Furman 31, Elon 17
Furman's defense finished the day with six sacks and held a potent Elon offense to just 363 yards of total offense and 17 points en route to posting a 31-17 win on Saturday afternoon at Rhodes Stadium.
The win snapped a four-game losing skid to the Phoenix, as well as snapping Furman's three-game losing streak this season, dating back to the Paladins' 45-24 win over Western Carolina back on Sept. 22. The win improves the Paladins to 3-6 overall on the campaign and 2-4 in league play, while Elon falls to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in SoCon play.
The 363 yards allowed by the Furman defense was the second-lowest total allowed by the Paladin defense, and the game also marked the second time in nine games this season that the Furman defense has held an opponent to less than 100 yards rushing in a game as the Furman defense limited Elon to just 80 yards on the ground.
The six sacks by the Furman defense marked the second time in Bruce Fowler era that the Paladins have recorded six quarterback hits, matching that total in a 14-7 win at Chattanooga last season. Five of those six sacks came on the last possession of the game for the Elon offense.
Not to be overlooked was the performance of Furman senior running back Jerodis Williams, who finished the afternoon rushing for 95 yards and a pair of scores on 21 rush attempts, while also hauling in a pair of passes for 11 yards in the win.
Williams entered Saturday's contest needing just 87 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard for the second-straight season, and with his 95 yards on Saturday, now has 1,008 rushing yards on the campaign. He becomes the first Paladin running back to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back campaigns since the school's all-time leading rusher Louis Ivory went over the 1,000-yard rushing barrier in both the 2000 and '01 campaigns.
With his performance on Saturday, Williams inches closer to Furman's Top 5 all-time rushing list, having now rushed for 2,935-career yards going into the Paladins' final two games against Appalachian State and The Citadel. Williams needs 104 yards in the final two games to surpass Larry Robinson's (1973-76) career rushing total of 3,038 yards for fifth-place on the list.
Furman's defense would set the tone from the outset of the game, and after Elon took the ball after winning the coin toss, the Furman defense was able to hold the Phoenix to a three-and-out, which quickly allowed Jerry Rice Award candidate Reese Hannon and the Furman offense to go to work.
Hannon, a freshman signal-caller from Greer, S.C., would turn and hand the ball to either Williams or Hank McCloud on the first seven plays of the afternoon, but on a 2nd-and-7 play from the Elon 27, he faked the hand-off to Williams and found freshman wideout Gary Robinson for a 23-yard connection off the play-action to get the Paladins inside the five-yard line.
Two plays later, Williams plunged in from a yard out to give the Paladins a 7-0 lead.
Elon would tie the game on its third possession of the day, as the Phoenix got a positive start to the drive after a 17-yard punt return by Jeremy Peterson to the Elon 41.
The Phoenix ground game would gain 50 of the team's 80 ground yards on the day on the first five plays, with Akron transfer Karl Bostick logging most of the work, finishing with 28 of those rushing yards on three carries.
The scoring though, would be left up to Elon's bread-and-butter, which is it's potent passing attack, led by quarterback Thomas Wilson and Walter Payton Award candidate wide receiver Aaron Mellette, who hooked up for the final nine yards of the drive to tie the contest, 7-7, with 1:13 remaining in the opening quarter.
It would be as close as the Phoenix would get the remainder of the afternoon.
The Paladin offense would offer a swift response, mounting a 75-yard drive on the ensuing possession to take a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
The Paladins converted two key third down plays in the drive with Hannon completing an 8-yard pass to junior wide receiver Ryan Culbreath on a 3rd-and-5 play to get the Paladins down to the Elon 38.
Five plays later, Hannon and the Paladins faced another third down play, with the scenario being a 3-and-7 from the Elon 24. Once again, Hannon would hook up with the reliable Culbreath for a 20-yard gain to get the Paladins inside the five for the second time on the afternoon. Williams found pay dirt for the second time on the afternoon with a 4-yard scamper with 10:16 remaining in the half to give the Paladins a 14-7 lead and cap an 11-play, 75-yard drive.
It would be the opportunism of the Paladin defense that ultimately would swing the momentum of the game in favor of the Paladins midway through the second quarter.
It looked as if Elon was once again poised to tie the football game following the Furman scoring drive having moved the ball 69 yards down to the Paladin 6-yard line.
However, on a 1st-and-goal play Bostick got the hand-off from Wilson on a stretch play to the right side, but the Paladin defense swarmed the play and knocked the ball free from the transfer running back, and it was picked up by Furman sophomore defensive back Marcus McMorris, who returned the ball 95 yards for a score, giving the Paladins a 21-7 lead with 7:48 to play until the half.
The play provided a huge momentum swing in the game. For McMorris, it was his second TD of the season, as he also had a 52-yard INT return for a score in Furman's other Southern Conference win, which was a 45-24 decision against Western Carolina.
After Elon tacked on a 24-yard field goal by Adam Shreiner with 5:04 to play in the half to make it a 21-10 game on the Phoenix ensuing drive, the Paladins would get their biggest play on the offensive side of the football for the half courtesy of freshman fullback Ernie Cain.
Hannon connected with All-America tight end Colin Anderson for a 28-yard pickup to get the Paladins just inside Elon territory at the Phoenix 47. On the very next play, Cain took a hand-off on a trap play and ran it out the back side where the field was wide open, out-racing a couple of Elon defensive backs en route to giving Furman a 28-10 lead with 4:29 to play in the half and that would be how the teams would enter the halftime locker room.
Furman, which got the ball to start the second half, would get its only points of the second frame on a 22-yard field goal by Ray Early to give the Paladins a 31-10 lead with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter.
The Furman defense would make maybe its biggest defensive stand on the Elon's first possession of the second half. It appeared Shriner had tacked on his second field goal of the day, cutting Furman's lead to 18, at 31-13. However, Furman was flagged for running into the kicker, giving the Phoenix a fresh set of downs after Phoenix head coach Jason Swepson opted to take the points off the board and try and let his offense score seven.
But the Paladin defense would once again stand tall, as after the penalty, the Phoenix had the ball at the Furman 8-yard line. A pair of Tracy Coppedge runs got the Phoenix down to the three, but after Bostick rushed for no gain on 3rd-and-goal, Swepson decided to leave the fate of the drive once again in the hands of his senior quarterback in hopes of seven points.
But on fourth and goal, Wilson found tight end Chris Harris towards the right corner of the end zone, but Harris could not keep his foot inbounds, so the Paladin defense held.
Elon would tack on another score in the fourth quarter, as Wilson tossed his second scoring pass of the day to Mellette from two yards out with 9:21 to play, making it a 31-17 game.
Furman's defense would hold strong the rest of the way and the offense was efficient, taking precious time off the clock.
On Elon's final drive, the Paladins would amass five of their six sacks. Two Paladins finished the day with a pair of sacks, as sophomore linebacker Gary Wilkins posted a pair of sacks, while senior Ricky Lang also notched a pair of QB tackles to account for four of the Paladins' six on the afternoon. McMorris and junior defensive end Shawn Boone rounded out the sacks total on the day for the Paladins with one apiece.
The Paladins held a 367-363 advantage in total offense, including a substantial 106-yard (186-80) advantage in rushing yards.
Furman's Hannon finished the day connecting on 11-of-19 passes for 181 yards with an INT, with his favorite target being sophomore Gary Robinson, who hauled in three passes for a career high 80 yards. Culbreath also had three catches for 34 yards. Cain finished with a career-best 60 rush yards and a TD on just six carries.
The Paladins' defensive efforts were led by sophomore linebacker Gary Wilkins, who finished just shy of double digits, with nine stops, with two of those being sacks. In addition to his 95-yard fumble return for a score and one sack, McMorris added a pair of tackles.
For Elon, Wilson connected on 23-of-33 passes for 283 yards and a pair of scoring tosses. His favorite target was Mellette, who hauled in 14 passes for 194 yards and two scores. Elon's ground efforts were led by Bostick, who rushed 10 times for 44 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Elon was paced by linebackers Blake Thompson and Jonathan Spain, who each finished the day with 11 stops to tie for game-high honors.
The win for the Paladins means they avoid becoming the first Furman football team since 1972 to finish a season with less than three victories.
Furman will have an off week before returning to the gridiron in two weeks for "Black Saturday" on the road at No. 15 Appalachian State, while Elon will be on the road next week at The Citadel.