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Furman finds its 'motivation' for first road win of the 2020-21 spring season

Furman 17, East Tennessee State 13

With limited fans allowed in sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, student-athlete's have had to find a way self-motivate all across intercollegiate athletics. 

Trailing 10-0 at halftime to East Tennessee State, Furman found its motivation on the way to the locker room at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium, as ETSU's players stood and  excitidely greeted and reminded the Paladins of the halftime score, as they paused to wait the for the Paladins to proceed to their locker room before proceeding to head towards its own. The only problem for ETSU was Furman opted not to get on the Young buses parked outside its locker room and head for Greenville with the game only halfway completed. 

"We took it personally. That’s exactly what we needed,” Furman senior RB Devin Wynn said. “It got our blood pumping. Everybody just went out in the second half seeing red and ready to hit somebody in the mouth."

"He wants to carry the ball 100 times but I have to remind him we have other guys sometimes," Furman head coach Clay Hendrix added."  "You walk off the field at halftime and that bunch is lined up over there letting us have it the whole way through and if that doesn't stir us up...I know it was nothing to do with me and honestly I wasn't too happy the way we played in the first half," Hendrix added. 

For the second-straight week, No. 15 Furman found its way to a win in the second half, overcoming a 10-0 halftime deficit to get a 17-13 road win over ETSU, improving to 3-1 overall and in league play, while ETSU evened its ledger at 1-1. 

The Paladins found themselves in a hole thanks in large part to a strong opening half by the ETSU defense, which kept the Paladins off-balance, and a healthy dose of Quay Holmes and a couple of big plays in the passing game made by signal-caller Tyler Riddell. 

The Bucs held a 10-0 halftime advantage on the strenght of out-gaining the Paladins 178-97 in the opening frame, which included holding a a 120-35 advantage in pass yards. In fact, Riddell, who finished the day completing 22-of-35 passing for 207 yds, with an interception, completed 11 of his 12 throws without a pick in the opening half of play. 

As has been the case since the start of the 2019 campaign, Furman second-year defensive coordinator Duane Vaughn made the necessary adjustments at the break, helping the Paladins limit the Bucs to  just 101 yards and three points in the final two quarters on Saturday. Through four games this season, the Paladins have allowed just 23 second half points, which averages out to a meager 5.75 points in the latter half in 2020-21.

 Furman's stingy second half defense dates back to 2019, has the Paladins limit foes to just 64 second half points in its last 16 games in the second half. Over that same span, the Paladins are yielding just 4.0 PPG since the start of the 2019 campaign. 

Furman's secondary again put in a gold star performance, and it was senior cornerback Darius Kearse, who recorded his third interception in four games this spring, that once again highlighted the Paladins' efforts on the back line Saturday.

"In practice we harp on being physical, and assert our dominance back there in the secondary," Kearse said. "We're not really big guys and the other team is going to see that and they're going to try and take advantage of that but we try to assert our dominance early and make the plays that come to us."

One of the play's that came directly to Kearse came directly after Furman took a 14-10 lead, as the Bucs took a shot deep on a 2nd-and-9 play from their own 26. Kearse picked off a deep ball from Riddell, which was intended for Julian Lane-Price, sealing off the talented pass-catcher and coming up with another key big play for the Paladin defense  at a critical point in a game during this unprecendented spring season. 

Additionally, Kearse added five tackles and a tackle-for-loss. Following his 12-yard return on the interception, ETSU was penalized for a horse-collar tackle, setting up the Paladins in an even better position. It would eventually lead to Timmy Bleekrode's longest field goal of his young career, as he knocked through a 47-yard attempt to give the Paladins a 17-10 lead with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter. It would prove to be the final points of the day, providing just enough cushion for the defense to help close out Furman's first road win of the 2020-21 spring campaign. 

It would be one of several key pass breakups recorded by the Furman secondary in the contest. Another came on a 2nd-and-8 at the ETSU 32, with a little less than eight minutes remaining, as Riddell's pass to Lane-Price appeared to be complete, however, similar to his pass breakup in the season opener against Western Carolina in a key moment in the spring opener, Furman 'spur' linebacker Dae'One Wilkins came in at the last moment to make a veteran play, poking the ball free from Price at the last moment, which nullified a drive-extending first down for the Bucs. Two plays later, the Bucs were punting the ball back to the Paladins. 

While Furman owned the ETSU in the second half, it was the Bucs who started the day by taking the game to the Paladins. 

ETSU got on the board on its second drive of the day, as Quay Holmes carried it 20 yards for the score, giving the Bucs a 7-0 lead with 1:48 remaining in the opening frame. The Bucs picked up a couple of key third downs on passing plays, with one of those being a 30-yard pitch and catch from Tyler Ridell-to-Julian Ware Price on a third-and-five play, getting the Bucs into Paladin territory for the first time in the contest. The 83-yard drive resulted in three chunk plays, with Holmes’ 20-yard scoring jaunt finishing off the first points of the day for either team. That would remain the score at the end of the first frame.

Late in the half, the Bucs were took over the football in their best position of the day, and got one first down to set up a 38-yard field goal following a nine-play, 25-yard drive to make it a 10-0 game, and that would remain the score as the two team's entered the halftime locker room.

Furman got the ball to open the second half, and made the most of the opening drive of the second frame, as the Paladins needed just four plays to drive 75 yards and get on the scoreboard with the first of two Devin Wynn third quarter touchdowns on an 11-yard scoring run. Wynn's second scoring run was indicative of the type attitude the Paladins adopted on both sides of the ball throughout the second half, which was one of a physically-imposing nature, taking the game to the Bucs. 

The senior from Greensboro, GA., trucked ETSU  Kalion Delince a good four yards deep into the end zone on a punishing five-yard rumble, which will surely draw comparisons to Jerome Felton's punishing run vs. Appalachian State in the 2005 FCS Semifinals, which saw the former Paladin and future Buffalo Bill and Minnesota Viking run over Mountaineer All-American and future Cincinnati Bengal Corey Lynch en route to a 31-yard  second quarter scoring run. Wynn's scoring run brought an end to an impressive, nine-play, 73-yard Furman scoring drive, which saw the Paladins take the lead for good, at 14-10, with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter.

Bleekrode's 47-yard field goal following the Kearse interception came with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter, closing out the Paladin scoring in the contest. The Paladin defense was able to do the rest, as it limited the Bucs to just a Tyler Keltner 30-yard field goal with 13:16 remaining to close out the scoring for the afternoon.

In a battle of the SoCon's top two running backs, Wynn got the better of the challenge, as he finished the contest by rushing for 113 yards and a pair of scores on 15 catches, while also hauling in two passes for 39 yards, including a key 27-yard catch, which helped set the tone for the second half on Furman's first second half drive. Wynn rushed for 90 of his 113 total yards in the second half alone. It was Wynn's third 100-yard rushing performance in four games this spring. 

Holmes, who got off to a quick start in the opening half for the Bucs after rushing for 46 yards and a score in the opening half, was held to 21 yards over the final two quarters of play. The talented All-SoCon Bucs junior running back also caught four passes for 21 yards. 

Paladin quarterback Hamp Sisson finished the afternoon completing  15-of-22 passes for 120 yards, with an interception. Sisson was almost an escape artist at times in the contest, eluding what was a ferocious ETSU pass-rush. 

As far as receiving was concerned, the Paladins were led by tight end Ryan Miller, who had three catches for 13 yards. Meanwhile, Zach Peterson hauled in a pair of passes for 24 yards. 

In addition to Holmes for the Bucs, Lane-Price hauled in two passes for a team-leading 41 yards, while running back Jacob Saylors made three grabs for 21 yards. 

The Paladin defense was once again led by Nick Kuzemka, who posted eight tackles, 1.5 TFL and a forced fumble, while cornerback Travis Blackshear and safety Hugh Ryan added five tackles alongside Kearse's aforementioned five stops. 

ETSU was paced defensively by Mike Price's game-high 10 tackles, while linebacker Donovan Monroe followed up his strong performance in the spring opener against Samford with six tackles, an interception and a quarterback hurry. 

The Bucs held a narrow 297-292 in total yards. 

In a second half that was highlighted by yellow laundry on the turf, the Bucs costs themselves in a big way in the second half of the contest, committed 12 of their 13 penalties in the second half alone. It cost ETSU 103 yards. Furman was penalized just three times for 26 total yards. 

“There’s no excuse,” ETSU head coach Randy Sanders said of his team's penalty yardage. “We’re young and we do some things, but honestly the penalties were some of our older guys. We’ve got to get our older guys, when you get in those situations, to perform right. I think they were trying to compete. They were trying to do the best they can to give great effort and be an example for the young guys. But giving great effort and getting a penalty isn’t a good example to set,” Sanders added. 

Furman returns to Paladin Stadium  next Saturday, when it hosts unbeaten Chattanooga (2-0, 2-0 SoCon) in a key conference matchup in what is highlighted as the Ingles SoCon Game of the Week. Kickoff is slated for high noon at Paladin Stadium. The Bucs will be in the Palmetto State next week to face The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff set for 1 p.m. 

SoCon Roundup (More to follow)




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