Fourth-ranked Furman won its 63rd game in the in the now 103-game series with heated rival The Citadel, 28-14, in a game that lacked the emotion of a rivalry that is most often referred to as among the most heated in FCS football, with a crowd of 12,157 fans on-hand on a beautiful early fall Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.
The Paladins improve to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Southern Conference play, while the Bulldogs remain winless in 2023, falling to 0-6 overall and 0-3 in Southern Conference play.
Not counting the COVID-19 season in 2020-21, the 0-6 start matches the worst start to a season for The Citadel since 1965, when the Bulldogs duplicated the 2023 start to a campaign with an 0-6 start.
That 0-6 start of ’65 was just four years removed from the first of four Bulldog SoCon titles, which was won under head coach Eddie Teague in 1961. The Paladins have now taken three-straight wins in the league’s most-contested rivalry in the Southern Conference.
Traditionally, Furman has struggled at times in recent seasons coming off an off week, although that wasn’t going to ever be a viable excuse to explain going through the motions against an arch-rival to his head coach, who was part of some heated rivalry games for the Bulldogs as a player and has been a part of 30 now as a player or head coach.
“We’ve got to clean up... We’re happy to be where we are, but we’ve certainly got a challenging road ahead, without any question,” head coach Clay Hendrix said in the press conference following the 14-point win.
Furman’s leading rusher continued to be its quarterback. Tyler Huff was once again Tyler Huff. He rushed it nine times, gaining 94 yards on nine carries. He was also solid in the passing game, completing 19-of-24 passes for 146 yards and a pair of TDs and one INT.
Huff’s ability to find yards on the ground has been something that has come in handy this season, as ever since the Kennesaw State game Dominic Roberto sustained an injury that has nagged him ever since. It’s something that, however, offensive coordinator Justin Roper had hoped he wouldn’t necessarily have to rely on as much this season.
However, when the play broke down, which they often have through the first five games and did on more than a few occasions Saturday, Huff made the defense pay with his running ability. The graduate transfer and veteran signal-caller broke off a season-long 39-yard run that got Furman off to a strong start on what would turn out to be its final scoring drive of the day.
That’s some good news, considering the running back position is suddenly a unit that is quickly becoming a depleted unit due to injuries, as Dominic Roberto came into the game less than 100% and now with No. 2 running back Jay 'Quan Smith having gone down with an apparent injury of a serious nature in the win over the Bulldogs, it is now an area of concern for Hendrix heading into the Paladins’ gauntlet, which will see the Purple and White on the road the next couple of weeks, with games on the road at both Samford (3-3, 2-2 SoCon) and SoCon unbeaten and 17th-ranked Western Carolina (5-1, 3-0 SoCon).
Clay Hendrix addressed the health concerns at running back in the postgame press conference.
“We’ve got a guy like Wayne Anderson Jr. [wide receiver and former Furman RB] …so we have some options there…But yeah that is a concern…But what I am more concerned with is when we don’t block who we are supposed to and jumping offsides.”
Huff had a pair of scoring passes on the day, with Nick Cannon hauling in his first-career scoring pass for the Paladins, while Luke Shiflett scored his very late in the first quarter of play to give the Paladins their first of four trips to the end zone on the sun-splashed, brisk fall afternoon at Paladin Stadium. Shiflett would end up finishing the contest with two catches for 22 yards, while the Paladins got three receptions for 32 yards from Kyndel Dean and a pair of catches for 24 yards from talented redshirt freshman Ben Ferguson.
For the game, the Paladins were able to hold the Bulldogs to just 278 yards of total offense, including only 39 yards on 28 rush attempts. It was a stark contrast to what we've seen the Bulldogs do on the ground against the Paladins in past seasons, even during an era when some form of the option or wishbone wasn’t the favorite mode of operation. All told, the Paladins held a 345-278 edge in total offense, while boasting a 199-39 edge in total rushing yards.
Huff’s opposite Graeson Underwood had arguably his best game as a passer this season for The Citadel. He finished the contest completing 18-of-33 passes for 226 yards with a pair of INTs.
Aside from Huff’s 94 yards on the ground, the Paladins got 77 tough yards and a touchdown on 18 carries from Dominic Roberto. With Cannon’s third quarter scoring catch, it marked the 18th different Paladin to have caught at least one pass this season.
How It Happened
Furman’s off week led to an off day, but in some ways, that was okay, however, what was revealing is the Paladins have a long way to go if they are going to chase down those preseason expectations. The good news, despite defeating The Citadel by only 14 points, the game never felt as if the Bulldogs were going to threaten the Paladins from the outset.
Still, it was a strange set of circumstances that would ensue over the course of the 103rd meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs.
Fortunately for the preseason favorite Paladins, it was good enough against their arch-rival, who is seemingly getting better under first-year head coach Maurice Drayton but still taking baby steps as a program.
With that said, the standard for measured success and improvement this season for Clay Hendrix’s Furman Paladins is much different than of its arch-rival in 2023. There was already a large margin between Furman and The Citadel coming into matchup. Back in 2018 and 2019, those seasonal standards of expectations were relatively level as both came in with comparable talent and strength.
The Paladins not only have Southern Conference title aspirations, but also national title aspirations. Those words haven’t been used in a phrase outside the team’s goals in maybe 18 years. With that said, Saturday’s game was one of mixed emotions for the Paladins, with coach Hendrix and players glad for the win, but disappointed in how they got there.
The Citadel is struggling to find a victory at all, so small victories on a stats sheet or on margin of defeat on a scoreboard are places to start, even though the latter is not acceptable in terms of ever being verbally spoken. Still, you must take confidence and momentum you can glean from any positives at this point if you’re The Citadel and first-year head coach Maurice Drayton—even if it means a moral victory.
The Citadel took the ball on the opening drive and drove into Furman territory, with a pair of offsides penalties against the Paladins extending the game’s opening drive for the Bulldogs, and it would be something that would grate on the nerves of Furman head coach Clay Hendrix all afternoon. The Paladin defense would hold strong, however, as Graeson Underwood’s pass was incomplete on a 4th-and-2 play at the Furman 20.
However, on Furman’s first snap of the afternoon, Huff’s pass was batted into the air by Bulldogs defensive end Jerome Bass, and it was intercepted by The Citadel defensive back Jamond Dubose at the 20 and he gained a yard to the 19 to give the Bulldogs outstanding field position early in the contest.
After Cooper Wallace netted four yards on the first carry, the Paladins were drawn offsides once again to give the Bulldogs the football at the Paladin 10. Wallace got two more yards to the eight, however, on the next play Furman brought pressure from the edge, as defensive end Jeremiah Jackson threatened to light up Underwood, forcing an ill-advised throw and there to pick it in the back of the end zone was picked off by Cally Chizik to thwart a bizarre opening to the 103rd meeting between the two rivals.
Chizik’s INT would set up Furman’s only points of the opening quarter of play, as the Paladins drove it 80 yards in 12 plays, using 5:30 of the quarter’s remaining 5:36 of clock to post their first of four TDs of the day. After an inauspicious start for Huff, he settled down and found Luke Shiflett on a little slip-screen pass and he found an opening in the Bulldog defense, doing most of the work with his legs, scampering 14 yards for the score and a 7-0 Paladin lead.
The weird events would continue in the second quarter, as neither team could get synched offensively. Furman took over the ball early in the second quarter, and the Paladins drove it 43 yards on 11 plays only to be turned back at The Citadel 18 on a 4th-and-1 after Dominic Roberto was stopped for no gain.
It was The Citadel’s turn for a one-play drive, as on the very first play after taking over the football following a big stop on 4th-and-1 by the Bulldog defense, Underwood’s pass was thrown aimlessly into a dangerous area, and that’s because he likely forgot that Travis Blackshear played on that side of the field, and while he’s receiver wasn’t paying attention to his errant toss, the All-American cornerback from Savannah was, and he snagged it to give the Paladins the football at The Citadel 20 after a returning it two yards. It marked Blackshear’s second INT of the season and was his 11th pickoff of his Paladin career, moving into a three-way tie for `12th on the school’s all-time career INTs ledger.
Like The Citadel’s possession in the opening quarter after picking Huff’s first pass of the game and taking over in nearly identical field position, the Paladins could turn The Citadel mishap into points. Forced to attempt a manageable field goal, the normally consistent Ian Williams’ 43-yard field goal attempt was wide left keeping Furman’s advantage at just seven. The Paladins had a drive of negative five yards on four plays after Blackshear’s pick.
As if there were a script being followed that only the two teams were privy to, the Bulldogs promptly responded with negative eight yards on just three plays and an odd looking 38-yard punt out of bounds off the boot of James Platte.
With the ball back and just under five minutes in the opening half, Furman would finish off the drive with its second TD of the afternoon, as Myion Hicks took and looked as he tripped into the end zone for the 1-yard score, giving the Paladins a 14-0 lead with just 1:21 left in the half.
The most drama in the contest for most would take place over the final 1:21 of the opening half, however. The Bulldogs strung together another promising drive, looking as efficient in execution as the rifle guard drill team, as Underwood completed three-straight passes to get the ball to the Furman 40. Two plays later, Furman held Wallace to just a two-yard rush, however, a 15-yard facemask penalty put the Bulldogs in business again at the Furman 22 and gave the Bulldogs the automatic first down.
Initially, it looked like Underwood’s next pass was a completion, however, it was overturned on replay, as Ryan Presnell’s foot was out of bounds on the reception before he had full control of the football. After two more misfires by Underwood, it brought up a 4th-and-3 play at the Furman 15. The Bulldogs went to their bag of tricks, using the swinging gate field goal formation to bumfuzzle the ‘Dins, as punter James Platte found long snapper Jack McCall for a gain of 13 yards and a first down to the Paladin two, and the Bulldogs burned a timeout with 22 seconds left in the half.
After the timeout, Underwood’s pass was incomplete and that would be followed by Wallace being brought down for a one-yard loss by Matt Sochovhka and Evan DiMaggio. The Citadel burned its final timeout of the half with 14 seconds remaining and on third-and-goal, Pesnell took the reverse pitch and found all kinds of troubles, as he lost 22 yards, and most importantly, the football, as the Paladins took over the football to thwart the promising drive and carry all the momentum into the break.
The second half would see the Bulldogs continue to try and trick the Paladins. An onsides kick to begin the half backfired, as it was recovered by the Paladin defensive Caleb Williams and returned two yards to the Bulldog 43. From there, Furman needed just eight plays to cover the needed yardage for a 21-0 lead. Dominic Roberto took a handoff from Huff, pulverized a Bulldog would-be tackler at the two, and rumbled in for a 5-yard score to give the Paladins a comfortable three-score lead with 11:33 remaining in the third.
After The Citadel went three-and-out on its next offensive possession, Furman would put its final points on the board of the afternoon, ultimately rendering the game in the category of being academic. Capping the scoring for the game for Furman would be an unlikely candidate, as redshirt junior wide receiver Nick Cannon took a short pass from Huff and burst through The Citadel defense for a 6-yard score. It was 28-0 Paladins with 4:48 left in the third.
The Bulldogs would win the battle the rest of the way, 14-0, but the war had already been decided. The Citadel tacked on TDs via a 5-yard run from Johnny Crawford III with just 72 seconds remaining in the third, while Underwood’s 1-yard scoring plunge midway through the fourth provided the final points of the afternoon.
Up Next for Furman and The Citadel
- Furman will be on the road to face defending SoCon champion Samford next week. Following wins over East Tennessee State (W, 42-28) and at Wofford (31-10), the Bulldogs now cling to hopes of winning the rest of their games to have a chance at the FCS playoffs. Kickoff between Furman and Samford is set for 1 p.m. EST next Saturday at Seibert Stadium.
- The rivalry tour continues for the Bulldogs, as they will hope to garner their first win of the 2023 season when they host VMI in the Military Classic of the South. Kickoff for that game is set for 1 p.m. EST at Johnson-Hagood Stadium and is the Nexstar Southern Conference game of the Week.
- Furman’s win was its 16 in its last 20 games. The Paladins have now won 16 of their last 18 games against FCS competition.
- The Paladins have now won seven-straight games at Paladin Stadium
- The crowd of 12,157 was the largest to take in a Furman football game since the 2011 season when 12,856 took in the Paladins game against Appalachian State in what turned out to be a 20-10 win by Furman.