Kennesaw, GA — Furman graduate senior quarterback Tyler Huff accounted four 316 yards total offense (237-passing, 79-rushing) and rushed for four touchdowns, as the No.7 Paladins held off FBS-transitioning Kennesaw, 31-28, handing the Owls just their eighth home loss (41-8) in its ninth season of existence Saturday night at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
With the win, Furman concludes non-conference play with a 2-1 overall mark, while the Owls fell for the second-straight outing to Southern Conference opposition, falling to 1-2 overall on the young season. The Paladins also improved to 3-1 all-time against transitioning to the FBS, with 2013 wins over Appalachian State (27-10) and Georgia Southern (16-14), while suffering a 2016 loss at Coastal Carolina (L, 21-41).
Huff was magnificent all night under center for the Paladins, as he connected on 24-of-32 passes for 237 yards without an INT. He also rushed for 79 yards on 19 attempts, which included TD runs of 1, 28, 4, and 14, and 28 yards, respectively. Most importantly, he helps marshal a Furman offense that finished the contest without a turnover. Huff’s four touchdowns set a new Furman mark for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
KSU’s Jonathan Murphy was also impressive under center, as he finished the game by connecting on 17-of-31 passes for 308 yards, with two touchdowns and an INT in the contest. He helped lead an Owls offense that out-gained the Paladins, 490-396, in the contest. Murphy also added 63 rushing yards to finish the contest with 371 yards of total offense.
The Owls were explosive in the final quarter of play, out-scoring Furman 21-10 and out-gaining the Paladins, 169-83 in total offense over the final 15 minutes of football.
Dominic Roberto turned in his top rushing performance of the season for the Paladins, as he finished with 73 yards on 16 carries, while hauling in a pass for nine yards.
Huff’s top target in the Paladin passing attack was Joshua Harris, who hauled in six passes for 47 yards, while a pair of true freshmen shined for a third-straight outing in 2023. Ben Ferguson hauled in four aerials for 34 yards, while Colton Hinton also caught four passes for 31 yards.
"Colton [Hinton] and Ben [Ferguson] have been huge for so far," Furman quarterback Tyler Huff said. "You know Ben got hurt week one and he’s had to battle a little bit of an injury and he’s getting back to 100% still and we’re trying not to rush him back into it but it makes my job easy when you have players like Colton and Ben…I think Colton has surprised us all and I mean…he’s a pretty little guy but he’s not scared to put his head down and get a first down," Huff added.
KSU was paced on the ground by Gabriel Benyard, who rushed it six times for 63 yard and a touchdown, while also being the top target in the passing game, hauling in eight passes for 136 yards and pair of scores to finish the night with an impressive 244 all-purpose yards.
Defensively, the Paladins were again exposed a little by the big play through the air, though in a different fashion, with most of it seemingly taking place in the final quarter.
"We're getting better in that area, but sometimes we're out there on islands,” Furman nickel safety Cally Chizik said. “To some people that looks like well oh we’re just getting beat or a miscommunication…but we’ve got to do better…we have to step up and as we move forward, we’ll get better and we’ll adjust and the coaches do a great job of that and we do a great job of responding to it,” Chizik added.
Furman’s defensive efforts were led by safety Kam Brinson, who totaled eight stops and a pair of pass breakups, while preseason All-America linebacker Braden Gilby posted seven stops and a tackle-for-loss.
Paladin defensive backs Travis Blackshear and the aforementioned Chizik came up big in moments when they had to, helping the Paladins preserve the huge road win. Blackshear posted six tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a pair of pass breakups, while Chizik added one tackle and the game-winning INT of Murphy.
KSU defensive back and leading tackler entering the game—Deontre Morris—led all defenders with 16 stops.
How It Happened
In every college football season, a team, at some point, faces adversity. For the FCS seven or eighth-ranked Paladins—depending on which poll you look at—that adversity came in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s road win at Kennesaw State, which boasted a gaudy 41-7 record at Fifth Third Bank Stadium coming into the contest.
In case you weren’t following last season, Furman had a similar road test at Charleston Southern in its final non-conference game, and while it failed to play its best football, it responded in the clutch to deliver some of the game’s most impactful plays when pressured to do so. That was again the case a little under a year later on the outskirts of Atlanta, facing Kennesaw State team with a lot more tradition and pedigree.
With that said, Furman went into the final frame holding a seemingly safe 21-7 lead and had allowed the Owls to find their way back into the contest with an area that plagued the Paladins in last Saturday’s loss to South Carolina, only this time the ball spent less time in the air as Rattler’s long balls last week, and this time is was more the speedy Gabriel Benyard sprinting into small apertures in Furman’s defense.
Following a Tyler Huff 4-yard scoring run with 1:27 remaining in the third quarter, the Owls got the ball back late and needed a spark, and it would be Benyard that would provide it, getting the Owls back into the game, and making things nervy for the FCS-ranked Paladins for the rest of the night. To Furman’s credit, it showed maturity and poise in the face adversity, which is something that is obviously borne from moments in which the Paladins had to learn the hard way, such as the heartbreaking 41-38 playoff loss to Incarnate Word last December.
With the ball back late in the quarter, Murphy completed a pass to Murphy over the middle for about 15 yards, and Benyard would to the rest with his legs by out-sprinting the Paladin defenders for the remaining 46 before being run down from behind by Furman’s all-conference cornerback Travis Blackshear, which ultimately saved a score. It only, however, delayed the inevitable for three plays, as PJ Daniels plunged in from a yard out following runs of two and 11 yards from Murphy to get the Owls back to within a touchdown, at 21-14, with an eternity (13:56) remaining in the game.
Furman would start its next drive in a great field position, thanks in large part to a 50-yard kickoff return by Wayne Anderson Jr. and a 15-yard penalty which was tacked on against the Owls for a horse collar tackle. Then the spotlight was once again on Huff.
In the face of adversity is usually a time when Furman’s Huff performs at an optimal level, and that was certainly true of the graduate senior signal-caller on Saturday night. The native of Orange Park, FL, led the Paladins quickly down the field to restore the two-score lead. It took the Paladins just five plays to cover the needed 79 yards, with Huff’s 14-yard scoring, which even saw him flagged for “taunting” as he made the Owls defensive back in the corner of the end zone just how serious he and the Paladins were about making some noise this season. Ian Williams’ PAT allowed the Paladins to go up 14 again, 28-14, with 12:49 left.
KSU and Murphy weren’t going anywhere, however. Taking the ball over its own 19, KSU used a 31-yard pass completion from Murphy-to-Michael Benefield out of the backfield on a little wheel route to get the Owls well within striking distance of another touchdown, as KSU’s weird but effective, hybrid-pistol offense was now fully alive. After Benefield long catch got the Owls to the Furman 3, a holding penalty on the next play took points off the board after Benefield had scored. Murphy, however, found an open Benyard again and he hauled in the 13-yard strike from his graduate senior quarterback, making it a 28-21 contest with 9:34 left.
After a couple of three-and-outs for each offense, the Owls got the ball back trailing by seven with just under five minutes left. After gaining five yards on the first two plays, Benyard sprinted 49 yards up the middle for a score, sending a majority of the 6,993 in attendance into a frenzy, as Connor Cummings connected on the PAT to knot the score, 28-28, with 3:29 remaining.
With the ball back, Huff and the Paladin offense took on the look of a determined bunch, with emotion showing after every play. Huff started with a 21-yard completion to Ferguson and then followed with a short eight-yard dump off to Mason Pline, who swatted away an Owl would-be tackler like he was a mosquito trying to bite his arm.
Furman would have loved to have had a touchdown; however, it was more than happy settling for a field goal, which would give it the lead with Kennesaw having already been forced to use all three timeouts and under a minute of game time remaining to operate with. The Paladins did eventually settle for an Ian Williams 19-yard field goal, with just 21 seconds remaining, taking a 31-28 lead.
KSU would get the ball back with just 19 precious seconds remaining after astonishingly took Gabriel Benyard two seconds to travel 35 yards on the ensuing Furman kickoff. Murphy found Carson Kent for a gain of nine yards and up got the ball near midfield at the KSU 46, however, on his next throw and with time winding down, Cally Chizik went up and high-pointed the ball for the game-winning pick.
The play was reviewed after an initial battle for possession of the ball, but Chizik’s INT would stand. However, either result—a Chizik INT or a KSU reception—would have likely resulted in a Furman victory, as the Owls, who were out of timeouts, wouldn’t have had a chance to run another play.
The fourth quarter was in complete contrast to how most of the night went for the Owls offensively, however, as KSU was hemmed in by a stout Paladin defensive effort through the first three quarters of play.
Furman scored the only touchdown of the third quarter, which came when Huff scored on a 4-yard run around the corner to make it a 21-7 Furman lead, capping a 7-play, 55-yard drive with just 1:23 left.
In the opening half, it was KSU that would actually get on the scoreboard first when Murphy found Benyard for a 32-yard pitch-and-catch a little less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Furman would respond with back-to-back scoring drives to take the momentum into the halftime locker room.
First, Huff and the Paladins marched 75 yards in 15 plays, capped by the first of Huff’s four scores—this one his shortest—a 1-yard plunge with 5:51 left in the first half.
Following a three-and-out forced by the Furman defense, Huff and the Furman offense were starting to click. Turning over plays at a rapid rate of tempo at this juncture, the Paladins had used the pass to set up the run brilliantly from the outset of the possession, which originated at its own 31.
Following Huff pass completions of 11 and 4 yards to Colton Hinton and Ethan Harris, he then handed the ball off to a freshly taped Dominic Roberto, who bulldozed his way for another 14 yards and into KSU territory. Huff found Joshua Harris on a quick slant pass to get the Paladins down to the KSU 28.
After scoring his shortest TD run of the afternoon a couple of minutes earlier, Huff now followed closely behind his leading bulldozer named Roberto to score on his longest of four rushing scores of the day, scampering 28 yards for the score to make it a 14-7 Paladin lead with just 2:37 remaining in the half.
Furman has now won 14 of its last 16 games against FCS opponents and will host Mercer (2-1) Saturday in what will be both teams Southern Conference openers. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. EST at Paladin Stadium.
- The SoCon improved to 8-5 all-time against Kennesaw State
- With Furman’s 31-28 win over Kennesaw State, it helped even the all-time series between the two, avenging a 52-42 setback against the Owls back in 2016.
- Furman improved to 3-1 against FBS transitional programs
- Tyler Huff set a program record for Furman quarterbacks for most rushing scores in one game
- After causing six turnovers in its season opener against Tennessee Tech, the Paladins have only caused two turnovers in their past eight quarters of football