GREENVILLE, S.C. — For the first time since 2005, Furman has tasted victory against the Appalachian State Mountaineers with a 20-10 win over the nation's third-ranked team Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.
For Furman, a six-game losing streak against its arch-rivals and five long years of frustration were brought to an end.
Furman hardly seemed like a team that would knock off two top-five foes for the first time in the regular season since the Division I-AA/FCS poll was implemented in 1982. After opening the season with a 30-23 loss at Big South foe Coastal Carolina, Furman has forged maybe the greatest single turnaround in a season in school history.
In many ways, the 2011 season for Furman resembles the 1999 campaign, which saw Furman open the season with a 24-22 setback to Division II Elon. After an off-week, the Paladins throttled William & Mary, 52-6, and that would be the beginning of a seven-game winning streak which would include a win over a No. 3-ranked Appalachian State (35-21) and ACC member North Carolina (28-3). That season would yield Furman's first SoCon title in nine years, as the Paladins would share the league crown with both the Mountaineers and Georgia Southern.
Furman will now find itself in the rankings for the first time under Fowler and for the first time since an Oct. 23 loss to Chattanooga last season in Greenville. More importantly for the Paladins, they became a very real contender for the 2011 FCS playoffs, and now Furman controls its own destiny in a bid to make its first appearance in the post-season since the 2006 campaign.
Much like it did against Wofford a couple of weeks ago, Furman imposed its will from the outset, jumping out to a 20-0 lead and never looking back en route to the 20-10 win.
The Paladins took advantage of momentum early, when it seemed that the Mountaineers looked poised to take control of the game driving the ball into Paladin territory. On a second down play, ASU quarterback Jamal Jackson decided to go to the end zone, lofting a pass in the direction of tight end Ben Jorden. The ball was tipped by Furman safety Greg Worthy and intercepted by Ryan Steed, who grabbed his third INT in as many weeks to thwart ASU's opening drive.
That would set up Chris Forcier and the Furman offense at its own 15-yard line after Steed's return out of his own end zone. It would take the Paladin offense seven plays to drive 85 yards, culminating with a five-yard TD pass from Forcier to give the Paladins a 7-0 lead with 8:36 remaining in the opening quarter.
Later in the opening quarter, the Paladins would strike once again. This time, it would be Tersoo Uhaa's three-yard TD run, which capped a five-play, 45-yard drive to give the Paladins a 14-0 lead with 3:26 to go in the first quarter.
Furman would pad its lead even more late in the second quarter after an Appalachian State missed 38-yard field goal. This time, it would take the Paladins only one play to find the end zone following the ASU miscue. With the ball sitting at the 21-yard line, Forcier would find wideout Sederrik Cunningham behind the ASU defense for a 79-yard scoring strike, giving the Paladins a 20-0 lead after a missed extra point from Ray Early, giving the Paladins a substantial advantage with 5:56 remaining in the half.
The six-time defending league champs would get on the board just before the halftime break, as Travaris Cadet would find paydirt with 30 seconds remaining in the half from two yards out, capping a 14-play, 58-yard drive, creating a 20-7 ASU deficit heading into the locker room.
Neither team could find its footing offensively in the third quarter, with the Mountaineers having the better of the play. ASU would get on the scoreboard late in the third quarter as Drew Stewart would connect on a 41-yard field goal to make it a 20-10 game with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter,
Though it failed to garner any points as a result of a 31-yard field goal miss by Early, a 13-play, 68-yard drive by the Paladins melted nearly half of the fourth-quarter clock away, taking 7:30 off the game clock. That would leave only 2:22 remaining on the game clock for ASU to make up a 10-point deficit.
But in ASU's bid to score quickly, it would suffer its fourth turnover of the afternoon on a Jamal Jackson fumble at the Furman 38-yard line, ultimately ending the Mountaineers' chances of reeling in the Paladins. From there, Furman's offense would run out the remaining 1:22 off the clock to seal its first win over Appalachian State since Oct. 8, 2005.
With its win over No. 3 Appalachian State on Saturday, Furman needs just one win to ensure itself of a playoff bid for the first time since 2006. To do that, Furman needs to beat an Elon team that it has dropped three straight games against dating back to Nov. 3, 2007, as the Paladins posted a 52-49 win over the Scott Riddle-led Phoenix that afternoon. With a win over Elon next Saturday, Furman would garner its seventh win against Division I competition. A win over the Phoenix would likely mean that Furman's result against Florida would not hold that much weight in terms of playoff selection, as a 7-4 mark with the resume Furman has should be enough to qualify for the post-season.
Elon (4-5, 2-4) at No.17 Furman (6-3, 5-2)
Quick Preview: Furman will meet Elon in the final SoCon game of the 2011 season for the Paladins as the two will be squaring off for the 15th time on Saturday in a series that began in 1920 with Furman handing Elon a 33-0 setback in Greenville. While Furman has owned the series, Elon has claimed the last three contests including a 30-25 win at Rhodes Stadium last season that ended any chance of the Paladins making a playoff appearance last season.
Saturday's matchup will also feature the SoCon's only two first-year head coaches in Furman's Bruce Fowler and Elon's Jason Swepson.
Furman enters Saturday's Senior Day showdown at Paladin Stadium as one of the hottest teams in FCS football, riding on the crest of a three-game winning streak that includes wins over a couple of top-five foes, in No. 4 Wofford and No. 3 Appalachian State. Furman has faced three top-five opponents in the regular-season for the first time in school history (the other was No. 1 Georgia Southern/Oct. 15). The two wins over top-five foes in the regular-season marks the first time Furman has ever accomplished such a feat in the regular-season in school history.
Elon comes into Saturday's contest from an off week and looks to put an end to a three-game losing streak, which includes setbacks at Samford (43-31), Chattanooga (42-18) and at No. 9 Wofford (48-28) a couple of weeks ago. At stake for Elon is an opportunity to post its third straight winning season with victories in its final two games of the 2011 season against Furman and at home next week against Appalachian State.
Elon will bring an impressive aerial attack to Paladin Stadium Saturday as the Phoenix lead the SoCon and rank 15th nationally in passing offense, averaging 274.7 YPG through the air this season.
Leading that passing attack are the league's top passer, Thomas Wilson (229-of-342 passing, 17 TDs, 18 INTs), and Walter Payton Award candidate Aaron Mellette (91 rec., 1,259 yds., 9 TDs, 13.8 YPR) at wide receiver. Furman was able to hold Appalachian State's Brian Quick in check for the most part last Saturday, as the All-America wideout was held to four catches for 60 yards.
The Paladins bring the fifth-best passing defense into Saturday's matchup, yielding 169.1 YPG through the air. Mellette had six catches for 107 yards and Elon passed for 430 yards in getting the five-point win at Rhodes Stadium last season.
Since giving up 50 points and 532 yards of total offense in a loss to Georgia Southern on Oct. 15, the Paladins have limited foes to a combined 38 points and 949 yards (average of 316 YPG) in wins over Wofford (26-21), Chattanooga (14-7) and Appalachian State (20-10). The Paladins defensive play might be best summed in the fact that it held the Apps to their lowest point total against a league foe since Oct. 16, 2004, when Georgia Southern defeated ASU 54-7.
The Paladins' 21 sacks have more than doubled last season's total and are four more than the last two seasons combined. In total, Furman ranks third in the SoCon in scoring defense (21.3 PPG), seventh in total defense (358.2 YPG), seventh in rushing defense (189.1 YPG), fourth in sacks (21), second in INTs (12) and lead the league in turnover margin (+10).
Leading that Paladin "D" this season have been preseason Buck Buchanan Award candidates Kadarron Anderson (103 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 1 FF), who currently leads the SoCon in tackles, and Ryan Steed (36 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 3 INTs, 7 PBUs, 1 blocked kick), who picked off the 13th pass in his career last week.
Elon brings a defense into Saturday's contest that has been pretty impressive thus far into the 2011 season. The Phoenix come into Saturday's road finale ranking eighth in scoring defense (33.0 PPG), fifth in total defense (339.4 YPG), eighth in rushing defense (221.6 YPG) and lead the league against the pass (117.9 YPG). The Phoenix also rank eighth in the league in sacks (14) and ninth in turnover margin (-20). The Phoenix have created 11 turnovers on the season, while posting 31 turnovers (18 INTs, 13 Fumbles Lost).
Furman has been an efficient offense this season, as the unit seems to improve with each passing week. The Paladins are led by the nation's most efficient passer in senior Chris Forcier (116-of-172 passing, 1,755 yds., 19 TDs, 5 INTs). Forcier's 19 TD passes this season are a SoCon standard. He completed 9-of-16 passes for 224 yards, with a couple of TDs and an INT in the win over No. 3 Appalachian State last week.
The Furman ground game is spearheaded by Jerodis Williams (166 rush att., 886 yds., 7 TDs, 5.3 YPC), while Forcier's favorite aerial target continues to be tight end Colin Anderson (32 rec., 536 yds., 6 TDs, 16.8 YPR). Williams needs just 114 yards in his final two games of the season to become the first Paladin running back to gain 1,000 yards in a single season since the feat was last accomplished by Hindley Brigham in 2003.
In total, Furman enters Saturday afternoon's contest ranking fifth in scoring offense (27.7 PPG), fifth in total offense (380.9 YPG), sixth in rushing offense (170.8 YPG), fifth in passing offense (210.1 YPG) and fourth in sacks surrendered (12).
Western Carolina (1-8, 0-7) at No. 10 Appalachian State (6-3, 4-2)
Quick Preview: Western Carolina will travel to Appalachian State to partake in the Battle For the Old Mountain Jug Between the Western North Carolina Mountain Rivals. The Catamounts will be looking to avoid going winless in league play for the third time in five seasons.
Saturday's meeting between the Catamounts and Mountaineers will mark the 76th meeting between the two rivals, with ASU holding a commanding 55-18-1 all-time series edge. ASU has claimed the last six meetings between the two dating back to a 30-27 setback in Cullowhee in 2004. ASU has had command of the series over the past two-plus decades, as the Black and Gold has won 25 out of the past 27 matchups between the two schools. WCU hasn't won in Boone since a 34-7 win in 1984.
Appalachian State will be looking to rebound from a 20-10 loss at Furman last Saturday, virtually ending its shot at a seventh straight SoCon title. At stake over the next couple of weeks will be qualification for the FCS postseason, as the Apps look to win their final two games against the Catamounts and the Elon Phoenix.
Coming into Saturday afternoon's showdown, the Mountaineer offense continues to show inconsistency and had one of its worst performances in league play since 2004 as Furman became the first league opponent to hold what has been a powerful ASU offense to just 10 points. The last SoCon team to accomplish that feat was Georgia Southern in Oct. of 2004, when the Eagles limited the Apps to just seven points in a 54-7 win in Statesboro.
Jamal Jackson (87-of-141 passing, 1,184 yds., 9 TDs, 5 INTs/57 rush att, 241 yds, 5 TDs, 4.2 YPC) suffered an injury late in Saturday's loss at Furman, but he should be ready to go when Senior Day rolls around. Jackson leads an ASU offense that ranks fourth in the SoCon in scoring (28.7 PPG), fourth in total offense (391.7 YPG), fourth in rushing (175.6 YPG) and fourth in passing (216.1 YPG).
Appalachian State wide receiver Brian Quick needs just eight yards receiving Saturday to become the school's all-time leading wide receiver. He currently sits at 3,117 yards receiving for his career and is chasing Rick Beasley's mark of 3,124 receiving yards, which by some has been called an "untouchable" receiving mark. Travaris Cadet (123 att, 584 yds, 5 TDs, 4.7YPC) continues to lead the ground efforts for the Apps this season.
The Catamounts enter the contest with one of the worst defenses in the country and in the history of the SoCon, yielding another 500-yard performance to an opponent in last week's 42-24 setback to the Wofford Terriers. Western Carolina comes in ranked 119th nationally in total defense, surrendering 506.8 YPG. The Catamounts are giving up 45.7 PPG, ranking 119th out of 120 teams in the FCS. WCU's defense is led by linebacker Rock Williams (90 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR).
ASU's defense comes into this week's contest having played pretty well of late, but have been known to give up the big play this season, which was the case in Saturday's loss at Furman. The Mountaineers rank sixth in scoring defense (23.8 PPG), sixth in total defense (350.4 YPG), fifth in rushing defense (168.6 YPG) and sixth in pass defense (181.9 YPG). The Mountaineer defense continues to be led by LB Jeremy Kimbrough (76 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, 2 FRs, 1 INT, 1 TD).
Western Carolina has had its moments on the offensive side of the ball this season and will bring a prolific passing attack to Boone on Saturday as the Catamounts rank second in the SoCon in passing offense (228.9 YPG), led by Zac Brindise (65-of-116 passing, 780 yds, 6 TDs, 4 INTs/37 rush att, 76 yds, 2.1 YPC), who has done a nice job since taking over for Brandon Pechloff. The Catamounts utilize the pistol offense.
No. 4 Georgia Southern (8-1, 6-1) at No. 9 Wofford (7-2, 5-1)
Quick Preview: Georgia Southern will travel to Wofford to take on the Terriers in a game that will likely decide the SoCon title. The good news for Eagle fans is the fact that they have won four straight games over the Terriers in Gibbs Stadium.
Georgia Southern won its last SoCon title in 2004 and was last crowned outright champion of the league in 2002. The Eagles have won seven SoCon crowns. Wofford is the co-defending SoCon champs, having claimed their only outright crown in 2003. Wofford will be in search of their fourth league title. The only way the SoCon title can be decided Saturday is with a win by GSU, who will be finished with league play this Saturday with one remaining against Alabama next week.
If Wofford wins, the league champion or champion(s) won't be decided until next week with the Terriers' regular season finale at Chattanooga. One thing is nearly certain—the SoCon will have a outright or co-champion not named Appalachian State for the first time since 2004.
The Eagles ended Wofford's run in the post-season last year, posting a 23-20 FCS quarterfinal win over the Terriers in Spartanburg. The win by the Eagles helped avenge a regular-season, 33-31 home loss to the Terriers at Allen E. Paulson Stadium. Saturday's matchup will mark the 18th all-time meeting between the two FCS rivals, with GSU holding a 10-7 all-time series edge. The fact that the past five matchups have been decided by a combined 14 points is reason enough to watch this one.
It will obviously be a matchup between two of the nation's top ground units, with the Terriers coming into Saturday's contest ranking No. 1 nationally (374.2 YPG) in rushing offense this season, overtaking Georgia Southern who led the nation for much of the season after GSU's loss at Appalachian State. Ever since that loss, GSU has ranked second nationally in rushing offense (323.8 YPG). GSU ranks second in the nation in scoring offense (38.1 PPG), while Wofford ranks third nationally in total offense (465.8 YPG).
With the proficiency for both teams on the ground, Saturday's matchup will feature two of the top running backs from the FCS in Wofford's Eric Breitenstein (200 rush att, 1,139 yds, 15 TDs, 5.7 YPC) and Georgia Southern's Robert Brown (123 rush att, 824 yds, 5 TDs, 6.7 YPC).
Breitenstein, a player who garnered preseason SoCon Player of the Year accolades, has lived up to that billing thus far, leading the SoCon in rushing. Breitenstein has rushed for 3,360 career yards ranking fourth on the school's career rushing charts. He will be playing his final regular season game in front of the home crowd on what will be an emotional Senior Day at Gibbs Stadium. In the playoff win at Wofford last season, Brown rushed for 50 yards on 17 carries on what was an efficient rushing effort from the Eagles.
The two teams are also led by heady, veteran quarterbacks. Wofford senior quarterback Mitch Allen (32-of-66 passing, 591 yds, 4 TDs, 6 INTs/109 rush att, 593 yds, 8 TDs, 5.21 YPC) is having another solid season as a starter, as is Georgia Southern starter Jaybo Shaw (43-of-80 passing, 946 yds., 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 25 rush att, 143 yds, 7.9 YPC). Both QBs are in their second seasons as starters for their respective schools.
The top two receiving options for each team coming into Saturday's game will be Brenton Bersin (19 rec, 338 yds, 2 TDs, 17.8 YPR) for Wofford, while slotback Jonathan Bryant (8 rec, 264 yds, 1 TD, 33.0 YPR) leads the Eagles' contingent of wide receivers coming into Saturday's contest. Both have speed and have effectively been able to get behind opposing defensive units this fall.
Saturday afternoon's showdown between the Terriers and Eagles will also offer us the chance to see two of the finest defensive units in all of FCS football. The Eagles come in ranking 27th nationally in total defense (327.4 YPG), including 13th nationally in scoring defense (18.8 PPG) and 19th in rush defense (115.8 YPG).
Leading the defensive charge for the Terriers will be their defensive line, which includes preseason Buck Buchanan Award candidate Ameet Pall (24 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 5 QBHs, 1 FR), while Alex Goultry (24 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 7.0 sacks, 4 QBHs, 1 FR ) is having an all-league season at the other defensive end position. Nose tackle Eric Eberhardt rounds out an all-league worthy trio for the Terriers up front. Wofford's 27 sacks lead the SoCon and rank 14th in the nation. In total, Wofford veteran linebacker Mike Niam leads the defense in total tackles, having posted 71 stops this season, while fellow LB Alvin Scioneaux's 16 tackles for loss leads the SoCon.
Like Wofford, Georgia Southern's defense is headlined by its defensive line, and in particular, nose tackle Brent Russell (38 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 2 QBHs, 1 blocked kick). Russell is joined inside by Roderick Tinsely (19 tackles, 1.0 TFL), while John Douglas (25 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU) and Javon Mention (21 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 5 QBHs, 1 blkd kick) have been strong at their respective bookend posts this season. The Eagle defense is led by safety Deion Stanley and linebacker Josh Rowe, as Stanley has posted 53 tackles on the campaign, while Rowe ranks just behind with 48. LaRon Scott (29 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 12 PBUs, 3 INTs) remains one of the nation's top cornerbacks.
Saturday afternoon's game shapes up to be, at least on paper, everything it's been billed to be. Will this be the sixth-straight game between the two SoCon rivals decided by a TD or less?
Samford (5-4, 3-4) at The Citadel (4-5, 2-5)
Quick Preview: It will be the “Battle of the Bulldogs” in Charleston this weekend, as the Samford Bulldogs travel to The Citadel in what wil be the final SoCon game of the season for both schools. The Citadel is coming off a 14-12 loss on Saturday at Georgia Southern. The Citadel defense did a masterful job in stopping the powerful GSU offense, holding the Eagles to just 320 yards of total offense on the day. Breakdowns in the special teams unit ended up costing The Citadel the road game, as they missed a potential game-winning field goal and had two extra points blocked.
The Citadel brings a stingy defense into Saturday's contest against Samford, as the Bulldogs currently ranking fourth in the SoCon in total defense (328.4 YPG). Leading that Citadel defense this season has been linebacker Rod Harland (86 tackles), who enters Saturday's contest fifth in tackles per game (9.6). The Citadel has been especially strong against both the run and pass, ranking fourth in the league in those respective defensive categories. The Citadel is allowing 164.2 YPG through the air, while allowing an identical 164.2 YPG on the ground.
Samford counters with an offense led by Dustin Taliaferro (182-of-294 passing, 1,900 yds, 12 TDs, 8 INTs), and the senior is having his best season since his freshman campaign. Taliaferro has some of the best receivers catching passes of any offense in the SoCon this season. His top target this season has been Kelsey Pope (56 rec, 607 yds, 5 TDs, 10.8 YPC).
When Samford has taken to the ground this season, it has relied on running back Fabian Truss (141 rush att, 799 yds, 7 TDs, 5.7 YPC). Overall, Samford enters Saturday's contest ranking third in the league in total offense (401.4 YPG), while ranking third in the SoCon in passing offense (227.3 YPG).
Meanwhile, The Citadel offense has continued to improve as the season has progressed with each week. The Bulldogs come into Saturday afternoon's contest ranking third in the SoCon in rushing offense (297.1), and continue to be led by quarterback Ben Dupree (20-of-42 passing, 182 yds., 0 TDs, 2 INTs/94 rush att, 545 yds, 6 TDs, 3.7 YPC) and running back Darien Robinson (94 rush att, 690 yds, 8 TDs, 7.3 YPC).
Samford has been inconsistent on the defensive side of the football this season and come into Saturday afternoon's contest with The Citadel ranking eighth in the SoCon in total defense (372.0 YPG).
The Bulldogs rank sixth in the league against the run this season (182.6 YPG).