By Forest Stutling, Sports Editor
After an 0-2 start to the 2015 season, the Paladins found their stride against Central Florida as they beat the Knights 16-15 in Orlando, Fla. Sept. 19. It was the first time since 1999 Furman has beaten an FBS school. Junior tight end Duncan Fletcher said “it was a great experience to be a part of.”
“Coming off the field everybody just started hugging and in the locker room there was nothing but celebration,” he said.
The last victory over an FBS school was in Chapel Hill, N.C. when the Paladins ousted the UNC Tar Heels with a sound 28-3 defeat. This game, however, was vastly different.
It was a defensive struggle from the start. Thirteen minutes passed before the first points of the game were scored by Central Florida. Neither team was able to surpass 300 yards of total offense on the night, as Furman tallied 269 and the Knights put up 270. Fletcher said “our defense is what kept us in the game.”
The Paladins didn’t get on the board until the end of the second quarter, when redshirt senior running back Ernie Cain scored on a 1-yard run to make the score 12-7 in favor of the Knights. After halftime, Furman was able to keep that momentum going as redshirt junior quarterback Reese Hannon connected with one of his favorite targets, redshirt junior wide receiver Andrej Suttles, for a 61-yard completion and a touchdown to put the Paladins up 13-12.
Hannon completed 15 passes on 29 attempts for 188 yards and one touchdown. Suttles led receivers with five catches for 118 yards including the scoring grab. Freshman running back Triston Luke had the best rushing performance for the Paladins with seven carries for 34 yards.
But the most important play came in the fourth quarter with the Paladins trailing 15-13, when sophomore kicker Jon Croft Hollingsworth stepped up and drilled a 55-yard field goal to put the Paladins up with 12 minutes left in regulation. The 55-yard field goal was not only a personal best for Hollingsworth but a school record as well, beating the old mark of 54 yards by Scott Beckler in 2007. Hollingsworth said it was a feeling one doesn’t feel too often.
“It was an awesome feeling that you get maybe a few times in a career, and for it to be a kick to go ahead versus an FBS team made it so much better” Hollingsworth said.
Fletcher, who watched from the sideline as the kick went up and through, was ecstatic.
“We had the most energy on the sideline after the field goal than I’ve ever experienced at Furman,” Fletcher said.
Both Fletcher and Hollingsworth agreed that this game, along with the first two, are great stepping stones for the rest of the season.
“As a team we now have a ton of momentum heading into SoCon play,” Hollingsworth said. “We know we can compete with anyone in the country, especially at the FCS level.”
“To be competing with the number one team in the nation in FCS and two FBS teams, that gives us a lot of confidence seeing that we can play at that level,” Fletcher added.
In the team’s first SoCon game of the 2015 season, Furman beat Virginia Military Institute 24-21.
The Paladins dug themselves a 14-point deficit in the first half until redshirt senior Ernie Cain got the Paladins on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Furman forced VMI to punt on the opening drive of the second half, when Paladins defensive end Brian Ross blocked the punt and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game at 14-14.
After touchdowns by both teams to even the score at 21, late in the fourth quarter senior cornerback Reggie Thomas stepped in front of VMI’s quarterback’s pass to intercept it and give possession to the Paladins.
Just as he did the week before against UCF, Hollingsworth won the game for the Paladins with a 42-yard field goal.
The paladins host in-state rival South Carolina State Oct. 3 at 7:00 p.m.