By Greg Peterson, Contributor
After a heartbreaking and rough 0-6 start, the Furman Paladins finally found the win column after demolishing Southern Conference foe East Tennessee State (ETSU) 52-7 Saturday, Oct. 15. The win stopped a nine-game losing streak and was the Paladins largest margin of victory in SoCon play since defeating VMI, 65-7, in 2001.
The Paladins offense was clicking on all cylinders, compiling a season high 511 yards in total offense. Senior quarterback Reese Hannon led the offensive attack with 297 passing yards and four touchdowns.
“Reese has played very well. His excellent play and leadership has really helped the team,” said sixth-year head coach Bruce Fowler.
Excellent quarterback play and a greatly improved run game contributed to the Paladins offensive success. Furman had 198 yards on the ground and three touchdowns, and were led by junior running back Antonio Wilcox who ran 10 times for 57 yards.
“When you are able to run the ball better, it opens up the passing game. With the success we have had on offense we are able to open up the playbook and play with more confidence with both the offense and defense playing very well,” Fowler said.
The Paladins scored on each of their first eight drives. Hannon completed his first 13 passes and went 16-18 as he threw touchdown strikes of 28, 9, 56 and 21 yards as the Paladins jumped to a 28-0 lead. The Dins closed the first half when senior running back Richard Hayes III plunged in the end zone for a two-yard score giving Furman a 35-0 lead going into intermission.
After holding ETSU on their opening drive of the second half, the Paladins marched down the field and scored on a Wilcox 10-yard plunge. The Paladins furthered their lead with sophomore running back Triston Luke one-yard rush and junior kicker Jon Croft Hollingsworth’s 46-yard field goal with 7:51 remaining, making it 52-0.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Paladins were led by redshirt sophomore defensive end Chinedu Okonya with eight tackles and two sacks. Senior linebackers Bryon Johnson and Carl Rider came back from injuries and combined to have 14 tackles.
The Paladins continued their excellent offensive play and stout defense against SoCon opponent VMI, defeating the Keydets 24-10 Saturday, Oct. 29.
After a 511-yard offensive output against ETSU, the Paladins put up 506 total offensive yards against VMI and had a season high 215 rushing yards. Hannon threw for 291-yards and was 18-27 with two touchdowns, including an 83-yard strike to freshman wide receiver Thomas Gordon.
VMI got off to an early 3-0 lead, but the 83-yard touchdown strike to Gordon made it 7-3 with 8:19 left in the first quarter. Furman strengthened the lead with a nine play 92-yard drive that capitalized in a Wilcox 11 yard rushing touchdown, making it 14-3 with around nine minutes remaining in the first half. A Hollingsworth 26-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining in the half put the Paladins ahead 17-3.
The Paladins continued to dominate in the second half, and went on another nine play, 92-yard drive that ended with Wilcox’s 8-yard touchdown reception from Hannon, resulting in a 24-3 lead with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
VMI put together a 77-yard drive and scored on a two-yard touchdown with 11:39 left in the final quarter, making it 24-10, but the Paladins stout defense prevented the Keydets from scoring again.
The Paladins defense held a Keydet squad that averaged 21.9 points per game to only 10 and forced two turnovers. Senior cornerback Nick Miller and senior linebacker Byron Johnson both picked off VMI quarterback Austin Colling. Forcing turnovers has brought an added intensity to the Furman defense that has played a huge role in the team’s victories.
Looking to gain on their momentum, both sides of the ball are becoming much more aggressive in their playing style as the Paladins look to close out the season on a high note.
“We now have more confidence and got our attacking style back. We are swarming the football on defense,” said Fowler.
After the two impressive road wins, the Paladins faced long-time SoCon rival Wofford College at the friendly confines of Paladin Stadium Saturday, Nov. 6. The game marked the 90th time these teams met representing the oldest football rivalry in the conference.
As the fourth quarter was winding down, the Paladins and Terriers were both tied, 27-27. After a Paladin three-and-out and punt with 4:39 remaining in the game, Wofford conducted a seven play and 64-yard drive that resulted in a Lorenzo Long touchdown, making it 34-27 with 49 seconds left in the contest.
Unfortunately, the Paladins did not have enough time to come back and lost the game, 34-27.
Quarterback Reese Hannon led the Paladins offense, who completed 27 of 40 passes and had 305 passing yards and two touchdowns. Senior safety Trey Robinson anchored the defense with a career high 15 tackles and a forced fumble.
After only having one turnover in the past two games, Furman had three fumbles and one interception.
The Paladins will be back in action for Senior Day Saturday, Nov. 12 at 4:00 p.m in Paladin Stadium against Western Carolina.