

The move comes four years after Campbell announced it was going to sponsor scholarship football. The fruits of that labor as a scholarship program have already bore fruit, as the Camels were ranked as having FCS football’s top recruiting class in 2022.

The Camels are entering their final season of membership in the Big South. The 2022 season opener for the Bulldogs will see them face a Campbell team that is one of the most veteran squads in FCS football heading into the 2022 season, with 21 players on the Camels roster having already received their undergraduate degree.

The biggest question mark for Thompson’s Bulldogs will be who will start under center in Thursday’s clash-will it be the experience of former Wofford quarterback Peyton Derrick, who has one season of eligibility remaining, or will it be Ahmad Green, who had an outstanding spring, as he closed the spring with a clear lead for the starting job after it was announced veteran quarterback Jaylan Adams would be entering the transfer portal just three days into camp.

Then, in the early part of the summer Thompson was granted the luxury of having Derrick show up at his house, looking to join the staff as a grad assistant. What he ended up with is a veteran quarterback with a year of eligibility left and some familiarity with running an option-based offense.

During his career with the Terriers, Derrick completed 48-of-87 passes for 814 yards and seven TDs, while rushing for 262 yards and a touchdown.

He threw what is the longest touchdown pass in program history last season, completing an 88-yard scoring pass. Prior to his three years at Wofford, Derrick played a season at Appalachian State, seeing action in six games, completing 13-of-22 passes for 186 yards and a couple of TDs. 

While the losses are significant on offense from a year ago, the Bulldogs have some key pieces returning to their normally prolific and nationally recognized ground attack, which include running backs like Cooper Wallace (55 rush att, 317 yds, 1 TD), Logan Billings (133 rush att, 511 yds, 6 TDs, 3.8 YPC), Emeka Nwanze (57 rush att, 203 yds, 1 TD, 3.6 YPC), Sam Llewellyn (10 rush att, 72 yds, 7.2 YPC), and Nkem Njoku (34 rush att, 136 yds, 4.0 YPC).

The most interesting addition to the backfield is Alex Ramsey from VMI. Ramsey, who last played at VMI and was an all-conference running back, while in Lexington, returns after sitting out both the 2020-21 and 2021 seasons, respectively.

Ramsey was a 2020 preseason FCS STATS All-American. During the 2019 campaign, Ramsey carried 266 times for 1,326 yards and 22 touchdowns, while hauling in 50 passes for 323 yards. He rushed for a career-high 207 yards in a game against Wofford, while posting a career-high six rushing scores in a game against Samford.

After averaging a healthy 268 yards per game on the ground last season, it would be a little shocking to see The Citadel’s offense struggle on the ground this fall. It’s the defense that is probably of more concern heading into the season opener.

The Bulldogs did rally to rank fifth in the league in total defense by season’s end, but still ended up yielding over 400 YPG for the season (422.5 YPG). The Citadel also finished the 2021 campaign ranking 105th in the FCS in scoring defense (34.4 PPG). The Bulldogs welcome the return of 10 starters on the defensive side of the ball, with the obvious strength on that side of the football being the secondary. The Bulldogs are multiple on the defensive side of the football, but mostly utilize a 3-4 alignment on that side of the football.

The Bulldogs will have some veteran leadership returning along the defensive line for the 2022 season, with both Carson Hatchett (44 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 PBUs) and Jay Smith (39 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU) returning at both the defensive end and defensive tackle positions, respectively.

Looking to fill the role at nose tackle as a result of Dalton Owens’ graduation at the nose tackle spot this fall will be redshirt sophomore KJ Pierce (9 tackles, 0.5 TFL). Pierce saw action in all 11 games as a reserve last season for the Bulldogs.

The linebacking unit has a solid contingent of returnees for the 2022 season, with seniors Marquise Blount (51 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 FR) and Andy Davis (43 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 PBU) set to anchor the unit this fall. Blount will start at the weakside linebacker spot, and the 6-3, 223-lb senior from Charlotte, N.C., was a 2020 preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Blount comes off a 2021 season in which he started all 11 games, posting his best performance against Charleston Southern, posting nine tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Rounding out the returning starters at linebacker for the 2022 campaign is Brian Horn (36 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 PBU), while the lone vacancy at linebacker is at middle linebacker, and that should be filled by sophomore Je’Mazin Roberts (6 tackles). Roberts logged action in all 11 games as a true freshman last season, having made one start.

Both Blount and Hatchett were second-team preseason All-SoCon selections. The secondary should be among the best in the Southern Conference this fall. Cornerback Destin Mack (45 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 5 INTs) was the Bulldogs’ lone first-team selection to the preseason All-SoCon team, while Dominick Poole (51 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 9 PBUs, 2 INTs), who was the media’s SoCon Freshman of the Year last season, returns as the starter at the other cornerback position. Mack’s five INTs were tied for the conference lead last season along with Furman’s Travis Blackshear.

Set to return at free safety as the starter is senior Chris Beverly (49 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, 1 FR), as he is one of the most veteran returnees on the defensive side of the football heading into the 2022 campaign.

Campbell counters with a bevy of offensive weapons and an atmosphere of expectation maybe as high as it has been since the program originally made its return to the gridiron back in 2007.

e Camels have a good mix of veterans returning along with talent acquired from the portal, which could Campbell one of the more explosive offenses in the Big South Conference in what will be its final season of membership. It all starts under center, where Atlanta, GA., product Hajj-Malik Williams returns as the man leading the way on offense for the Camels.

The veteran signal-caller was the 2020 Big South Offensive Player of the Year and has 3,418-career passing yards and 996 rushing yards in his three previous campaigns with the Camels. He comes off a 2021 campaign, which saw him see action in only four games before an injury cut his campaign short. The redshirt junior signal-caller passed for 714 yards and seven scores and an interception last season.

He was a 2021 preseason All-Big South selection and will enter the 2022 season with that very same distinction. In addition to what he provided as a passer in limited action last season, Hajj Malik-Williams also added 127 rushing yards in 2021. He leads an offense that returns a total of eight starters, including two others that joined Hajj Malik-Williams on the preseason all-conference team, in tight end graduate tight end Justin Hill and graduate offensive lineman Tyler McLellan. Hill was the Camels’ second-leading receiving option a year ago, as he hauled in 34 passes for 367 yards and two scores last fall, averaging 10.8 yards-per-catch.

With the departure of Caleb Snead at wide receiver, the onus will fall on both Hill and returning veteran wideout Jalen Kelsey to lead the way in the passing game for the Camels this fall. Kelsey could be a key piece to the offense this fall, as he comes off a solid 2021 season, which saw him finish the season with 22 catches for 408 yards and four scores.

Campbell, which uses the run to set up its big-play passing attack, returns running back Bryant Barr, who comes off a 2021 season, which saw him rush for 318 yards and five scores on 64 rush attempts last season. The Camels come off a 2021 season, which saw them average 372.5 YPG and 25.6 PPG last season.

Defense was a big issue for the Camels last season, surrendering 399 yards per game and 29 PPG last season. The Camels surrendered 156.8 YPG on the ground, while giving up 242.2 YPG through the air. The top returning player on the defensive side of the ball for the Camels is defensive end Brevin Allen, who enters the season as one of the top defensive performers in the Big South. The redshirt senior was named the preseason Big South Defensive Player of the Year and will likely be the best defensive lineman until the The Citadel faces Chattanooga and Devonnsha Maxwell.

Allen is also one of the top defensive players in all of FCS football, as he was also named to the STATS FCS preseason Buck Buchanan Award list. He comes off a 2021 season that saw him contribute 44 tackles, 17.5 tackles-for-loss, 9.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and had one fumble recovery.

The Citadel has arguably the toughest five games of anyone in the SoCon to open the season, facing a Campbell program with maybe its highest expectations since returning to the gridiron 15 years ago, while facing three games against teams predicted to finish in the top four of the SoCon this fall, while also facing perennial Group of Five power and former Southern Conference rival Appalachian State in Boone on Oct. 1. With such a gauntlet of games to open the season, it likely makes Thursday night’s opener in the “must win” category.

The Citadel needs this game, and the SoCon needs this game. This is the type game the league must win in order to gain its respectability back.

Unfortunately, I think this Citadel team is opening against a Campbell program at the one time you didn’t want to face it since returning to the gridiron in 2007.

Remember, this is a Campbell team that won a 34-27 contest at Mercer back in 2019, with several of those key performers still around, including dynamic signal-caller Hajj-Malik Williams. With uncertainty on the other side under center, I’m afraid I have to go with the Big South over the SoCon in this matchup as painful is that is to write because the league needs The Citadel to win this ball game.

Prediction: Campbell 31, The Citadel 28

Furman (0-0, 0-0) at North Greenville (0-0, 0-0 GSC), 7 p.m. EST

Venue: Paladin Stadium (14,518), Greenville, S.C.

The Series: First meeting

The Coaches: Furman–Clay Hendrix (31-25, 6th season)/North Greenville-Jeff Farrington (44-44, 8th season)

Players to Watch for Furman: QB-Tyler Huff, RB-Dominic Roberto, RB-Devin Abrams, TE-Ryan Miller, OL-Anderson Tomlin, OL-Pearson Toomey, CB-Travis Blackshear, NT-Cameron Coleman, LB-Braden Gilby

Players to Watch for North Greenville: QB-Bryce Fields, OL-Dalton McKittrick, OL-Jonathan Holton, DL-Bryson Capps, De’lveon Donald, DL-Kwame Livingston

Previewing the Matchup: Furman will open its 2022 campaign at home facing an opponent for the first time in its gridiron history, when the Paladins welcome the North Greenville Crusaders from just 13 miles up the road in Tigerville, S.C., to Paladin Stadium for Thursday night’s season opener.

It will mark the first time since 2005 that the Paladins have opened a season on a Thursday night. On that particular occasion, the Paladins were able to pick up what was a 37-35 win at Jacksonville State, as time expired on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Ingle Martin-to-Justin Stepp, allowing the Paladins to escape Paul Snow Stadium for the thrilling season-opening win.

Furman doesn’t have much Thursday night history to speak of, however, as it has rarely participated in non-Saturday regular-season games in its storied history. In 2016, the Paladins opened the campaign on a Friday night with a 28-13 setback in East Lansing.

The Paladins, of course, played on a Friday night in the 2001 national championship game, dropping a 13-6 decision to the Montana Grizzlies. In 1997, the Paladins opened the season on the road on a Thursday night, as the Paladins emerged from Seibert Stadium with a key, 29-10, road win over then non-conference foe Samford.

In 1963, Furman played then Southern Conference member West Virginia on a Thursday night, as the Paladins took on West Virginia in a game moved to Nov. 28 (Thanksgiving Day) after being originally scheduled for a Nov. 23 contest in that particular season. However, the assassination of then President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, saw the game moved to the following Thursday night.

Of note, Furman has suffered at least one home loss per season dating back to 2007. Furman hasn’t posted an unblemished home slate since the 2006 campaign, when the Paladins finished with a 6-0 mark. The six wins in ’06 in the shadows of Paris Mountain came on the heels of a ’05 campaign, which saw the Paladins finish with a 7-0 record on the home turf.

In fact, from 2004-06, the Paladins went a combined 19-1 record inside the friendly confines, with James Madison having been the only team to hand the Paladins a home setback during that span, handing the second-seeded Paladins a 14-13 setback in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Division I-AA playoffs en route to the Dukes becoming the first program to ever win three-straight road games and a neutral site victory to go on and claim a national title.

The Paladins ended up winning 14-straight at home before Wofford came to Greenville and eventually ended the Paladins’ winning streak in 2007, handing Furman a 45-20 setback on Sept. 29, 2007. There will be plenty of familiarity between the two coaching staffs when Furman and North Greenville do battle in the season opener Thursday night at Paladin Stadium.

Two coaches have ties to Furman football, including head coach Jeff Farrington, as well as assistant coach and defensive coordinator Maurice Duncan. Farrington served nine seasons (2002-2010) as a defensive assistant for the Paladins, and was the Furman’s defensive coordinator in 2010. He also served in stints at Mercer (2013) and Virginia Military Institute (2014) before taking over the reins of the North Greenville Football program in 2015.

During his time as a player at Furman, Duncan spent time as part of one of the best defenses in Paladin football history in 2004, helping the Paladins to a 10-2 regular-season record and a No. 2 overall seed in the Division I-AA playoffs.

Duncan was a four-year letterman 2002-05, finishing his career with 116 tackles and intercepted five passes. Duncan was a member of a pair of SoCon championship teams. He helped the Paladins to FCS playoff appearances in 2002, ’04 and ’05. Current Paladin running backs coach Antonio Wilcox once served as running back and wide receivers coach at North Greenville as a grad assistant before returning to take over as Furman’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.

Furman strength and conditioning coach Andre Bernardi is a 2010 graduate of North Greenville, and a former three-time All-America football player for the Crusaders football program. He would be responsible for starting the strength and conditioning football program at North Greenville before coming to Furman to head up the same role in 2018.

Furman head men’s basketball coach Bob Richey, who has won 111 games in just five seasons as the head coach, also calls NGU his alma mater, having graduated from the nearby university in 2006.Finally, North Greenville running back Corey Watkins, who spent the 2018 and ’19 campaigns as a part of a talented Furman backfield, will be suiting up for the Crusaders. Watkins, who did not play last year due to an injury, will be suiting up for the Crusaders this fall. During Watkins’ time as a Paladin, he rushed for 883 yards and four touchdowns on 117 attempts at Furman.

Furman donned purple pants in its uniform back in 1993 and it marks one of the few times in its history it has moved the purple from its jersey to either the pants or helmet/photo courtesy of Chattanooga athletics

Furman, which returns 15 starters (8-offense, 7-defense), and will be donning black jerseys for the first time since 2016, while the sharp, purple matte helmets will mark the first time in 50 years. Rarely does Furman move the purple in its uniform scheme. The last time Furman has worn purple somewhere on its uniform other than as its primary home jersey is 1993, when the Paladins donned purple pants. Furman finished that season with a 5-5-1 record in what would be Jimmy Satterfield’s swan song as the head coach.

This uniform combo of black jerseys, black pants and purple helmets will be part of the uniform options for the future, however, won’t replace Furman’s iconic home purple jerseys, white pants and white helmets with a diamond logo, nor will they serve as a replacement for the Paladins immaculate road uniform combination of white helmets, white jerseys and white pants.

Furman will have five new coaches making their debuts on the Paladin coaching staff in Thursday night’s season opener. Justin Roper (offensive coordinator), Drew Dudzik (wide receivers coach), Matt McCutchan (offensive line), Chad Byers (co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers) and Tommy Spangler (special teams/cornerbacks) will all be making their respective debuts on the sidelines and in the booth in Thursday night’s opener.

The offensive side of the football will see the most drastic change, with three of the five new additions being on that side of the ball with the most notable of those being offensive coordinator Justin Roper, who will replace predecessor George Quarles, as he moved on to become the head coach at East Tennessee State following the 2021 season.

Roper comes to Furman from Holy Cross after helping lead the Crusaders FCS postseason in 2021. Roper, who was an accomplished quarterback at Montana during his time as a player, will look to flip the script for an offense that struggled at times during the 2021 season.

The Paladins are coming off a 2021 campaign, which saw them average 24.3 PPG (76th in FCS) and 359.8 YPG (65th in FCS). Furman’s bread-and-butter on offense was the ground game, which saw them average 184.1 YPG (24th in FCS) and posted 175.7 YPG (92nd in FCS) in passing offense. Furman finished the 2021 season 40.4% on third down (45th in FCS), while scoring points on 85.7% (28th in FCS) of their trips to the red zone last season.

One of the primary reasons the Paladins struggled a year ago was due in large part to inconsistent play under center. With the addition of new signal-caller Tyler Huff from Presbyterian College via the transfer portal, and with the return of true sophomore quarterback Jace Wilson (63-of-123 passing, 1,020 yds, 6 TDs, 3 INTs/101 rush yds, 2 TDs), the Paladins look to be in as good a situation at the position since 2017, when the Paladins had reputable experience and talent at the position in the form of P.J. Blazejowski and Harris Roberts.

That is backed up by Blazejowski having led the Paladins to the second round of the FCS playoffs as the quarterback in his senior season of 2017. A year later, Roberts turned in one of the best passing efficiency ratings for a single season in his only campaign as the Paladin signal-caller in 2018. A number of issues kept Furman from at least equaling that experience at the position over the past three seasons, with the transfer of Darren Grainger out of the Paladin program to Georgia State having the most unintended profound impact on the experience dynamic under center.

With that said, Huff narrowly beat out Wilson in strong quarterback battle during fall camp. With Huff’s experience and know-how, Roper hopes that will equate as the missing piece, which saw the Paladins miss out on an eight-win season by a total of five points in losses at Western Carolina (L, 42-43) and No. 9 East Tennessee State (L, 13-17). Wilson was thrust into action last season, having to completely learn Quarles’ offensive scheme on-the-run, as he missed most of fall camp battling COVID-19.

With Quarles having moved on, the talented Lone Star State product was asked to learn a completely new offensive system for a second-straight season, with Roper bringing a new offense, which will be unique in comparison to what Paladin fans are accustomed to. Huff’s experience and success at PC helped put him line to lead the Paladins under center for what will be his final campaign as a collegiate quarterback.

Huff ended up passing for 2,560 yards and 21 touchdowns on 232-of-376 passing, while also rushing for 515 yards and six scores during his time spent in Clinton.

While the Paladins are solid up front, with a pair of preseason first-team All-SoCon selections, in Anderson Tomlin and Pearson Toomey, as the Paladins might have their best collection of talent along the offensive front since Clay Hendrix assumed the reigns as the head coach in 2017.

The top weapons on offense for the Paladins include tight end Ryan Miller, whose 16 touchdown receptions are a school record for tight ends. He garnered Associated Press Third-Team All-America in 2021, as he became the 11th player in Furman football history to garner multiple All-America citations in the history of Furman football.

Miller was a consensus First-Team All-SoCon selection during the 2021 campaign, leading the Paladins with 43 receptions for 749 yards and seven TDs last fall, and averaged a league-best 17.4 yards-per-catch in doing so. Miller started the season with a bang, hauling in an 87-yard pass from Hamp Sisson, doing most of the work with his feet by out-pacing the North Carolina A&T secondary in the process, as his play highlighted Furman’s season-opening 29-18 win over the Aggies.

Joshua Harris (26 rec, 295 yds, 1 TD, 11.3 YPR) is another solid option in the passing game, and Kyndel Dean is one of seven transfers, which includes five on the offensive side of the ball, that could give the passing game its most potent versatility downfield since the graduation of Thomas Gordon in 2019.

The running game is blessed with a plethora of options. Among the best are Dominic Roberto (96 rush att, 709 yds, 6 TDs, 7.4 YPC/4 rec, 29 yds) and Devin Abrams (72 rush att, 334 yds, 3 TDs, 4.6 YPC/6 rec., 40 yds), while Kendall Thomas (24 rush att, 64 yds/5 rec 26 yds) could be in line to see his most action with the program to date.

Furman’s defense could be in line to have a season not unlike some of its greatest in program, which it did in back-to-back campaigns in 2003 and ’04, respectively. Veteran leadership returns at all three levels, highlighted by Cameron Coleman (32 tackles, 1.0 TFL) and Matt Sochovka along the defensive front, while Braden Gilby anchors a strong corps of linebackers. Coleman was a second-team preseason All-SoCon pick, while Sochovka returns after having his 2021 season cut short after suffering a season-ending injury in the season opener.

Set to join Gilby as a returning starter at inside linebacker heading into the 2022 campaign is redshirt junior Nicky Kuzemka (44 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF), giving the Paladins excellent run-support at the heart of the defensive unit.

The strength of the Paladin defense should be its secondary, which sports both talent and depth as its primary attributes. First-Team All-SoCon pick Travis Blackshear (52 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 5 INTs, 5 PBUs, 2 FRs, 1 FF)., who tied for the SoCon lead with five INTs last season, highlights the highly regarded unit. Furman free safety Hugh Ryan (62 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 3 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 QBH) led the Paladins in tackles last fall.

While the defense was solid last season, there is still room for improvement. One of the issues that was somewhat baffling was Furman’s inability to get off the field on third-and-long. The other was creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, particularly with its front three and from the ‘bandit’ position.

That should change this fall, and one might expect to see the most drastic improvement at bandit, as defensive coordinator Duane Vaughn moves back to that position as his primary responsible as a position coach this fall. All told, the Paladins finished the 2021 campaign ranking a solid 70th in total defense (383.1 YPG) in total defense last season, which was one spot below league champion East Tennessee State.

Furman also finished the campaign ranking 72nd nationally in passing yards allowed (230.0 YPG), 38th in scoring defense (23.5 PPG), 62nd in rush defense (153.1 YPG), tied for 79th in total team sacks (19.0 sacks/1.73 SPG), and 117th in third down conversion percentage defense (47.8%) last fall.

North Greenville enters the contest coming off 5-6 finish to the 2021 season and are projected to finish seventh in the preseason Gulf South Conference poll. The Crusaders were 2-5 in league play a year ago, finishing seventh. Highlighting the returnees for NGU are a pair of talented defensive players, in linebacker De’lveon Donald (63 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3 PBUs) and defensive lineman Kwame Livingston (44 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF). Both were preseason first-team All-Gulf South Conference selections, and Donald was the GSC’s Freshman of the Year last fall.

Final Prediction: Furman 45, North Greenville 7

ETSU and Mars Hill last faced each other in 2018/photo courtesy of ETSU athletics

Mars Hill (0-0, 0-0 South Atlantic Conference) at East Tennessee State (0-0, 0-0 SoCon), 7:30 p.m. EST

Venue: William B. Greene Stadium (14,518), Johnson City, Tenn

The Series: This will mark the 12th all-time meeting between the two, with the Bucs holding the 8-2-1 all-time series edge.

The Coaches: ETSU-George Quarles (0-0)/Mars Hill-Tim Clifton (151-147/29th year)

Players to Watch for East Tennessee State: QB-Tyler Riddell, RB-Jacob Saylors, DL-Jalen Porter, WR-Will Huzzie, DB-Alijah Huzzie, DB-Mike Price, OL-Joe Schreiber, OL-Fred Norman, LB-Zach West, PK-Tyler Keltner, OL-Tavon Matthews

Players to Watch Mars Hill: QB-Jimmy Urzua, LB-Dexter Fitzpatrick, LB-Landon Honeycutt

Game Preview: East Tennessee State opens the George Quarles era against nearby Division II program Mars Hill, who makes the short 44-mile trek to take on the defending SoCon champion East Tennessee State on Thursday night.

Just like it did when it faced Mars Hill in 2018, the Bucs will have a new head coach four years to the day after Randy Sanders made his debut as ETSU’s head coach, as ETSU posted a 30-3 win over Mars Hill on that particular occasion. Quarles is well-known within the Volunteer State and the East Tennessee region, mostly as a result of what he did as the head coach at Maryville High School. He also served as an offensive assistant from 2017-21, which included the last four as the Paladins’ offensive coordinator.

When Quarles took the reins back in December, he became 19th head coach in ETSU football history after Sanders abruptly retired not too long after ETSU’s 27-3 FCS quarterfinal round loss at North Dakota State last season.

In 2019, Quarles became the offensive coordinator for the Paladins in the spring of 2017 after Drew Cronic left to assume the head coaching vacancy at Lenoir-Rhyne before moving on to take the head coaching job at Mercer prior to the 2020 season.

Quarles was oversaw a his most prolific Paladin offense in 2019, and was one of best in recent memory, as the Paladins averaged 33.5 PPG, which led the SoCon, while the Paladins’ 410.3 YPG ranked second in the league in total offense. Furman’s potent offensive unit scored 40 or more points six times during the 2019 season, while recording two 60-point games and a 50-point outing.

Quarles was a part of Furman’s 1988 national championship team, and he is a member of the Tennessee Football and Tennessee Secondary School Athletics Halls-of-Fame and has also been named to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, as well as the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall-of-Fame for his accomplishments during his time as a high school head coach.

During his time at Maryville, Quarles was outstanding, posting a 250-16 (.939) record in his time as a head coach, and was the fastest head coach to 250 wins in US High School football history, leading Maryville to 11 state titles and 15 state title game appearances in 18 seasons as the head coach.

He will now be charged with helping maintain and even elevate what predecessors Carl Torbush and Randy Sanders helped build when the program was brought back after an 11-year hiatus in 2014. With the Bucs’ 7-1 conference mark last season, it marked just the second conference title in school history, while it was the first-ever outright SoCon crown in program history.

The Bucs were picked to finish second in the league by both the coaches and media at the preseason media day, which was held back in July at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C.

Plenty of talent is back on both sides of the football, with the most notable returnees on offense being preseason Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Saylors (143 rush att, 1,019 yds, 10 TDs, 7.1 YPC),  and first-team All-SoCon Tyler Riddell (211-of-338, 2,464 yds, 19 TDs, 5 INTs), under center, as he will once again head up the Bucs’ offense.

Saylors was of course a part of a Bucs offense that featured two 1,000-yard ground gainers a year ago, as he served in more of a Robin in comparison to Quay Holmes’ Batman role for the Bucs offense. Those roles switch this season, however, with Saylors being the primary focal point of the ground game.

While ETSU’s offense will likely be more balanced towards the passing attack this fall, it shouldn’t diminish the importance of Saylors because of his versatility as a receiver coming out of the backfield. In fact, I expect his importance to only increase as a receiving threat out of the backfield for ETSU this coming season.

His 1,019 yards rushing last season marked the eighth-highest rushing total in a season in ETSU history. His historic season was highlighted by a school-record rushing performance in the wild 55-35 win over Western Carolina, as he finished the contest with 266 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

The Bucs have a top-notch corps of wideouts, headlined by preseason All-SoCon selection Will Huzzie (58 rec, 798 yds, 5 TDs, 13.8 YPR), as the redshirt junior saw action in and started all 13 games for the Bucs last season, and proved to be one of the main deep threats for ETSU.

He ended up garnering second-team All-America honors by HERO Sports, and while his 798 yards receiving led the team last season, his 58 receptions ranked as the sixth-most in a single-season in program history. Huzzie ended up turning in his best performance in ETSU’s 55-48 win over Samford, hauling in eight passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

The offensive line is again a strength, and despite losing offensive line coach Matt McCutchan to Furman, where he serves in that same role, and Tre’Mond Shorts, who transferred to LSU following the 2021 season, the Bucs have a solid contingent of four starters back under new offensive line coach Dru Duke, who joined Quarles in making the trek from Greenville, S.C.-to-Johnson City, Tenn.

The Bucs were as good up front as any unit in the nation last season, as wel as being one of the top units in school history, rivaling offensive lines of 2018 and 1996, which featured guys like Matthew Pike and Travis Crusenberry as pillars of those respective offensive lines in different eras.

Slated to anchor the talented unit this fall will once again be center Joe Schreiber and Fred Norman, who was a preseason All-SoCon selection and should be in line to compete for the prestigious Jacobs Blocking Award this fall. Tavon Matthews is another returnee along the offensive front with reputable experience.

The good news for the ETSU defense is that it retained former defensive coordinator Billy Taylor, who is arguably one of the best in the SoCon and FCS football, but the bad news is the Bucs most replace some big-time talent from the front seven, which were so instrumental in helping ETSU to the regular-season title last season.

The four starting linebackers should be interesting for the Bucs this season, as that was the heart and soul of the Bucs defense last season, with Donovan Manuel and Jared Folks served as the primary spine of the ETSU defense last fall, but Folks’ eligibility has expired and Manuel has moved on as a transfer to Florida International.

The leading returning defensive performer for the Bucs is defensive lineman Jalen Porter (37 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks), who is a preseason All-SoCon pick, and his 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage led the team. Twenty-three of his 37 tackles were of the solo variety last fall.

Replacing both Folks and Manuel at linebacker won’t be easy to state the obvious. Zach West (53 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs) and Chandler Martin (3 tackles, 1.0 TFL) will look to fill those two vacancies at linebacker, respectively.

West had a career-high nine tackles in the playoff win over Kennesaw State, and Martin saw action in four games for the Bucs last season, making his collegiate debut for the Bucs against Furman last season. West helped seal the win at Furman by coming up with the final fumble recovery of the game. He also contributed four tackles and an INT in the 17-13 win over the Paladins.

Despite losing Tyree Robinson and Karon Delince to graduation, the Bucs should still end up having one of the top secondaries in the Southern Conference this fall. Highlighting the returnees on the back line are two outstanding safeties, in preseason all-league selections Alijah Huzzie (76 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3 INTs, 9 PBUs, 2 FFs).and Mike Price (73 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 6 PBUs).

Mars Hill counters with pretty stout challenge for a Division II program, as the Lions won six of their final seven games last season to finish off the campaign with an impressive 8-3 overall record and tied for second with Lenoir-Rhyne in the final South Atlantic Conference standings last season. The Lions were picked fourth in the preseason SAC poll, which included receiving four first place votes this past fall.

The Lions boasted one of the top defenses in Division II football last season, holding foes to a meager 292.1 YPG, thanks in large part to a pair of preseason all-league picks in the linebacking corps, in Dexter Fitzpatrick (75 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 9.0 sacks, 4 PBUs, 1 FF) and Landon Honeycutt (105 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 FRs, l blkd kick). The Lions had the SAC’s third best passing attack last fall, averaging 252.3 YPG through the air. Leading that passing attack under center once again this fall will be Jimmy Urzua (169-of-345 passing, 2,618 yds, 24 TDs, 6 INTs).

While this game is not as easy as it might look, I expect the Bucs to overpower the Lions with a new-look, electrifying offense under their new head coach and win this one comfortably.

Final Prediction: ETSU 55, Mars Hill 17

Samford and Kennesaw State will be squaring off for fourth time Thursday night/photo courtesy of Kennesaw State athletics

No. 8 Kennesaw State (0-0, 0-0 Big South) at Samford (0-0, 0-0 SoCon), 7 p.m EST

Venue: Seibert Stadium (6,600)/Homewood, AL

The Series: This will mark the fourth all-time meeting between Samford and Kennesaw State on the gridiron, with KSU holding a 2-1 lead.

Players to Watch for Samford: LB-Nathan East, QB-Michael Hiers, RB-Jay Stanton, OL-Gavin Orr, DL-Tay Berry, DL-Seth Simmer

Players to Watch for Kennesaw State: QB-Xavier Shepherd, SB-Isaac Foster, WR-Xavier Hill, OL-Zion Katina, OL-Terrell Paxton, LB-Mike Mincey, LB-Jalen Barnum, LB-Garland Benyard, DB-Markeith Montgomery

Game Preview: The 2022 season is one in which Samford will look to get back to competing within the top tier of the Southern Conference, and they will jump right into the first Thursday night, facing a Top 10 FCS opponent, in Kennesaw State, who is obviously no stranger to games against the Southern Conference competition, having faced the likes of Samford (2-1), Wofford (3-0), Furman (1-0), and East Tennessee State (1-2) heading into its night season as a program, and it was a SoCon team that ended the Owls campaign in 2021, as East Tennessee State captured a miraculous 32-31 win in Johnson City in a second round FCS playoff matchup last season.

Thursday night’s meeting between the Owls and Bulldogs will mark the first meeting between the two since Sept. 29, 2018, as the Owls captured what was a 24-10 win in Kennesaw. It was a Samford team that was the preseason pick to win the Southern Conference and had nearly knocked off Florda State in Tallahassee just three weeks earlier.

-Samford is a program that seemingly is one with no shortage of talent, and that can be said for the Bulldogs year-in and year-out during the Chris Hatcher era during his seven previous seasons as the head coach in Homewood. However, after winning at least six games in his first three seasons as the head coach at Samford, the Bulldogs have failed to win at least five in each of the past two, which includes the COVID-19 shortened 2020 campaign, which saw the Bulldogs rally down the stretch of that seven-game season to finish out as one of the hottest teams in FCS football, winning three of its final four games to finish as one of the first four teams left out of the 2020-21 FCS playoff field.

Perhaps, though, the most disappointing season for Samford wasn’t any of the past three campaigns, however, but likely the 2018 campaign, which saw the Bulldogs win just six games despite being the consensus preseason favorite to win the league title. Despite putting the all-time leading passer and Walter Payton Award winner–Devlin Hodges–under center that season, the Bulldogs could still only muster a 6-5 finish to the season, which included a 5-3 mark in the Southern Conference and also out of playoff consideration.

In fact, during that 2018 season, the Bulldogs nearly became the first team from Alabama that is an FCS member to knock off Florida State before eventually falling 36-26 in Tallahassee. It would have been aprospros seeing as how Bobby Bowden, an Alabama boy, got his start as the head coach at Howard College (now known as Samford). Unfortunately for Hatcher and the Bulldogs, that wasn’t in the cards. In the fall of 2020, the Seminoles would lose to an FCS school from the state of Alabama, dropping a 20-17 contest to Jacksonville State.


That game has kind of represented a turning point for the Samford football program and Hatcher’s career as the head ball coach in Birmingham. In fact, since that loss to FSU in 2018, Hatcher and Samford have gone just 18-21. Prior to that loss to the Seminoles in 2018, Hatcher was 22-15 as the head coach of the Bulldogs. There has been a definite downward turn since that loss.

The question now becomes has Samford become a program that has become stagnant among the SoCon football programs after looking as if it were going to be one that was on the upswing at the latter portion of the Pat Sullivan era to one that had even been elevated by Hatcher and staff following the 2017 season, which saw the Bulldogs qualify for the FCS playoffs.

Since joining the Southern Conference in 2008 as an official football-playing member, the Bulldogs have posted an 83-62 overall record, which includes a 63-50 mark against Southern Conference foes. The Bulldogs have been to the FCS playoffs three times (2013, ‘16, and ‘17) as SoCon members, with one title, which it was later forced to vacate. Two FCS of those FCS playoff appearances have come on Hatcher’s watch, however, the time might be ticking on his career as the head coach at Samford if he doesn’t produce a third in 2022.

Set to lead the Samford offense after winning the quarterback battle in camp is JUCO transfer Michael Hiers, who beat out both Quinton Crittendon and Kentucky transfer Nic Scalzo for the starting job. This season is not unlike the 2019 season in terms of the uncertainty at the position. That would be the season that Liam Welch and future South Dakota State transfer Chris Oladokun would tag-team the duties for much of the season.

homever is able to emerge at the conclusion of fall camp as the starter will be leading an offense that routinely is one of the more explosive aerial big-play offenses in FCS football. The Bulldogs are coming off a 2021 fall campaign, which saw the Bulldogs lead the league in scoring offense (37.9 PPG), while ranking second in total offense (448.7 YPG). The offensive highlight of note and potentially the most memorable moment of the disappointing campaign for the Bulldogs was putting up 52 points and 530 yards of total offense in a 70-52 loss at SEC East member Florida last season.

The 52 points were the most ever allowed by Florida to an opponent in a win, and the most ever scored by an FCS team against SEC opposition. Another area of concern on the offensive side of the ball could be wide receiver, where the Bulldogs must replace leading wideout Montrell Washington, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft just this past weekend. Samford must also replace one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the SoCon, with the departure of Michael Vice, who transferred to Troy during the off-season.

Expected to step into the role as the Bulldogs’ go-to-wideout this fall should be Ty King (23 rec, 240 yds, 1 TD, 10.4 YPR), who returns for his senior campaign in 2022.King battled injuries last season, but returns where he should be the go-to-receiver in that explosive Samford passing attack. So far in his Samford career, King has proven to be quite the big-play receiver, having hauled in 63 catches for 946 yards and four TDs.

Two seniors that could be significant impact players for the Bulldogs as pass-catching threats this fall are both Chandler Smith (42 rec, 406 yds, 2 TDs, 9.7 YPR) and Peyton Ringer (8 rec, 61 yds, 7.6 YPR), who are both experienced and reliable targets in the passing game. Smith saw his most extensive action as a receiver for Samford last season, seeing action in all 11 games, which included seven starts.

A potential impact transfer on the offensive side of the ball is Villanova transfer wideout Quadir Ismail. At 6-6, 215, the senior wideour will give the Bulldogs outstanding size at wideout and create plenty of matchup issues against smaller SoCon defensive backs. During his time with the Wildcats, Ismail moved from quarterback to wide receiver following his junior season. He saw action in nine games for the Wildcats last season, hauling in 11 passes for 181 yards on the season.
Another wideout that is set to see some significant action in the ‘Hatch Attack’ this fall is Southern Utah transfer Judd Crockett. During his four seasons with the Thunderbirds, Crockett logged action in a total of 43 games, registering 69 catches for 610 yards and three touchdowns during his career in Cedar City.

Set to replace Vice at tight end for Samford this fall could be J.R. Tran-Reno (11 rec, 111 yds, 8.5 YPR), who plays more like a wide receiver at tight end, rather than a true tight end. The 6-1, 222-lb senior saw action in 11 games as a receiving option for the Bulldogs last season, hauling in 11 passes for 111 yards in 2021. He enjoyed his most productive outing of the campaign against East Tennessee State, as he hauled in five passes for 59 yards in a narrow overtime home loss.

One of the most experienced returnees on the offensive side of the football for the Bulldogs will be running back Jay Stanton (115 rush att, 572 yds, 6 TDs, 5.0 YPC). Stanton led the Bulldogs ground attack last season, and during his three seasons at Samford, has rushed for 1,741 yards and 19 TDs thus far in his Bulldogs career. He logged action in all 11 contests last season, which included making eight starts. Stanton has also proven his worthiness as a receiver catching the football out of the backfield, and has hauled in 48 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns in his Samford career.

The offensive line has a strong core returning to the fold, as all five starters return along the offensive front for the Bulldogs heading into the 2022 season. Set to anchor the offensive line this fall will be Gavin Orr–a graduate student–is a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick at right tackle.Improvement on the defensive side of the football is a must for Samford. he Bulldog defense was, in a word, bad last year. That has to change this season if the Bulldogs hope to remain relevant the Southern Conference race, and perhaps most importantly as far as head coach Chris Hatcher is concerned–for him to keep his job.

Hatcher has brought in a new defensive coordinator that will try and get things turned around sooner rather than later in Birmingham, and that is Chris Boone. Boone comes to Birmingham from East Mississippi Community College. In his final season at Eastern, his unit led the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 21.8 PPG. Boone’s project will be to repair a defense that ranked as the worst unit in all of FCS football last season. The Bulldogs finished the campaign ranking 123rd out of 123 FCS teams ranked in total defense, surrendering a whopping 505.4 YPG last season.

The good news is the Bulldogs will have some talent on the defensive side of the ball returning to address the issues, which they had last season. A total of seven starters return on the defensive of the football for Samford heading into the 2022 season. Set to lead things along the defensive front heading into the 2022 campaign will be graduate defensive tackle Tay Berry (30 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 QBH) as well as senior defensive end Joseph Mera (35 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 QBH), who will account for two of the more veteran performers on the Samford defense this fall.

Samford has the second-most transfers coming in of any program in the Southern Conference, and several should help make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the football this fall. Joshua Mathiasen, who comes to Samford from Olivet Nazarene, could be an immediate impact player on the defensive interior. The 6-2, 320-lb sophomore spent one season at Olivet Nazarene, posting 71 tackles and had one sack.

Also returning to provide some veteran leadership along the defensive front this fall are senior Braeden Royal (19 tackles, 1 QBH) at one defensive tackle position, while graduate Seth Simmer (63 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF) returns after garnering second-team All-SoCon laurels last fall. Junior defensive end Nick Jackson (19 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 FRs) is another player that could play a significant role in the Bulldogs’ new defensive alignment this fall.

The strength for the Bulldogs on the defensive side of the ball heading into the 2022 season could be Samford’s linebacking unit, with two out of three starters returning, in graduate Nathan East (97 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 7 QBHs) and junior Noah Martin (72 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2 FRs, 1 INT). East was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Martin started all 11 games at linebacker last fall for the Bulldogs. The defensive backfield is highlighted by the return of graduate cornerback Hakeem Johnson (26 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 3 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 FF), as well as senior safety Midnight Steward (15 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU, 1 INT).

The Owls are making the conference transition from the Big South Conference to the Atlantic Sun this fall, and the preseason favorite in the newly formed league. Led by All-American quarterback Xavier Shepherd (77-of-123 passing, 1,341 yds, 15 TDs, 3 INTs/team-leading 867 rush yds, 23 TDs, 3.6 YPC), KSU again will have a rushing attack among the nation’s elite. Last season, the Owls averaged an impressive 278.6 yards-per-game on the ground, while the defensive unit was stout, surrendering just 311.5 YPG last fall. Shepherd will enter the 2022 season as a Walter Payton Award candidate, and he leads a KSU offense that averaged more yards on the ground than any SoCon program last season by a full 10 yards.

Among the plethora of options at running back and slotback for the Owls include Preston Daniels (72 rush att, 301 yds, 4.2 YPC), Isaac Foster (8 rush att, 51 yds, 6.4 YPC) and Gabriel Benyard (14 rush att, 90 yds, 1 TD, 6.4 YPC). Both Foster and Benyard will play the slot back positions, while Daniels will act as the B-back or fullback in KSU’s flex bone look offense.

The Owls have fielded a Top 20 defense in all eight previous seasons of its FCS history, and the Owls should be strong on that side of the ball once again this season. Leading the KSU defense this fall will be linebacker Garland Benyard (35 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FR, 1 blkd kick), who was the 2021 Big South Defensive Freshman of the Year, while free safety Markeith Montgomery (35 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PBUs, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR), who has picked off five passes in his Owls career, anchors a solid secondary.

The game against KSU is the first of two games to start a season against Peach State football programs ranked in the national top 10 at both the FCS and FBS preseason polls, respectively. Following the home opener against No. 8 Kennesaw State, the Bulldogs will be on the road at No. 3 and defending national champion Georgia next Saturday.

While I think the Bulldogs keep this game closer than most of those out there think, I think the Owls will wear down an improved Samford defense over the duration of the game and that will show down the stretch in the fourth quarter.

Final Prediction: KSU 45, Samford 35

VMI (0-0, 0-0 SoCon) at No. 22 Wake Forest (0-0, 0-0 ACC), 7:30 p.m.

Venue: Truist Field (31, 500)

The Series: This will mark the eighth all-time meeting between VMI and Wake Forest, with the Demon Deacons owning a 3-2-2 all-time series edge

The Coaches: VMI-Scott Wachenheim (23-52, 8th yr)/Wake Forest-Dave Clawson (51-48/9th yr.)

Players to Watch for VMI: QB-Seth Morgan, WR-Max Brimigion, WR-Leroy Thomas, LB-Stone Snyder, RB-Rashad Raymond, TE-Aidan Twombly, DB-Alex Oliver, SPUR-Christian Dunn, DB-Aljareek Malry

Players to Watch for Wake Forest: QB-Mitch Griffis, WR-A.T. Perry, RB-Justice Ellison, DB-Nick Anderson, LB-Ryan Smeda Jr., DB-Caelan Carson

Game Preview: Once again in 2022, there is plenty of excitement surrounding the start of another start to start to a football season for Scott Wachenheim’s VMI Keydets, who have strung together back-to-back winning seasons, which includes a Southern Conference title run back in the COVID-19 compromised 2020-21 season, which was played in the spring of 2021. In many ways, VMI and Wake Forest share a common thread in that they are a couple of programs that have become the Cinderella stories of their respective classifications. For VMI, it’s breakthrough in the spring of 2021 represented the program’s first Southern Conference title since 1977 and marked the first-ever FCS playoff appearance for the Keydets.

Wake Forest, who is led by Dave Clawson-the 2022 ACC Coach of the Year-is one that made a name for himself as an offensive play-caller at the FCS level at both Villanova and UMass before getting head coaching gigs at both Fordham and Richmond. VMI’s Wachenheim is similar in that way, as he is an astute offensive coach, and like Clawson, who brought Richmond’s football program back from the dredges of the CAA, is doing the same thing at a VMI program that hasn’t had championship success in the SoCon since the late 1970s.

Wake Forest broke through to win 11 games last season in what was a Cinderella run through the ACC, making to Charlotte and the ACC Championship game, however, the season didn’t offer a storybook finish, with Pittsburgh knocking off the Demon Deacons, 45-21. It was Wake’s most successful season since 2006 under the direction of Jim Grobe, when the Demon Deacons finished the season with an 11-3 overall record and captured the ACC Championship with a 9-6 win over Georgia Tech for their 11th win of the season in the championship game, which was played in Jacksonville, FL. That Demon Deacons team would go on to the Orange Bowl to face Louisville, losing 24-13 to the sixth-ranked Cardinals in Miami.

Now the narrative has these two Cinderella story programs from their respective classification’s paths crossing to start the 2022 season. It will mark the first time that has happened since 1944, when the Demon Deacons captured a 38-7 win in Greensboro. In fact, the Demon Deacons has won each of the last three meetings between the two.

Whenever Scott Wachenheim’s offense takes the field, not only are they worth the price of admission, and they execute with precision and potentcy. Despite losing some key offensive weapons to both graduation and the transfer portal, the Keydets have enough returning that probably ensures they should once again be not only near the top of the league, but also among the best offenses in the FCS once again in 2022.

The Keydets utilize a spread/air raid offense, which will be led by redshirt junior Seth Morgan (201-of-326 passing, 2,175 yds, 14 TDs, 11 INTs/191 rush yds, 3 TDs) once again this fall. Morgan has now been the starter in Lexington for 1.5 seasons, and he ended up leading a VMI offense that finished the 2021 season ranking 24th nationally in total offense (417.9 YPG), 28th in scoring offense (31.3 PPG), and 23rd nationally in passing offense (256.9 YPG).

Morgan saw action in and started 10 games for VMI last season, looking to pick up off of what was an outstanding redshirt freshman season, which saw him garner SoCon Freshman of the Year honors in helping lead the Keydets to the 2020-21 Southern Conference title.

The preseason second-team All-SoCon pick had his most memorable afternoon under center in VMI’s thrilling 46-45 win over Samford last season, as he passed for a career-high 472 yards and three touchdowns on 28-for-41 passing in the contest.

Later in the season on the road at Furman, Morgan passed for 415 yards and three touchdowns on 33-of-56 passing. Morgan also led the Keydets to maybe their best win of the season against Chattanooga, helping a Keydets offense that would ultimately rack up 485 yards, which included 306 on 30-of-42 passing through the air, and throwing three touchdowns, as the Mocs held on for what was a memorable 37-34 overtime win at Foster Stadium over the 19th-ranked Mocs. The 485 yards surrendered by the Mocs offense would end up being a season-high yield. Morgan will enter the 2022 season as a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection.

Returning as Morgan’s main weapons in the Keydets’ air raid offense this fall include senior wideout Leroy Thomas (54 rec, 594 yds, 3 TDs, 11.0 YPC), as well as junior Chance Knox (29 rec, 264 yds, 2 TDs, 9.1 YPR) and senior Max Brimigion (24 rec, 253 yds, 1 TD, 10.5 YPR) forming what is a solid trio of receivers at Morgan’s disposal. Thomas is one of the top receiver’s in not only the Southern Conference, but also in FCS football, and he will have a bigger responsibility this season, as he will be the leading wideout with the departures of Jakob Herres and Michael Jackson.

Like Morgan, Thomas enjoyed his best performance of the 2021 season against Samford, as he hauled in nine catches for a season-high 143 yards. In his career so far, Thomas has 134 receptions for 1,367 yards and seven scores, averaging 9.9 YPR.

Thomas was one of four Keydets that garnered preseason second-team All-SoCon praise, with Aidan Twombly (18 rec, 180 yds, 1 TD) and offensive lineman Jarvis Chandler rounding out the preseason offensive selections. Getting Twombly more involved as a receiving threat as a tight end this fall will likely end up being a recipe for success for Wachenheim and his potent offense this fall.

Chandler helps anchor an offensive line that returns just two starters from a year ago. The unit, which primarily excels as a pass-blocking unit, also helped pave the way from running backs Hunter Rice (66 rush att, 289 yds, 7 TDs, 4.4 YPC), and Rashad Raymond (90 rush att, 492 yds, 3 TDs, 5.5 YPC) last season. Chandler will be joined along the offensive front as a starter by Marshall Gill, who is enters 2022 as a redshirt senior and started all 11 games at left tackle for VMI during the 2021 campaign.

Nick Reveiz was one of seven new coaching hires for the Keydets coming into the 2022 season, and he will succeed Tom Clark at defensive coordinator, following his resignation this past February. Defensively, a lack of size up front to generate pressure in a three-man or four-man front has been an issue at times even in current times as the program is undergoing a current run of success.

The Keydet defense ranked 108th nationally in total defense (443.6 YPG). The Keydets struggled the most against the run, ranking 120th out 123 ranked teams in FCS football in rush defense last fall (232.9 YPG).

The defense for the Keydets is an area head coach Scott Wachenheim hopes to see drastic improvement this season, and they will get a substantial test right out of the gate against what is a prolific Demon Deacons offense. With that said, there is reason for optimism on the defensive side of the football, and that optimism almost always starts with having one of the premier defensive players in all of FCS football returning, in linebacker Stone Snyder (120 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 3 FRs). Other defensive returnees, like defensive lineman Eric Weaver (41 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 FFs, 1 FR, 1 pass defended) help with that overall optimism.

Snyder returns as a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection and is a contender for the Buck Buchanan Award. He highlights the second level of a defense that also returns spur linebacker/defensive back Aljareek Malry (60 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 INTs, 9 PBUs), as well as redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Christian Dunn (61 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 PBUs, 1 FR).

Two of four starters return in the Keydet secondary, with junior cornerback Alex Oliver (44 tackles, 2 INTs, 14 PBUs, 1 FF) returning as the top cover-corner for the Keydets, while junior Josh Knapp (82 tackles, 2 passes defended) started all 11 games for the Keydets last season.

Wake Forest was dealt quite the blow when it was learned early last month that Sam Hartman would be forced to miss an indefinite amount of time with an undisclosed health issue. Last season, Hartman was among the best quarterbacks in college football, and he led one of the nation’s most prolific offensive units.

In fact, the Demon Deacons completed the 2022 season with 574 total points becoming the first Demon Deacon offense in program history to finish a season by scoring over 500 points, averaging a school record 41.0 PPG. It also marked just the 20th ACC football team in the modern era (post-World War II) to surpass 500 points in season and finished seventh in league history in points in a single season.

Hartman’s numbers were outstanding in their own right. He completed the season completing 299-of-508 passes for 4,338 yards, with 39 touchdowns and 14 INTs. Hartman’s 72-career scoring strikes are a program record, surpassing Riley Skinner’s 60 career scoring tosses last season. Should he return at some point this season, Hartman needs only 497 yards passing to surpass Skinner’s school-record career passing yards mark of 9,762 yards, which was established from 2006-09.

Set to replace Hartman under center for the Demon Deacons Thursday night will be Mitch Griffis, who will be making his first-career start for the Demon Deacons. He’s thrown just 15 passes in his Wake Forest career, connecting on 4-of-15 throws for 56 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes.

His biggest offensive weapon also happens to be one of the premier wideouts in the ACC, in All-American wideout A.T. Perry (71 rec, 1,293 yds, 15 TDs, 18.2 YPR). Along with Perry, the Demon Deacons also have a reliable running back, in sophomore Justice Ellison (107 rush att, 541 yds, 7 TDs, 5.1 YPC), who started all 14 games for the Deacons last season.

Even though Griffis is starting for Wake Forest Thursday evening, its undeniable that he will be leading an offense that still is blessed with talent all over the place, with the return of eight starters from a year ago. The 41.0 PPG, the 468 yards of total offense, and the 307.4 passing yards per game all ranked fourth in the FBS last season.

The best news for VMI’s prolific offense is that Wake Forest’s defense wasn’t exactly one that would draw comparisons to Clemson or Georgia, as the Demon Deacons ranked 91st in the FBS, surrendering 413.3 YPG last season, while ranking 88th nationally in scoring defense (28.9 PPG). A total of six starters are back on the defensive side of the football, which will be led by a new defensive coordinator, in Brad Lambert, who served as the defensive coordinator of the Demon Deacons from 2001-10, helping Wake Forest produce five winning seasons in that span. Lambert returns to Winston-Salem from West Lafayette, IN, where he was the Boilermakers’ co-Defensive coordinator. Lambert also has some head coaching experience, logging seven years as Charlotte’s first-ever college football coach from 2011-18.

While the Demon Deacons struggled to stop foes, they were pretty effective at turning foes over, finishing the season by creating 29 turnovers, sporting an impressive +9 turnover margin. A big reason for that success has much to do with defensive backs Nick Anderson (44 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBUs) and Caelen Carson (31 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 INTs), who are among the ACC’s best. The leading returning tackler is Ryan Smenda Jr (83 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 PBUs, 3 FFs), who anchors the Demon Deacon defense at linebacker.

Interestingly enough, VMI and Wake Forest did battle on Dec. 14, 2021, on the college basketball hardwood, with the Demon Deacons overcoming a 13-point halftime deficit to come away with a thrilling 77-70 win over the Keydets.

While I don’t see the Demon Deacons having to do that Thursday night, I do think this game will be closer than the experts think because of VMI’s ability to score point and the inexperience of Griffis under center.

Final Score Prediction: Wake Forest 38, VMI 21

2022 Furman Football Preview

STEALTH MODE

A glance at Paladin football history:

Season: 117

All-time record: 625-493-38

First Season: 1889

SoCon Titles: (14)–1978, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, ’85, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’99, ’01, ’04, ’13, ’18)/***Most by any current or former SoCon member

FCS (formerly Division I-AA) National Titles: (1) 1988

FCS Playoff Appearances: 18

Last FCS Playoff Appearance: 2019

Result: Austin Peay 42, Furman 6

All-Time FCS Playoff Record: 20-18

Facility: Paladin Stadium (14,518/opened in 1981)

All-time record at Paladin Stadium: 178-63-1

The 117th edition of Furman Football at a glance:

Head Coach: Clay Hendrix (31-25/6th season)

2021 Record: 6-5, 4-4 SoCon/tied for 4th

Media Projection: 4th in SoCon

Coaches Projection: 4th in SoCon

Returning starters: (15/8-offense, 7-defense)

Basic Offense: Multiple

Basic Defense: 3-4

Offensive Returning Starters (8): TE Ryan Miller, RB Devin Abrams, WR Joshua Harris, C Evan Jumper, OT Anderson Tomlin, OT Pearson Toomey, QB Jace Wilson, OG Jacob Johanning

Other Offensive Players Returning With Starting Experience (4): RB Dominic Roberto, WR/RB Wayne Anderson Jr., WR Noah Henderson, and OG Wyatt Hughes

Defensive Returning Starters (7): CB Travis Blackshear, NT Cameron Coleman, LB Braden Gilby, CB Micah Robinson, FS Hugh Ryan, LB Nicky Kuzemka, SPUR Dae’One Wilkins

Other Defensive Players Returning With Starting Experience (8): DT Matt Sochovka, CB Dominic Morris, CB Ivan Yates, ILB Dan Scianaa, FS Jack Rhodes, CB Cally Chizik, ILB Jalen Miller, SS Kam Brinson

Acquisitions via the transfer portal (7): WR Kyndel Dean (James Madison), OLB Emmanuel Adebayo (Northern Colorado), NG Xavier Stephens (Lehigh), QB Tyler Huff (Presbyterian), OL Gerrik Vollmer (Old Dominion/Virginia), TE Parks Gissinger (Michigan State), PK/P Ian Williams (NC State)

Preseason Accolades: Ryan Miller (1st team All-SoCon/2nd Team STATS FCS All-American, Walter Payton Award Watch List), Anderson Tomlin (1st team All-SoCon/2nd Team STATS FCS All-American); Pearson Toomey 1st Team All-SoCon); (Travis Blackshear (1st Team All-SoCon); Dominic Roberto (2nd Team All-SoCon)

2022 Schedule

Date. Opponent Series Time How to Watch

Sept. 1 vs. North Greenville 1st meeting. 7 p.m. EST ESPN+

Sept. 10 at Clemson Clemson leads 43-10-4. 3:30 p.m. EST ACC Net

Sept. 17. *at East Tenn. St Furman leads 27-9 7:30 p.m. EST. ESPN+/3

Sept. 24. at Charleston Southern Furman leads 1-0 12 p.m. EST TBA

Oct. 1 *vs. Samford Furman leads 13-11 2 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Oct. 8 *at The Citadel Furman leads 61-37-3 2 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Oct. 15 *vs Western Carolina Furman leads 34-13-2 2 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Oct. 22 *at VMI Furman leads 29-10 1:30 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Oct. 29 *vs Chattanooga Furman leads 30-21 2 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Nov. 12 *at Mercer Furman leads 10-8-2 3 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Nov. 19 *vs. Wofford Furman leads 55-33-7 1 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Nov. 26 ————————-Opening Round of FCS Playoffs———————————

Overview: Coming off a 6-5 campaign, which saw Furman finish tied for fourth in the Southern Conference standings a year ago, the Paladins head into 2022 a consensus fourth-place pick in the preseason Southern Conference polls.

Clay Hendrix (31-25) heads into his sixth season as head coach of the Paladins, and had to end up replacing his offensive coordinator–George Quarles–who is now the new head coach of the East Tennessee State Buccaneers and Hendrix settled on bringing in former Holy Cross offensive coordinator Justin Roper, who will make some tweaks to the Furman offensive scheme this fall, as the Paladins would seemingly get better on that side of the football over the latter half of the 2021 season.

Roper isn’t the lone newcomer to the coaching staff, as the Paladins were forced to replace another coach along their offensive staff, when Brian Bratton (co-offensive coordinator/special teams coach) was hired to the offensive staff of the Indianapolis Colts.

The Paladins made a couple of additions to the staff to help compensate for the loss of Bratton, bringing in former longtime Presbyterian head coach Tommy Spangler was brought in to assume the title of special teams coordinator.

Furman added a new receiver’s coach, bringing in Drew Dudzik from East Carolina following Bratton’s departure for Indianapolis.

Dudzik, who was a former quarterback at James Madison and as a player at the FCS level, will surely be remembered for leading to JMU to one of its signature moments as a football program in 2010, as he helped lead the Dukes to that magical, 21-16, win over No. 11 Virginia Tech in flood-like conditions at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.

Dudzik spent the past two seasons serving in the same role of wide receivers coach at East Carolina, and even served as the position coach for former Paladin transfer wideout Cam Burnette at ECU.

The final addition to the Paladin coaching staff during the offseason came at offensive line coach, where Dru Duke, who was in charge of the Paladin offensive line during the 2021 season, left to join Quarles in the same role at East Tennessee State.

With Duke’s departure for Johnson City, it was ETSU that Hendrix looked to for his replacement, bringing in the Bucs’ most-recent offensive line coach from the previous staff under Randy Sanders, in Matt McCutchan, who was instrumental in helping the Bucs to win 11 games last season, powered by a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the ETSU backfield, in both Quay Holmes and Jacob Saylors both cross the 1,000-yard plateau this past season en route to an outright Southern Conference regular-season title.

While there were some strengths on offense and defense last season, the Paladins lacked the kind of consistency needed to win a league title or challenge for an FCS playoff spot.

Much of that had to do with the fact the Paladins were transitioning at the quarterback position, with Hamp Sisson now having moved on to pursue other academic interests, and with Jace Wilson now having gotten his true freshman season out of the way, things are a little more defined offensively.

Furman is in as good a position as it has been since 2017 under center, with two viable options under center like it had in Clay Hendrix’s first season on the job, as the Paladins had both P.J. Blazejowski and Harris Roberts as two experienced, and veteran signal-callers to rely.

With the senior Blazejowski and junior Roberts, the Paladins went on to claim an opening round, 28-27, win over Elon before their season came to an end a week later in Spartanburg with a 27-10 loss to SoCon regular-season champion Wofford.

On the defensive side of the football last fall, the Paladins were pretty solid throughout the season, but were not good on third-and-long, and other maybe the East Tennessee State game, struggled to effectively get pressure on opposing quarterbacks last fall, and that proved costly against some of the league’s better signal-caller’s, such as Mercer’s Fred Payton, or Western Carolina’s Rogan Wells.

The good news for Furman is that plenty of experience and depth returns along the defensive line, which gives Furman a great opportunity to be even better defensively this fall.

Preseason All-SoCon selection Cameron Coleman returns at nose tackle, highlighting the returnees along the defensive front for the 2022 campaign. Also back is Matt Sochovka at defensive tackle, who missed almost the entire 2022 season with a knee injury, sustaining his season-ending injury in the season opener against North Carolina A&T.

The defensive backfield appears to be an area of strength, and after a rash of injuries last year, it allowed some key performers to gain some valuable experience. Highlighting the returnees is preseason All-SoCon selection Travis Blackshear, who tied for the league lead in INTs last season. Dominic Morris, Kam Brinson, Ivan Yates, Cally Chizik and Hugh Ryan all return to a unit that expects to be among the best in the SoCon this fall.

The offensive line is always an area close to the heart of the Paladin head coach. That’s also a pretty logical guess, as Hendrix was a key member of Furman’s early-to-mid 1980s offensive front, which were responsible for helping pave the way for former Paladin greats like Stanford Jennings and Robbie Gardner.

The two offensive linemen that did end up garnering preseason praise were offensive tackles Anderson Tomlin and Pearson Toomey, who were both preseason first-team all-league selections.

They duo will be blocking for one of the league’s top returning running backs, in Dominic Roberto, who was voted to the second-team all-conference team by the coaches in the preseason. Roberto is among a talented stable of running backs returning for the Paladins heading into 2022, with guys like Kendall Thomas, Devin Abrams, and Myion Hicks just to name a few.

Hendrix also noted that one area that was a bit of a concern going into the 2021 season might be a potential strength for the Paladins entering the 2022 campaign.

With SoCon All-Freshman selection Joshua Harris returning as a potential breakout performer, coupled with the addition of James Madison transfer Kyndel Dean, and a pair of talented freshmen, in Ben Ferguson and Ethan Harris, the Paladins have more than a few big play options to surround All-American tight end Ryan Miller with this season.

The primary pieces are in place offensively, and the one real question mark remains quarterback. The Paladins were consistency at that very position from ending up in the FCS postseason last fall. After all, the Paladins lost games at home to eventual league champion East Tennessee State (L, 13-17) and on the road at rapidly improving Western Carolina (L, 42-43), with the Paladins having prime opportunities to win both games, as Furman blew second-half leads in both.

The loss to the Bucs was just Wilson’s third career start under center for Furman, and when you take into account, he missed two weeks of preseason camp with COVID-19, he was playing catch up nearly the entire 2021 season. The Paladins and Wilson found offense tough to come by for much of the afternoon against a tough, veteran Bucs defense.

The loss in Cullowhee was more baffling. Furman started the game and ended the game with quarterback issues. Furman had the first possession for either team in the high-scoring affair, and it would wind up providing the first points of the day, as Jacob Harris snagged a Sisson pass and for the second-consecutive season, raced the other way for points, as his 41-yard INT return for a score allowed the Catamounts to take an early 7-0 lead.

Still, Furman held what would seemingly have been a safe 42-31 lead, considering defense had been its strength all season in the third quarter, but that’s where things would begin to unravel, with the Catamounts scoring 12 unanswered points to close out a thrilling win, which personified the direction of each program during that juncture of the 2021 season.

Even with the Catamounts gaining much of the momentum in the final two quarters, outplaying the Paladins in the second half, Furman had a chance to win each football game with a little better play and decision-making under center and from its game management as a staff.

After Furman was forced to punt for a second-straight series, the Paladin defense did its job to force the Catamounts’ first punt of the day, as Paxton Roberson’s 39-yard punt was returned by Dejuan Bell, however, following would looked like it was going to be a great return deep into Catamount territory, as a big hit by WCU cornerback Ronald Kent Jr. from behind knocked the football free, and it was recovered by teammate Micah Nelson with 2:34 remaining.

Furman would then burn all three of its timeouts to force another WCU punt on its next possession, allowing the Furman offense to get the ball back with 1:21 left and no timeouts. 

Sisson rushed for 34 yards to the Furman 49 with 1:10 remaining. However, Sisson would take a sack back to the Furman 41, but then on a fourth downplay moments later, completed a seven-yard pass to Dejuan Bell to give the Paladins the ball at the WCU 41.

However, for the second time on the drive, Sisson was sacked, eventually forcing Furman to spike the ball and attempt a 62-yard field goal from Axel Levpvreau–the Paladin kickoff specialist–into his first-ever field goal attempt with one second left, which was no good. Better management and quarterback play in either game offensively against ETSU and Western Carolina.

The major positive at quarterback came in how Wilson would eventually finish off the season as his knowledge and familiarity with George Quarles’ diverse offensive scheme was finally coming into full focus for the young, talented signal-caller.

In the final two games of the season, which saw the Paladins knock off 20th-ranked VMI 37-31 in Greenville before closing the season with a 41-34 victory at Samford, Wilson went a combined 20-of-36 passing for 414 yards and three touchdowns, without throwing an INT.

Meanwhile, Wilson also rushed for 22 yards and a rushing score in those final two games of the season, as Furman closed out the 2021 season playing some of its best football on offense the entire season.

That said, Furman also had some out of the world performances on offense in 2021, like its season-opening performance in a 29-18 win over No. 24 North Carolina A&T, which saw Sisson post arguably the most memorable game since coming into rescue the Paladins to a win in Chattanooga as a freshman in 2019.

Sisson finished off the signature performance in the 2021 opener by completing 25-of-40 passes for 362 yards, with three scoring tosses and just one INT. His 362-yard passing effort was not only a career-high, but was also the second-highest passing yardage tally in Furman football history, topped only by Reese Hannon’s 365 passing yards in 38-35 loss to Coastal Carolina in 2015.

While Sisson was inconsistent, and Wilson was young, it was Wilson that would lead Furman to an emphatic close to the season in the win over Samford to close out the campaign, as the 503 yards of total offense was a season high, eclipsing the 487 in that season-opening win over the Aggies.

The quiet optimism heading into the 2022 season comes with the experience gained via the transfer portal.

One of the key acquisitions, and maybe even the most vital, came via the portal at quarterback, as the Furman staff went out and signed veteran former Presbyterian quarterback Tyler Huff to a letter of intent in late March. Huff comes to Furman with one year of eligibility remaining.

He is in a tight competition with sophomore incumbent sophomore starter Jace Wilson in fall camp, and should Wilson hold on to his starting job heading into the season opener, Huff will still add much needed experience and leadership to the position and will likely play regardless of whether he starts or not. 

In two-plus seasons at PC, Huff saw action in a total of 22 games, starting 12 times for the Blue Hose, connecting on 232-of-376 passes for 2,560 yards and 21 touchdowns.

The defense has a chance to be special and is again the strength of the team heading into the 2022 season. Cameron Coleman and Matt Sochovka highlight a defensive front, as the duo sports a combined 34 starts along the Paladin defensive line heading into the season.

A player that could be in line for a breakout season along the defensive line for the Paladins this fall is Bryce Stanfield

Linebacker is highlighted by the return by a several key performers, including Braden Gilby, Bryce McCormick, Evan Dimaggio, Nicky Kuzemka and Dae’one Wilkins. The Paladins have a pair of key performers to replace, in Adrian Hope and Elijah McCoy, as the duo split time at ‘bandit’ last season.

Both Jalen Miller and Caden Richards, who both hail from the Upstate, are athletic and give the Paladins solid depth at spur linebacker. Wilkins heads into the season as the penciled in starter at safety, but also has played most of his career in the Purple and White as a ‘spur’ outside linebacker.

Brought in to address the loss of both Hope and McKoy at ‘bandit’ is Emmanuel Adebayo from Northern Colorado. Adebayo was original sought by Furman in the recruiting process before he decided to matriculate to Greeley, CO., to suit up for the Golden Bears. Alex Maier and Luke Clark are also vying for the starting job when the Paladins open the season on Sept. 1 vs. North Greenville. Adebayo is a grad transfer and will have one season of eligibility remaining.

Finally, the Furman secondary looks as strong as it has been in quite some time. The unit will bring back memories of some of those secondaries from the early 2000s, which featured the likes of Rodney Johnson, Josh Cooper and Richie Jackson. Furman sports depth, athleticism and experience at all four positions, which is headlined by cornerback Travis Blackshear, who completed the 2021 season tied with The Citadel’s Destin Mack for the league lead in INTs.

Furman’s leading tackler-Hugh Ryan-is also a part of that star-studded secondary heading into 2022, returning as the starter at free safety.

Check out my preseason media day interview with Furman head coach Clay Hendrix at SoCon media day in late July by clicking below.

Furman head coach Clay Hendrix at SoCon media day 2022

In-Depth Offensive Preview:

Presbyterian College transfer quarterback Tyler Huff/photo courtesy of PC athletics

If you had a chance to watch Furman offense last season from start to finish, it was the equivalent of going on a visual odyssey through the 11-game slate, and while you never knew exactly what you might get from week-to-week, it was apparent that by the end of the 2021 season, the Paladins had established some rhythm and consistency on the offensive side of the football in comparison to where it had begun the campaign, struggling through much of the first month-and-a-half to find an identity as an offensive unit.

The Paladins are coming off a 2021 campaign, which saw them average 24.3 PPG (76th in FCS) and 359.8 YPG (65th in FCS). Furman’s bread-and-butter on offense was the ground game, which saw them average 184.1 YPG (24th in FCS) and posted 175.7 YPG (92nd in FCS) in passing offense. Furman finished the 2021 season 40.4% on third down (45th in FCS), while scoring points on 85.7% (28th in FCS) of their trips to the red zone last season.

Schematically speaking, Furman will be a sometimes no-huddle offense, mixed with pro-style tendencies.

In other words, the offense is more no-huddle without necessarily being a “hurry-up” under new offensive coordinator Justin Roper. The Paladins will once again likely be a run-oriented offense, and the Paladins will look similar to Holy Cross and the SoCon’s own East Tennessee State Bucs in terms of offensive scheme in terms of what they would like to do offensively.

Expect a lot of one-back sets, which will be a little different than Furman fans might be accustomed to in the past five seasons under Quarles and before that, Drew Cronic, as the Paladins won’t feature nearly as many double-wing formations. But that’s not to say there won’t be situations that won’t call for it.

The Paladins return a healthy eight starters on the offensive side of the football for the 2022 season, and that includes SoCon All-Freshman Team selection Jace Wilson (63-of-122 passing, 1,020 yds, 6 TDs, 3 INTs/58 rush att, 101 yds, 2 TDs, 1.7 YPC).

Wilson was called into action early on last season, with the Paladins struggling offensively, seeing his first action of the season in Furman’s first Southern Conference game against Mercer, as he came into the contest in the third quarter of that game.

His performance against the Bears came in a particularly tough situation, as the Paladins found themselves trailing the contest 21-0 to start the second half of what would end up being a 24-3 loss to the Bears. In a particularly tough situation, Wilson didn’t come in and rescue the Paladins and lead them to a come-from-behind victory or anything, but he did show some positive signs.

The then true freshman from Missouri City, TX, would end up un-seating Hamp Sisson as the starter under center by season’s end en route to garnering SoCon All-Freshman Team honors in the process.

The young signal-caller fashioned his most impressive performances under center for Furman in starts against both Wofford and Samford, respectively, last fall. In his first career start against Wofford, connecting on 14-of-23 passes for 189 yards and a TD, while rushing for 26 yards and another score, as the Paladins posted their first win at Wofford for the first time since 2006.

In the 41-34 win at Samford to close out the 2021 season, Wilson ended up connecting on 7-of-11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 10 times for 15 yards and another score. It was the perfect way for Wilson to cement a winning season for the Paladins, and put his stamp on the starting job as the Furman signal-caller.

Battling him throughout fall camp to try and garner the starting job for Furman’s opener on Sept. 1 against North Greenville has been Presbyterian graduate transfer Tyler Huff.

During his time as the Blue Hose quarterback, Huff saw action in 22 games, which includes making 12 in two-plus seasons as a signal-caller in Clinton, S.C.

The 6-1, 200-lb native of Orange Park, FL, finished his time at PC by connecting on 232-of-376 passes for 2,560 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also rushed for 515 yards and six scores during his time with the Blue Hose.

During his freshman season of 2019, Huff was productive from the outset in a Blue Hose uniform, as he finished the season by passing for 871 yards and seven touchdowns, including a 145-yard, one touchdown passing effort against Gardner-Webb.

In the spring of 2021, he started all of PC’s six games in the COVID-19 shortened season, garnering second-team All Pioneer Football League honors, as he led the PFL in total offensive yards per game (278.5 YPG), while finishing second in passing yards per game (244.2 YPG).

He ended up throwing for a career-high 365 yards in a 29-24 win over Drake and finished with 307 yards passing versus Gardner-Webb.

True freshman Carson Jones and Charles Watson will also be part of the quarterback pecking order in some form of or fashion this fall. Jones is one of the premier signees in the 2021 signing class, committing to Furman last July. The Maryville, Tenn., product finished out his senior season, completing 158-of-206 passes for 2,175 yards and 28 TDs and one INT, adding nine TDs rushing, leading Maryville to a 13-1 record and a state playoff semifinal run.

The Rebels eventual fell in the semifinals of the playoffs to Oakland, 24-14, but Jones was named the Region 2-6A Player of the Year and Mr. Football semifinalist in the state of Tennessee. Jones was also a 2021 Tennessee All-State first-team selection.

Furman once again figures to punch well above its weight both nationally and in the SoCon with an elite contingent of running backs returning to the fold for the 2022 season.

Furman running back Dominic Roberto following fan day scrimmage on Aug. 20

Leading the way on the ground for the Paladins will be redshirt junior Dominic Roberto (96 rush att, 709 yds, 6 TDs, 7.4 YPC/4 rec, 29 yds).

Roberto is a big, physical running option for the Paladins offensively, and the 242-lb Paladin running back will certainly cause Paladin football fans to have flashbacks to former physical ground-gainers like Jerome Felton (2004-07), Tersoo Uhaa (2007-10), Jerodis Williams (2009-12) and Derek Russell (1997-2000).

Roberto’s powerful, lumbering running style, along with his deceptive speed bring back memories of the aforementioned running backs, who like Roberto, flourished as part of Furman offenses over the years, with most doing so at the now almost extinct fullback position in the backfield.

When Furman’s top running back last season–Devin Wynn–suffered what turn out to be a debilitating injury in a win over Wofford for the remainder of the 2021 season, Roberto was called upon to rescue the running back spot for the Purple and White for the remainder of the season. He responded to being benched and stepped and showed out as a result of the challenge the rest of 2021.

Roberto ended up leading the Paladins in rushing last fall, finishing the campaign with 709 yards rushing and six touchdowns on 96 attempts, averaging an impressive 7.4 yards-per-carry.

After rushing for only 56 yards over the first five games, Roberto would see his first significant action of the season in game six of the season against The Citadel, and he would prove to be an instant impact player in the absence of the All-SoCon running back Wynn.

Highlighting his performance against the Bulldogs was an electrifying 90-yard touchdown down the far sideline, which marked the second-longest run from scrimmage in program history. Only Russ Sutton’s 93-yard run against Presbyterian in 1951 was a longer run in Paladin football history in distance.

It was the start of what would be a strong final five games of the season for the Paladins, as he would end up rushing for 653 yards and six rushing scores over the final five games, averaging an impressive 8.28 YPC in those final five games of the season.

In a 43-42 loss at Western Carolina, Roberto rushed for 196 yards and four touchdowns on 24 rush attempts en route to leading the Paladins’ ground attack, garnering SoCon Offensive Player of the Week honors in the process. Roberto ended the season with a career-best effort, as he finished the 41-34 win over Samford by rushing for 216 yards on 22 carries.

All told, Roberto has rushed for 994 yards and 10 touchdowns on 159-career carries for the Paladins, averaging 6.3 yards-per-carry. As a receiving threat in his career for the Paladins, Roberto has caught seven passes for 60 yards.

Expected to team with Roberto in the Paladin backfield in 2022 will be both Devin Abrams (72 rush att, 334 yds, 3 TDs, 4.6 YPC/6 rec., 40 yds) and Kendall Thomas (24 rush att, 64 yds/5 rec 26 yds). Abrams is one of the veteran-most Paladin returnees on either side of the ball, sporting an impressive total of 29 starts in his Paladin career.

Abrams is a native of Pensacola, FL, where he he heads into his redshirt senior season in the Paladin backfield, and has already turned in a productive career in the Furman backfield.

So far in his Paladin career, Abrams has rushed for 1,230 yards and nine touchdowns during his time running the football for the Paladins and was a 2019 SoCon All-Freshman selection following a season which saw him rush for 615 yards and six touchdowns on exactly 100 attempts, averaging 6.2 YPC.

He’s also been an effective receiving threat coming out of the Paladin backfield during his career, having hauled in 20 passes for 242 yards and a pair of scores in his four seasons for the Paladins. In 2021, Abrams served as Furman’s starting tailback in 10 of 11 games.

He enjoyed his best game of the 2021 season in a win over Samford to conclude the 2021 season, as he rushed for 110 yards on 18 rush attempts in the 41-34 road win.

Thomas’ speed is an x-factor in the Paladin offense, and he is versatile in that he can be a threat as either a running threat or a receiving threat coming out of the Paladin backfield. In his Paladin career, Thomas has been buried a little on the depth chart behind the likes of Wynn, Abrams, and Anderson on the depth chart, but is set to see his most extensive action this fall.

He saw action in 10 of 11 games for the Paladins last season. He was also an asset as a member of the Paladin special teams as a kick return threat, returning a pair of kickoffs for 31 yards.

Other major contributors to the multi-faceted ground attack for the Paladins this fall will be Kendall Thomas (24 rush att, 64 yds/5 rec 26 yds), along with talented redshirt freshmen Grant Robinson and Myion Hicks. Jayquan Smith is a talented true freshman running back that could also log action in the Paladin backfield this fall, but will likely redshirt the 2022 season.

Robinson and Hicks redshirted the 2021 season and are slated to both see action in the lineup for the Paladins in 2022. Hicks had offers from 10 programs before settling on Furman. Two of those programs that offered Hicks were a pair of FBS schools, in both Air Force and Navy.

During his career at Pantego Christian Academy, seeing time at both running back and linebacker. He was a two-time all-district and all-state performer at linebacker, while rushing for 678 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. He also caught four scoring passes out of the backfield, showcasing his overall skillset as an offensive threat.

Robinson committed to Furman back in December of 2020, picking Furman among six offers, which included FBS programs Navy and Air Force. During his junior season at Pope John Paul II High School, Robinson just missed the 1,000-yard plateau for the season, finishing the campaign with 991 yards and six rushing touchdowns, helping his team to a 10-4 record and a state runner-up finish.

Smith committed to Furman on Dec. 1, 2021 and is one of hallmark offensive recruits of Clay Hendrix’s most recent signing class. Smith chose Furman over offers from Georgia State, Miami-Ohio, Air Force, Arkansas State, Charlotte, Richmond, Austin Peay, Tennessee Tech, Yale, Southern Illinois and Gardner-Webb, respectively.

The 2022 graduate of Cherokee Bluff High School (3A), where he played for former Paladin offensive lineman Tommy Jones. In the 2021 season, Smith racked up 1,750 yards and 22 TDs on 220 carries, as he helped Cherokee Bluff to an 11-1 record and a region championship. He was named the Region 7 3A Offensive Player of the Year, with his signature performance coming in an opening round playoff win over Greater Atlanta Christian, as he rushed for 305 yards and three scores on 34 attempts.

While Furman has always had playmakers in the running game under head coach Clay Hendrix, the same couldn’t always be said couldn’t always be said in the passing game.

Since 2019 and the graduation of Thomas Gordon, the argument could be made that the biggest big play threat in the passing attack for the Paladins has been Ryan Miller (43 rec, 749 yds, 7 TDs, 17.4 YPR), who has emerged as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in FCS football over the past couple of seasons.

Another player expected to make some big contributions at wide receiver this fall is Wayne Anderson Jr. (45 rush att, 236 yds, 3 TDs, 5.2 YPC/8 rec, 72 yds, 9.0 YPR), who makes the move from the Paladin backfield into the slot, where his speed can best be utilized.

Back in 2019, Anderson was also selected to the SoCon’s All-Freshman Team, finishing his rookie campaign with the Paladins rushing 41 times for 305 yards and four scores, averaging an impressive 7.4 yards-per-carry in his first season toting the rock.

For his career thus far, the redshirt junior from Prosper, TX, has rushed for 585 yards and seven TDs on 134 carries.

As a receiving threat out of the Paladin backfield during his Furman career, Anderson enjoyed has been a solid option to throw to over the past three seasons, having caught 28 passes for 285 yards and a pair of scores in his career. He could still be used in the backfield in certain situations this fall.

Miller, meanwhile, enters the 2022 season as a second-team All-America by STATS FCS, and subsequently, was also among 35 players named to the 2022 preseason Walter Payton Watch list. He has logged 30-career starts and his

The 6-2, 221-lb redshirt senior from Jackson, Tenn, possesses the speed of a wide receiver and the blocking ability of a tight end, and follows in a long line of talented tight ends that have suited up for the Paladins over the decades of tradition-rich success for the Furman football program.

He garnered Associated Press Third-Team All-America in 2021, as he became the 11th player in Furman football history to garner multiple All-America citations in the history of Furman football.

Miller was a consensus First-Team All-SoCon selection during the 2021 campaign, leading the Paladins with 43 receptions for 749 yards and seven TDs last fall, and averaged a league-best 17.4 yards-per-catch in doing so.

Miller started the season with a bang, hauling in an 87-yard pass from Hamp Sisson, doing most of the work with his feet by out-pacing the North Carolina A&T secondary in the process, as his play highlighted Furman’s season-opening 29-18 win over the Aggies.

Tight end Ryan Miller hauls in a 50-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jace Wilson in regular-season finale win at Samford

Entering his fifth and final season for the Paladins, Miller already ranks 18th in program history in receiving yards, while already being tied for fourth in school history in scoring catches. So far in his standout Paladin career, Miller has 79 catches for 1,384 yards and a tight end school-record 16 touchdowns.

Adding to the depth at tight in this fall for the Paladins will be Michigan State graduate transfer Parks Gissinger as well as redshirt junior Noah Henderson (2 rec, 6 yds). Henderson was able to log action in 10 games last season as a reserve wide receiver, excelling as one of the top blocking receivers for the Paladins.

He recorded receptions in games against North Carolina State and Western Carolina last season before making the switch to tight end late in the season.

Gissinger comes to Furman from Michigan State where he was able to log action in eight games during his time in East Lansing, garnering playing time in the first four games of the 2021 campaign. Gissinger would see his 2021 campaign cut short as a result of injury. He was the Co-Special Teams Player of the Week following MSU’s 23-20 win over Nebraska last season.

Furman has a pair of speedy wideouts that could contribute as deep threats this season, in sophomore Joshua Harris (26 rec, 295 yds, 1 TD, 11.3 YPR), as well as James Madison transfer Kyndel Dean .

Harris comes off a freshman campaign, which saw him rank second on the team in receiving, as he hauled in 26 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown, allowing 11.3 yards-per-catch. His performance was impressive enough last season to help Harris land on the SoCon’s All-Freshman Team, garnering playing time in all 11 games, starting nine games at split end.

He made an impact as a receiving threat in his very first game against North Carolina A&T, as he hauled in three passes for 69 yards, including a 41-yard scoring catch in Furman’s 29-18 season-opening win over the Aggies.

That was enough to see Harris moved into the mix as a starter at split end the very next week. In his first start against Tennessee Tech the following week, Harris made the most of his opportunity, hauling in five passes 54 yards in a 26-0 win. He followed that a couple of weeks later in Furman’s 24-3 loss to Mercer in its SoCon opener with a season-best five catches for 63 yards.

In his redshirt freshman season of 2018, Dean garnered starts in all 13 games for the Dukes and finished the season by garnering Hero Sports Freshman All-America honors after hauling in 47 passes for 614 yards and five scores. In 2019, Dean hauled in 20 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown.

Dean saw action in all eight games of JMU’s pandemic-shortened 2020 season, however, was not available for the 2021 campaign, as he sat out with an injury. His speed will give him an opportunity to play right away, competing for a starting job. He will have one season of eligibility remaining.

With Ryan DeLuca having moved on at flanker, Luke Shiflett (3 rec, 58 yds, 19.3 YPR) could be in competition for a starting spot at the position this fall.

Shiflett is a converted receiver with good speed, hands and elusiveness, but his strongest asset in the open field might be his blocking ability.

The redshirt senior is extremely savvy, and the converted quarterback returned from injury last season to appear in all 11 games.

He factored into Furman’s win on the road at Wofford in a major way, as he hauled in a pair of key passes for 38 yards to as part of a key Furman scoring drive in what turned out to be the Paladins’ first win in Spartanburg since 2006.

Shiflett also completed a pair of passes for 18 yards and had three rushes for six yards against N.C. State. He also had one catch for 20 yards against East Tennessee State.

Rounding out the major experience returning at wide receiver for the Paladins this fall is Noah Henderson.

The 6-1, 207-lb native of Nashville, TN, logged action in 10 games last fall, catching a pair of passes for 10 yards. Late in the season, he made the position change to tight end. He posted catches against North Carolina State and Western Carolina last season.

One of the young receivers that comes in that will have a chance to compete for time on the depth chart at receiver right away is true freshman Ben Ferguson, who comes to Furman from The Woodlands High School in The Woodlands, TX.

Ferguson is the latest signature recruit in Furman’s recent pipeline into the state of Texas. As a senior in 2021, Ferguson served as team captain, garnering first-team all-district honors following a season, which saw him haul in 46 passes for 1,010 yards and 13 TDs. He finished out his outstanding prep career ranking fifth in program history in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions.

Kelton Gunn and Bailor Hughes are a pair of speedy redshirt sophomores expected to compete for time on the depth chart at receiver this fall. Gunn and Hughes could be in the mix on special teams due to their speed and capabilities as contributors in Furman’s kick return responsibilities.


Senior wideout Luke Bynum, who also returns as a reserve wideout for the Paladins, was an important piece of the Furman special teams last fall, acting as the team’s holder on field goals and PATs. Air Force prep transfer Ethan Harris has a chance to compete for time at wideout this fall. The 6-2, 188-lb wideout from Raleigh, N.C., will have four years of eligibility remaining.

While the Paladins have assembled some nice pieces at wide receiver this fall, it’s the offensive line that appears to be the strength of the Furman offense heading into the 2022 campaign.

Furman welcomes the return of four veterans with starting experience along its offensive line, and heads into the 2022 with one of the top front lines in the Southern Conference, which must be music to the ears of new offensive line Matt McCutchan, who comes to Greenville from Johnson City, where he presided over an ETSU unit that was among the best in FCS last season, as the Bucs had two ground-gainers eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the season.

Leading the way along the offensive front for the Paladins will be redshirt senior Anderson Tomlin. The preseason STATs FCS All-America and first-team All-SoCon pick, has meticulously worked his way into being one of the best offensive linemen in all of FCS football and figures to challenge for the league’s prestigious Jacobs Blocking Award, which is given to the league’s top offensive lineman at the conclusion of each season.

Tomlin solidified himself as a starter at left tackle in the 2020 season, which was played in the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 6-5, 296-lb, native of Birmingham, AL, has found his way in Greenville, and has flourished the past couple of seasons along the Paladin offensive line.

Tomlin has blossomed into receiving national acclaim among both national and local league media members from relative obscurity and had after putting his mind into becoming a serious football player, making the switch from the defensive line to the offensive line between his sophomore and junior seasons at Mountain Brook.

Tomlin heads into the season as the starter at the left tackle spot for the Paladins, having started all 11 games last season, and has started 16 games in his Paladin career, appearing in a total of 21 contests.

Joining Tomlin as a starter along the left side of the offensive line will be left guard Jacob Johanning, who enters his redshirt junior season along the Paladin offensive front.

The 6-3, 276-lb native of Simpsonville, S.C., enters the 2022 season having seen action in 18 games, with 17 starts during his Paladin career. Johanning is a player that head coach Clay Hendrix referred to as being “all-conference caliber.”

Johanning’s 17 starts ranks as the second-most starts returning along the offensive front for the Paladins heading into the 2022 season.

He was part of an offensive front that saw the Paladin ground game explode over the latter half of the season, helping running back Dominic Roberto explode for 658 rushing yards over the final six games of the season, as he would emerge as one of the SoCon’s top running backs by season’s end.

Furman’s most-experienced returnee along the offensive front heading into the 2022 season is center Evan Jumper, who has logged a total of 26 starts during his Paladin career.

The 6-4, 274-lb redshirt junior from Myrtle Beach, S.C., has been a fixture along the Paladin offensive front each of the past three seasons, and is slated to enter the season as the starting center for the Paladins.

Jumper possesses the versatility to play elsewhere along the offensive line if called upon to do so. Though slated as a center coming into the 2022 season, he has logged most of his reps in fall camp at offensive tackle. Expect him to start the season at center, but that could be subject to change in the future. Either way, his versatility is something that could prove invaluable as the season progresses along.

Jumper was a 2019 SoCon All-Freshman team selection and should once again compete for all-league honors along the offensive front this fall. Jumper is among the most athletic performers along the Furman offensive front. Jumper had a streak of 21-straight starts come to an end last season in a loss at UTC.

Rounding out the four starters returning along the offensive line for the Paladins will be Pearson Toomey, who heads into the season as the projected starter at right tackle.

Toomey, like fellow Paladin offensive tackle Anderson Tomlin, should be in line to compete for All-SoCon honors along the Paladin offensive front this fall. The, a 6-3, 297-lb, redshirt junior and native of Jacksonville, FL., started nine out of the 11 games for the Paladins last fall.

The one vacancy that must be addressed along the Paladin offensive front heading into the 2022 season is the right guard spot, where the Paladins must replace veteran Clark Daniel.

Slated to likely log significant time at right guard are Wyatt Hughes and Blake Hundley. Hughes’ role will now likely significantly increase with the season-ending injury to Vollmer in preseason camp.

Others expected to make an impact as a part of the two-deep along the offensive front for the Paladins this fall include redshirt sophomore E.J. Wilson, as well as redshirt freshman Ryan Lamb. Wilson figures to provide depth at guard, while Lamb should be an integral part of head coach Clay Hendrix’s plans in 2022 at both center and guard in a reserve role this fall.

With Jumper likely to make the move from center to tackle, look for both Lamb and Hundley to compete to fill the role as the Paladins’ starting center this fall.

Also looking to provide depth at center is Wyatt Hughes saw action as a reserve at center last season and has logged four-career starts.

The Paladin offensive line should be a strength of the Paladin offense this fall, and its arguably the best collection of talent that head coach Clay Hendrix has had along the offensive line heading into what will be his sixth season as the head coach of the Paladins.

In-Depth Defensive Preview:

Furman senior nose tackle Cameron Coleman

In 2021, the Paladins got off to a strong start on the defensive side of the football, and much of that had to do with the play along the defensive front, as well as the play of the front seven as a whole.

Furman headed into its Oct. 30 loss at Chattanooga with the second-best defense in the SoCon, and one of the best defenses in the nation. The best way to accurately describe the Paladin defense during the 2021 season was a “bend-but-don’t-break” defensive unit. The Paladins got arguably some of its best play along the defensive line for an entire season in the Clay Hendrix tenure during the 2021 season.

The Paladins have a chance to continue that impressive play along the defensive front this fall, with a couple of veterans that have combined for 33-career starts to anchor the defensive line, as well as having a chance to once again be pretty good defensively, returning seven of 11 starters on the defensive side of the football and eight others with starting experience.


Like the offensive line, the Paladins sport excellent experience along the defensive front returning for the 2022 season. A total of 12 players, which includes seven lettermen at three different positions highlight the unit.

The course of events would change over the final month of the season, however, as the Paladins finished the 2021 campaign ranking a solid 70th in total defense (383.1 YPG) in total defense last season, which was one spot below league champion East Tennessee State.

The Paladins also finished the campaign ranking 72nd nationally in passing yards allowed (230.0 YPG), 38th in scoring defense (23.5 PPG), 62nd in rush defense (153.1 YPG), tied for 79th in total team sacks (19.0 sacks/1.73 SPG), and 117th in third down conversion percentage defense (47.8%) last fall.

Furman’s inability to get off the field on third down last season is a concern for defensive coordinator Duane Vaughn heading into the 2021 season. Many of those conversion opportunities on third down were in 3rd-and-5 or longer situations, as well. Furman will once again utilize a 3-4 alignment on the defensive side of the football, but will have the ability to be multiple in certain situations defensively.

Along the defensive line, the Paladins welcome back a pair of veterans, in nose tackle Cameron Coleman (32 tackles, 1.0 TFL), as well as Matt Sochovka (1 tackle), as the veteran duo has combined to start 33 games over their respective careers.

Coleman heads into his redshirt senior campaign along the defensive front having seen action in all 11 games last season, posting 10 starts. He voluntarily turned down the opportunity to start all 11 games last fall, allowing then senior Parker Stokes to make the start in the regular-season home finale against VMI.

He has been an integral part of the Paladin defensive front each of the past three seasons and could be a player that contends for all-league honors this fall.

In 2020, Coleman ended up garnering second-team All-SoCon honors. This season, Coleman heads into the season as a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick.

The 6-3, 304-lb redshirt senior ended up making 32 tackles and a tackle-for-loss, as he turned in a solid 2021 season for the Paladins. Coleman had his best performance of the 2021 campaign against The Citadel in a 24-14 win, as he posted a season-high five tackles in Furman’s win over its bitter rival.

Coleman makes the jersey No. change from No. 56 to No. 0 this season. In his three seasons for the Paladins, the native of Elizabethton, TN, has posted a total of 67 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, and has forced a fumble.

Sochovka made the decision to return for one more season along the Paladin defensive line after having graduate this past spring. Sochovka, a 6-4, 296-lb native from Fayetteville, N.C., started the 2021 season as Furman’s starting defensive tackle, however, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season-opening, 29-18, win over North Carolina A&T.

His experience and know-how only add to the expectations for another solid season for the Paladins along the defensive line. Following his knee injury against the Aggies, Sochovka was awarded a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility.

In his career, Sochovka has seen action in a total of 24 games, including having made 15 starts over the past four years. All told in his Paladin career, Sochovka has posted 39 tackles, 5.0 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks, forced a fumble, recorded one INT, blocked one kick and has three passes defended.

Sophomore Bryce Stanfield (19 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) looks to build on what was an exceptional rookie season as a Paladin defensive tackle until he was sidelined by injuries.

The 6-2, 252-lb native of Ackworth, GA., enjoyed the signature performance of his career in Furman’s 17-13 loss to No. 14 East Tennessee State last season, as he posted four tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a pair of sacks in the heartbreaking four-point loss.

His return to the unit this fall means that sophomore Xavier Stephens (16 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks at Lehigh in 2021) transferred into the program from Lehigh, and he will have three years of eligibility remaining along the defensive front for the Paladins this fall.

During his time with the Mountain Hawks, he was a significant part of the defensive plans in Bethlehem, PA., each of the past couple seasons.

During the 2021 season with the Mountain Hawks, Stephens finished his campaign participating in eight games at Lehigh, posting 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss. The 6-3, 270-lb native of Roanoke, VA., enjoyed his most productive performance of the season in a 30-3 loss at Colgate, as he registered a career-high five tackles, while posting four stops in 20-0 setback to Penn.

Stephens will most likely compete for time at nose tackle heading into the 2022 season. Stephens was one of 11 offers entertained by Stephens during the original recruiting process. Those 11 offers included FBS offers from Coastal Carolina, Air Force, Army and Navy, respectively. He is poised to make an immediate impact along defensive line coach Kevin Lewis’ defensive front in 2022.

The Paladins have plenty of talent waiting in the wings to make their impact along the offensive front this fall.

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Jeremiah Jackson (15 tackles, 1.0 TFL) and redshirt sophomore nose guard Seth Johnson (3 tackles) are two linemen expected to lend significant support along the defensive front this fall. Jackson will likely end up winning the starting job at defensive end in fall camp.

Johnson, a 6-1, 301-lb native of Chattanooga, Tenn., saw action in 10 games in a reserve role behind both Cameron Coleman and Parker Stokes last fall.

Jackson, a 6-0, 256-lb, native of Fleming Island, FL, ended up logging action as a reserve defensive end in 11 games last season. He served as the primary backup to Landon Lawrence for much of the season. The senior veteran enjoyed his best performance of the season in a 13-3 loss at Chattanooga, registering a season-high five stops.

Redshirt junior Jack Barton (4 tackles) is another veteran expected to play a part in the defensive line plans this fall. Barton ended up seeing time in eight games as a reserve at defensive tackle during the 2021 campaign, finishing with four tackles. Barton projects as a backup at defensive end. He has logged action in 14 games in three seasons for the Paladins.

Senior Trey Rogers (7 tackles) has played three different positions along the defensive line for the Paladins in his career and could offer depth defensive end this fall.

Another player that expects to see his action in a reserve role along the defensive end this fall is senior Jalen Clark, while Malachi Harrison, Thomas Pilon, and Mac Albert are three true freshmen that could break into two-deep at some point this season.

Harrison comes to Furman from Knoxville, Tenn., where he played for the Christian Academy of Knoxville (D2-AA), helping CAK to an 8-3 overall record and an appearance in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

During his junior campaign of 2020, he helped CAK to an 11-1 record and a region title. He finished out his prep career as a three-time all-region selection and was a 2020 and ‘21 Tennessee Sportswriters Association All-State pick.

While the defensive line is stockpiled with a good mix of experience and youthful talent, there’s no drop-off among linebackers, giving the Paladins the opportunity to have one of the better defensive line contingents in the SoCon this fall.

Three of four starters return to the unit for the 2022 season, with the lone losses as a result of graduation being ‘bandit’ linebackers Adrian Hope and Elijah McKoy.

Both Hope and McKoy garnered All-SoCon recognition in their respective careers, with Hope completing his career ranking third in program history in career sacks, posting 26.5 quarterback takedowns during his standout career for the Paladins.

Competing to represent the Paladins at the ‘bandit’ linebacker position heading into the 2022 campaign are redshirt sophomore Luke Clark (18 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF), and redshirt freshmen Luke McLaughlin and Alex Maier should also see action at the ‘bandit’ position this fall.

Clark, a 6-3, 243-lb, native of Louisville, KY., logged action in 10 games as a backup at ‘bandit’ last fall, and turned out one of his best performances in Furman’s 26-0 win at Tennessee Tech last fall.

In that contest, Clark finished up with three tackles, one sack and forced a fumble in the Paladin shutout road win.

He posted a season-high six tackles and recorded a sack in Furman’s narrow 17-13 loss at home to No. 14 East Tennessee State last season. Clark comes off a strong spring and is in line to be the starter at the ‘bandit’ spot this fall. Clark benefitted from playing behind two veteran stars, in Hope and McKoy at the ‘bandit’ position each of the past two campaigns.

McLaughlin is a 6-2, 197-lb from Couer D’ Alene (5A) high school where he played both inside linebacker and wide receiver during his prep career.

The native of the Gem State could see action this fall after having redshirted the 2021 campaign. In his final three seasons, McLaughlin helped Couer D’Alene High School to impressive records of 10-1, 9-3, and 8-1, respectively. During his junior campaign, he helped Couer-D’Alene to a state championship game appearance, where they lost by one-point in the title game.

He was named the 5A Conference Defensive Player of the Year and Player of the Year as well, while also collecting all-state honors following a state-leading 183 tackles, which included a school single-game record 25-tackle effort.

Maier saw action in one game against The Citadel last season, posting one tackle, and was able to retain a redshirt and was able to retain an extra year of eligibility. The 6-4, 238-lb, redshirt freshman from Fleming Island, FL., is a 2021 graduate of Fleming Island (7A) High School, where he committed Furman after entertaining offers from eight schools before settling on Furman.

One late addition to the Paladin roster, which was announced a day after the SoCon held its annual is at the ‘bandit’ position, in Northern Colorado OLB transfer Emmanuel Adebayo. Adebayo figures to add both athleticism and another pass rushing presence along the edge this fall for the Paladins.

According to Furman head coach Clay Hendrix, Adebayo has a chance to be an immediate impact player this fall for the Paladins. In action with the Bears last season, Adebayo logged action in three games last fall, recording three tackles. He marks the fifth total graduate transfer on the Paladin roster and is the eighth transfer overall for Furman heading into the 2022 season.

Highlighting the three returnees at inside linebacker for the Paladins heading into the 2022 campaign is redshirt senior middle linebacker Braden Gilby (59 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 3 passes defended), who comes into the season as one of the most experienced players on the defensive side of the football for the Paladins. In his career-to-date with Furman, Gilby has seen action in a total of 33 games, which includes logging 20 starts.

Gilby, a 6-2, 237-lb native of St. Petersburg, FL, saw action in 10 of 11 games for the Paladins last season, posting starts in nine of the 10 games he saw action in a year ago. Gilby was forced to miss the East Tennessee State game, as he sat out that contest with an injury.

His 59 tackles last season ended up ranking second on the squad for total tackles last season, and he would record his best performance of the season in a 13-3 loss at Chattanooga, finishing with a season-high 13 stops, which included one behind the line of scrimmage.

In Furman’s 41-34 road win at Samford to close out the campaign, Gilby recorded another double-digit tackle effort, posting 12 stops. He also had a key third quarter fumble recovery at the goal line, halting a North Carolina A&T potential scoring drive, allowing Furman to hold off the 24th-ranked Aggies and preserve a 29-18 win.

Gilby was a 2019 SoCon All-Freshman Team pick and has enjoyed a productive three seasons as a member of the Paladin linebacking corps, and has amassed 169 total career stops, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, six passes defended, forced four fumbles, recovered a pair of fumbles, and has picked off a pass.

Set to join Gilby as a returning starter at inside linebacker heading into the 2022 campaign is redshirt junior Nicky Kuzemka (44 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF).

Kuzemka really came on and began to establish himself as a solid presence in the Paladin defense during the COVID-19 compromised 2020-21 spring season.

He will be making the change from No. 52-to-No. 19 this fall and is penciled in as the starter at weak side linebacker heading into the season.

Kuzemka garnered SoCon All-Freshman Team honors in the spring of 2020, and comes off a 2021 season, which saw him rank sixth on the team in total tackles with 44 total stops. The Clifton, VA., native logged action in all 11 games for the Paladins, which included totaling 10 starts.

He posted his best performance of the season in the regular-season finale win over Samford, finishing the contest with nine tackles, which included one behind the line of scrimmage.

In three previous seasons lining up for the Paladins at inside linebacker, Kuzemka has posted a total of 99 tackles, 4.5 TFL, a sack, an INT, and has forced a fumble.

With 21 games under his belt with the Paladins, including 17 starts, Kuzemka is poised to once again be one of the leaders of the Paladin defense.

Rounding out the projected starters at linebacker heading into the 2022 season for Furman will be ‘spur’ linebacker Jalen Miller (12 tackles), as he takes over the starting position for Dae’one Wilkins, who made the move to strong safety during the spring.

Miller, a 5-11, 211-lb native of Byrnes, S.C., seeing action in all 11 games, including having posted one start. Miller made his only start of the season against Western Carolina at the ‘spur’ position. In that game against the Catamounts, Miller registered a season-high three tackles.

Set to compete for time at the ‘spur’ position this fall will be Caden Richards (18 tackles, 1 pass deflection) and Amaah Achina (6 tackles). Richards, a native of Gaffney, S.C., saw his most extensive action as a part of the Paladin defense in 2021.

The 6-1, 202-lb, redshirt sophomore ended up seeing action in all 11 games as a reserve at ‘spur’ as well as special teams.

In Furman’s 42-20 win over Wofford, Richards garnered his first-career start against the Terriers, posting a season-high four stops. He also posted three tackles in the loss at North Carolina State.

Achina logged action in a total of four games as a true freshman last fall, posting a total of six tackles in his rookie campaign. Achina was an impressive member of Furman’s 2020 recruiting haul, playing his prep football at Northern Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C., where he chose Furman among 13 offers.

Among those he chose Furman over were FBS offers from Army and East Carolina. Though his senior season was delayed due to COVID-19, he played safety where he garnered 3-5A all-conference honors, helping his school to the second round of the state playoffs and an 8-5 final overall record.

Not only do the Paladins return more than adequate starting experience at linebacker, but they are also blessed with really good depth at linebacker heading into the 2022 season.

Figuring prominently into the plans at inside linebacker this fall will be Evan DiMaggio (32 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 FR ) and Bryce McCormick (46 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 FFs, 1 INT).

DiMaggio saw action in all 11 games in 2021, logging his action as a reserve inside linebacker, as well as being a major contributor on special teams. The redshirt sophomore from Buford, GA, will likely compete for time behind Gilby at middle linebacker.

McCormick is one of Furman’s most athletic defenders. The 6-2, 223-lb redshirt junior from Franklin, TN., seeing action in all 11 games, including drawing his first-career start in Furman’s 13-3 loss at Chattanooga.

His 46 tackles ended up ranking him fourth on the team in tackles, enjoying his best performance of the season in Furman’s 24-14 win over The Citadel, finishing with 10 tackles and forced a fumble and had an INT in the 10-point win for the Paladins. He, along with linebacking teammate Elijah McKoy, helped key the win on the defensive side of the football in the Paladins’ win over their arch-rival.

In a narrow loss to East Tennessee State a week later, McCormick finished with eight tackles, while in the 43-42 road loss at Western Carolina, McCormick recorded seven tackles, which included forcing a fumble and picking off a pass. McCormick could well compete for starting time at inside linebacker in 2022.

Another candidate to see action at inside linebacker this fall will be Dan Scianna (36 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 FFs). The 5-10, 206-lb linebacker from Frankfort, IL., enjoyed what was a breakout season in the Furman linebacking corps, and he added even more depth to an already extremely deep unit. Scianna played in all 11 games, which included making a couple of starts against Mercer and East Tennessee State.

Scianna ended up enjoying his best outing in Furman’s 24-14 win over arch-rival The Citadel, posting a season-high 12 tackles. He was credited with four stops against VMI, N.C. State and Mercer. He will once again vie for playing time at inside linebacker this fall.

Dylan Chiedo is part of the latest recruiting haul and is a player that could end up working his way into the plans at linebacker this fall.

Chiedo, a 6-2, 225-lb linebacker from Jacksonville, FL., by way of Bartram Trail HS–the same program that produced former Paladin quarterback P.J. Blazejowski–and he chose Furman among 11 offers, committing to play for the Paladins back in late November, choosing Furman over Iowa State, Maryland, East Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Liberty, UConn, Florida Atlantic, Dartmouth, Penn and Stetson.

He finished with 98 tackles in 2021, helping Bartram Traili to a 9-3 record. As a junior in 2020, he logged 107 tackles in 10 contests, helping his prep program to an 11-3 mark. Chiedo was a two-time all-conference selection and should add depth to the inside linebacker spot.

Furman’s strength on defense is its secondary, and the Paladins should field one of the best units in the Southern Conference this fall, led by preseason all-conference selection and All-America candidate, in redshirt senior cornerback Travis Blackshear (52 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 5 INTs, 5 PBUs, 2 FRs, 1 FF).

The 5-11, 180-lb redshirt senior from Savannah, GA, is coming off a season in which he garnered consensus second team All-SoCon honors.

Furman senior cornerback Travis Blackshear

After initially exploring both professional and transfer portal options for his redshirt senior season, Blackshear opted to stay and play his final season, afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Greenville.

During the 2021 season, Blackshear started all 11 games for the Paladins, and his 52 tackles last season ranked him third overall on the team. The speedster will be Furman’s primary lockdown corner and could also factor in on special teams this fall. His five interceptions in 2021 were tied for the league lead last season.

Blackshear also posted 10 passes defended and a pair of fumble recoveries, with both of those season-ending totals ranking tied for fifth in the SoCon. He posted a season-high nine tackles and had a fumble recovery against Western Carolina.

In the 26-0 win over Tennessee Tech, he posted a pair of INTs and totaled 50 return yards in what was a complete and dominant defensive effort from the Paladins. In the season-opening win over North Carolina A&T, Blackshear finished with six tackles, which included a sack, forced fumble, an INT and a pass breakup.

Blackshear follows in a great line of Furman corners, which includes the likes of Ryan Steed (2008-11), William Middleton (2005-08), Andre Worrell (1990-93) and Rodney Johnson (1999-2003) to name a few.

In four seasons thus far as a Paladin cornerback, Blackshear has seen action in 34 games, which includes having made 28 starts, posting 125-career tackles, 4.0 TFL, two sacks, 18 passes defended, eight INTs, forced three fumbles and recovered three.

Set to team with Blackshear as a part of the Furman secondary this fall will be sophomore Dominic Morris (12 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 INT), who finished the season by garnering SoCon All-Freshman accolades, according to the league’s head coaches.

Morris garnered playing time in each of the final nine games for Furman, including a pair of starts in the latter portion of the season, getting the nod in Furman’s final two games of the campaign–both wins–against both VMI and Samford.

Morris was able to cut his teeth and get key experience playing as a part of the Furman secondary last fall, and finished the campaign with 12 tackles, which included a pair of pass deflections and an INT. He finished off the regular-season finale against Samford with a season-high five tackles.

Also, in the mix at corner this coming fall for the Paladins will be another young cornerback, in redshirt sophomore Ivan Yates (13 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 pass defended).

The 6-0, 180-lb, native of Roswell, GA., garnered starts in the first four games of the season for the Paladins before having to miss the remainder of the season with an injury. In the 29-18 season-opening win over North Carolina A&T, Yates recorded seven tackles and a pass breakup, while posting thee stops in the loss at N.C. State, and finished with a pair of stops against Tennessee Tech.

Also expected to log significant reps at cornerback for Furman this fall is Micah Robinson (30 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 3 passes defended, 1 FR).

Robinson saw time at cornerback in all 11 games last season, assuming the starting duties following Yates’ season-ending injury. in the 42-20 win over Wofford, Robinson posted three tackles and a pass breakup after coming into replace Yates in his first-career start.

He posted a season-high five tackles and a pass breakup in the loss to Chattanooga. Robinson also recorded three tackles and a pass deflection against The Citadel.

Even more experience is provided by redshirt junior Cally Chizik, who expects to play a leadership role, along with Blackshear, in the Paladin secondary in 2022. The Auburn, AL, native was forced to miss the 2021 campaign with a back injury but will be 100% when fall camp rolls around. Chizik’s absence last season allowed other younger corners gain valuable experience for Furman.

Two years ago, as he logged action in the first five contests of the spring before having to sit out the final couple of games due to injury. Chizik logged his first-career start in the third game of the spring 2020 season against Samford and would end up making one of the most important defensive plays of the COVID-shortened season.

He stepped in and started for an injured Travis Blackshear and made the most of that opportunity, as he posted six tackles, a tackle-for-loss, and recovered what proved to be the game-winning fumble in what was a 44-37 overtime win by the Paladins over Samford. Chizik should be in line to challenge for a starting job at corner this fall.

A player that will look to work his way into the fold at CB will be from Furman’s 2022 recruiting haul is at cornerback, as head coach Clay Hendrix and staff have gained the services of Jalen Gummer. Gummer–a good athlete–will likely redshirt the 2022 campaign.

Keep an eye on Cam Hamer, who could be an x-factor player at cornerback, spent a season with the Furman equipment staff after transferring in from Albright College before deciding to join the team. He will compete for a spot on the depth chart at corner.

Like cornerback, safety is also one of the deepest positions on the defensive side of the ball, and a couple of veterans return to anchor the unit heading into the 2022 season, with both Hugh Ryan (62 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 3 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 QBH) and Dae’one Wilkins (22 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 blkd kick) set to garner the starting jobs at both free and strong safety, respectively, heading into fall camp.

Ryan finished off the 2021 season as Furman’s top tackler, registering 62 stops on the season and started all 11 games for the Paladins at free safety. Ryan enjoyed his best performance of the season in Furman’s loss at Chattanooga, posting a season-high nine stops.

The Irmo, S.C., native also posted eight tackles in a pair of games against VMI and East Tennessee State. Ryan’s lone INT of the season came in a 43-42 setback at Western Carolina. Through three seasons as a Paladin thus far, Ryan has posted 112 tackles and four INTs, and will likely compete for all-league laurels this fall.

Furman senior strong safety Dae’One Wilkins

Wilkins is one of the most experienced players on the defensive side of the football for the Paladins, as the redshirt senior started the final six games of the season at the ‘spur’ position for the Paladins. He is not only one of the best athletes on the defensive side of the football, but also one of the unit’s hardest hitters. He’ll be a playmaker for the Paladin secondary this fall and made the transition from ‘spur’ linebacker-to-defensive back during the spring.

He is a veteran of 30 games played, and has made 64 tackles, six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, recorded six pass deflections, blocked a kick, and has recorded a sack.

Wilkins blocked a field goal in Furman’s season-opening win at North Carolina A&T. In each of Furman’s final two games against VMI and Samford, he recorded three tackles in each of those contests.

Competing with Wilkins to replace DiMarcus Clay at strong safety in fall camp will be Kam Brinson (23 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 passes defended). Brinson is another potential playmaker in the Paladin secondary, and has seen action in 20 games, with a pair of starts in his Furman career.

The 5-10, 186-lb redshirt junior logged action in 10 of 11 games for the Paladins last season, seeing action at both strong safety and on special teams last season. Brinson has played strong safety each of the past two seasons after originally playing cornerback in his rookie campaign with Furman back in 2019.

Also slated to factor in at safety this fall include redshirt sophomore Jack Rhodes (11 tackles), as well as plenty of younger performers that will look to make an impact

Others that could log action this fall include true freshman Caleb Williams, redshirt freshman and preferred walk-on Justin Hartwell, true freshman Charles Ingram V, true freshman Tre McCleod, redshirt freshman DJ Durham Jr., and redshirt freshman Will Kobuszewski will all be vying for action in the Paladin secondary this fall, providing depth at safety and corner.

Williams, Ingram and McCleod are a trio off the more notable additions to the secondary, as all three were part of Furman’s most-recent signing haul. Williams is a 5-10, 180-lb, native of Tampa, FL, by way of Tampa Jesuit (6A) High School, and chose Furman over offers from both Gardner-Webb and Bryant, respectively.

Williams played both cornerback and safety while at Tampa Jesuit, and played a leading role in a 15-0 season, which saw his program finish off perfection with a 35-29 win over Pine Forest to close out the title-winning campaign.

He finished off the stellar campaign by recording 110 tackles, six INTs, nine pass deflections, and recovered three fumbles. He was a two-time all-state selection by the Florida Coaches Association.

Ingram is a 5-11, 180-lb, native of Nashville, TN., by way of Ensworth HS, which has been a major pipeline for Paladin talent over the years. The Music City product will have a chance to factor in head coach Clay Hendrix’s plans immediately this fall and joins the Paladin football program following his outstanding prep career.

The standout defensive back committed to Furman following offers from Kansas, Syracuse, Army, Richmond, Harvard, and Eastern Kentucky. Ingram saw action at cornerback, safety and running back, respectively, during his time at Ensworth.

He garnered all-region honors following helping Ensworth to a 7-5 mark as a senior and was also a 2021 all-state selection. Ingram was the recipient of the Tennessee East-West All-Star West Defensive MVP honor, as well as being honored with the National Football Foundation’s William P. Lawrence Award. He finished his career with 41 and two INTs, while rushing for 1,060 yards and 12 scores during his prep career.

McCleod rounds out the rookies with a chance to see action immediately. The Darlington, S.C., product chose Furman over Navy, Air Force, Army, and Fordham.

He committed to Furman last July and played his prep football at Trinity Collegiate School (SCISA-3-A) where he logged action at both defensive back and running back, respectively. He was the recipient of the Region II Offensive Player of the Year in 2021 following a campaign, which saw him rush for 1,466 yards and 19 TDs, while also hauling in three scores as a receiver out of the backfield.

The first-team SCISA-3A All-State selection as an athlete and was also a Prep Redzone FAB 50 All-State selection following a season which saw him lead Trinity Collegiate to an 11-2 record and state runner-up finish. As a member of Trinity’s defense in 2021, McCleod finished with 82 tackles, picked off six passes, and forced a fumble.

Previewing the Paladin Special Teams:

One of the areas that is seemingly always been solid throughout the tradition of Furman’s success is its special teams unit, which is led by an outstanding lineage of place-kickers, and heading into the 2022 season, there’s a bit of uncertainty following the departure of Timmy Bleekrode for the University of Nebraska.

Bleekrode handled both the place-kicking and punting duties last fall for the Paladins, and both jobs will be open for competition when fall camp rolls around in early August.

Capable candidates to replace Bleekrode at place-kicker this fall for the Paladins include North Carolina State transfer Ian Williams, Axel Lepvreau, Sebastian Stubblefield, Noah Rios, Truette Tumey, Evan Cooley and Dawson Jones are likely to compete for the kicking and punting duties heading into camp.

Williams is likely the favorite to handle both responsibilities, as he joined the Paladin football program back in May.

The 6-3, 232-lb native of Charlotte, N.C., by way of Weddington HS, spent the past two seasons at North Carolina State, where he appeared in one game as a specialist. He will have three years of eligibility remaining. The lone game in which he saw action for the Wolfpack last season came against Florida State, which he recorded a kickoff of 65 yards in a win over the Seminoles.

While Williams could handle both the kicking and punting responsibilities this fall, Tumey is an impressive true freshman punter from Houston, TX, that could also find himself in the mix at punter this fall. The 2021 graduate of 4A Episcopal High School served as a place-kicker and punter, respectively, during his prep career, where he connected on 9-of-12 PATs and all three field goal attempts as a senior, while averaging 41.0 yards-per-punt in an abbreviated senior season.

He was also an accomplished soccer player during his time at Episcopal High School, garnering team MVP honors on the pitch as a sophomore. He was a finalist for the Houston Touchdown Club Specialist of the Year as a senior.

The good news for the Paladin special teams unit is the return of Lepverau, who will likely once again handle the kickoff responsibilities for the Paladins this fall.

Lepvreau is coming off a strong campaign handling the kickoff responsibilities for the Paladins in 2021, kicking off 57 times and averaging 58.4 yards-per-kickoff, with 20 touchbacks and only two kicks sailing out of play.

He attempted a 62-yard potential game-winning field goal at Western Carolina, which fell short, as the Paladins came up one point short, 43-42, in Cullowhee last fall.

Other strengths include long snapper, where redshirt sophomore Julian Ashby returns to the fold, as does reserve wide receiver and senior Luke Bynum, who will handle the responsibilities as the place-holder on Paladin field goal and PAT attempts this fall.

The Paladins also have some good experience in the return game, where wideout Wayne Anderson Jr. (22.8 YPR) and running back Kendall Thomas (15.5 YPR) return to the fold.

Final Analysis: If Furman can solve its issues under center, the Paladins have a chance to get back to winning football and could realistically challenge for a Southern Conference title and playoff berth once again this fall. The strengths on offense include an offensive line that has two of the best in the league at their respective positions, in offensive tackles Anderson Tomlin and Pearson Toomey, who were both selected preseason All-SoCon. Add to that, the Paladins have one of the most experienced centers in the SoCon, in Evan Jumper, and it could be the best offensive line head coach Clay Hendrix has had since returning to his alma mater to become the head coach in 2017. The defense should once again be especially stout, touting its most experience along the defensive front, as well as in the defensive backfield. I expect to see the Paladins to make more than a little noise in the SoCon this fall.

2022 Schedule Wins and Losses Predictions:

Sept. 1 vs. North Greenville W
Sept. 10 at Clemson L
Sept. 17 at East Tennessee State* L
Sept. 24 at Charleston Southern W
Oct. 1 vs. Samford* W
Oct. 8 at The Citadel* W
Oct. 15 vs Western Carolina * W
Oct. 22 at VMI* W
Oct, 29 vs. Chattanooga* L
Nov. 12 at Mercer* W
Nov. 19 vs. Wofford* W

Final Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-3, 6-2 SoCon