Senior running back Jerodis Williams racked up 370 all-purpose yards (career-high 239 rushing yards, 131 kick return yards) and three TDs (two rushing, one kick return) en route to leading Furman to a 45-24 Southern Conference win over Western Carolina on Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.
With the win, Furman improves to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in SoCon play, while Western Carolina drops to 1-4 overall and 0-3 in SoCon action.
Williams was simply sensational for the Paladins, rushing for a career-high 239 yards on just 18 carries, including a pair of scores via the ground, which covered 89 and two yards, respectively. The 239 rushing yards by Williams were the fourth-most in school history.
Williams also tied a Paladin Stadium record with a 100-yard kickoff return for a score, and the senior from Prattville, Ala., finished the afternoon with 131 yards on two kickoff returns
Furman amassed 619 yards of total offense, including 389 yards on the ground, as the Paladins eclipsed the 600-yard barrier and rolled up its most rushing yards since the 2003 regular-season finale against Chattanooga in a 63-35 win.
Furman won the toss and took possession of the football. The Paladins wasted little time in moving the ball down the field against the Catamounts, and it was Williams who quickly went to work on his career day.
On Furman's first drive alone, Williams posted 42 yards on three carries, but on his final carry of the drive, which was a 14-yard jaunt to the Catamount 1-yard line, Western stripped the ball loose and it squirted free into the end zone before eventually going out of the back of the end zone for a touchback, and WCU took over at its own 20.
Like Furman, WCU threw quite an offensive punch on its opening drive of the afternoon, matriculating 74 yards in 10 plays, but had to settle for a Richard Sigmon 23-yard field goal after the drive fizzled out in the Paladin red zone, giving Furman a 3-0 lead at the 9:19 mark of the first quarter.
The lead for the Catamounts, however, would literally last a matter of seconds, as on the ensuing kickoff, Williams made up for his fumble by returning the kickoff 100 yards for a score and give the Paladins a lead they would not relinquish, taking a 7-3 lead.
After the two teams could get nothing established on each of their next two drives, Furman would get the ball back early in the second quarter, and it took only one play for Williams to give the Paladins a 14-3 lead.
He took a toss sweep from quarterback Reese Hannon off the left side, and he took it 89 yards to the house for an 11-point Furman lead just a little over 30 seconds into the second quarter. The run by Williams was the second-longest in school history.
Williams would post his third score of the half on Furman's next offensive possession. The Paladins' defense once again forced the Catamounts to punt the football away, and mounted an 11-play, 88-yard drive that culminated with a Williams two-yard plunge with 6:42 remaining in the half, giving the Paladins a comfortable cushion at 21-3.
Williams went into the locker room having already rushed for 201 yards on the ground, tying the school record for most yards in a half by a Paladin running back. Former Furman running back Louis Ivory rushed for 201 yards en route to a school-record 301-yard outburst in leading the Paladins to an astonishing 45-10 win over top-ranked Georgia Southern in 2000.
After the Furman defense held once again, the offense went back to work, and the Paladins got their third rushing score of the half when Hank McCloud bolted 20 yards around the right corner for a score to make it 28-3 with 3:28 to play in the half.
The Catamounts would finally stop the bleeding a little bit on the ensuing drive, with Michael Vaughn's three-yard scoring running completing 12-play, 80-yard drive with 35 seconds remaining in the half, cutting the Furman lead to 18 points, at 28-10.
For the second time in the first half, the Paladin kick return team did an excellent job of sealing off one side of the field, this time allowing McCloud to return the ball 36 yards just inside Catamount territory, at the 48 with 28 seconds remaining in the half.
On the second play from scrimmage, Hannon's pass was on the money to senior wideout Will King for a 20-yard gain to set up a 45-yard Ray Early field goal to extend Furman's lead to 31-10 entering the halftime locker room.
WCU had the ball on the opening possession of the second half, and that would set the stage for Furman's first defensive score of the season.
On a 3rd-and-9 play at his own 46, Catamount quarterback Eddie Sullivan faced heavy pressure from blitzing linebacker Mitch McGrath, and intended receiver Deja Alexander slipped on a comeback route.
The ball was intercepted by Furman defensive back Marcus McMorris and returned 52 yards for a score to give the Paladins a 38-10 lead a little over two minutes into the second half.
Hannon, who has passed for over 200 yards in each of the four games he has played for the Paladins, got his arm into the act in the second half. After passing for only 41 yards in the opening half, Hannon exploded for 189 yards after the break to finish the day completing 13-of-21 passes for 230 yards and a score.
Hannon's fourth straight 200-yard passing effort matches a string of four consecutive 200-yard passing performances by his predecessor, Chris Forcier, who passed for 200 more yards against PC, Western Carolina, Samford and Wofford en route to garnering First-Team All-SoCon accolades last fall.
Hannon's lone scoring toss of the day came came with a little over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, connecting with his favorite target since taking over under center, as he found King on a drag route for a 70-yard scoring strike to make it a 45-10 game with 3:08 to play in the third quarter.
The Catamounts would tack on a pair of fourth-quarter TDs: a 15-yard scoring connection between Sullivan and Nate Stephenson and a Vaughn one-yard plunge to set the final score at 45-24.
Overshadowed in Williams' big afternoon for the Paladins was McCloud, who also established a new career-high for rushing with 123 yards on 20 carries, including a TD.
King had another strong day catching the ball for the Paladins, leading them in receiving for the third time in three games, with five catches, 143 yards and a TD. King came into the contest ranking second in the SoCon in receiving yards per game (66.0).
Preseason Sports Network First Team All-America tight end Colin Anderson hauled in four passes for 45 yards to finish with another solid performance.
The Catamounts amassed 420 yards of total offensive output against the Paladins, with 236 yards coming through the air and 184 on the ground.
Sullivan connected on 20-of-33 passes for 220 yards with a TD and a pair of INTs, while rushing for 104 yards on 16 carries. In total, Sullivan accounted for 334 yards of total offense on his own.
Kannoris Benson caught four passes for 75 yards to lead the receivers for the Catamounts.
Defensively, Furman was led by Gary Wilkins who had nine stops, while Furman All-SoCon free safety Nathan Wade had eight stops and an INT.
Furman returns to the gridiron next Saturday, traveling just 40 minutes up I-85 to Spartanburg to meet undefeated and No. 5-ranked Wofford in a key Palmetto State SoCon clash, while Western Carolina returns to Cullowhee in search of its first win over Georgia Southern since 1994.
Furman has now won seven straight games against Western Carolina, as well as having claimed 17 of the past 19 meetings. The Paladins have now won nine straight over Western Carolina in Greenville, dating back to the 1994 season.
Williams is now alone in eighth all-time on Furman's rushing charts, having rushed for 2,572 yards in his four seasons as a Paladin. He needs 81 yards to surpass former Paladin and current Minnesota Viking Jerome Felton's 2,652 career rushing yards, established from 2004-07.
Williams' 100-yard TD return for a score on Saturday was the first kick return for a score since Sederrick Cunningham's 96-yard return for a score in a 50-20 loss at Georgia Southern last season. It was the first 100-yard return for a score since William Middleton's had one at Wofford in 2006, and the first 100-yard return for a touchdown inside the friendly confines since Brian Bratton's did the same in a 28-22 win over Appalachian State back in the 2001 campaign.
The loss marked Western Carolina's 17th straight Southern Conference setback dating back to a win over The Citadel in October 2010.
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