Tyler Huff accounted for 233 yards of total offense and two TD responsibilities (1-passing, 1-rushing) as Furman claimed its first home playoff win since 2005, with a 31-6 win over Elon in the opening round of the FCS playoffs Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.
With the win, Furman improved to 10-2 and will move on to face No. 7 seed Incarnate Word in San Antonio on Saturday, Dec. 3 in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Elon finishes its 2022 season with an 8-4 mark. Kickoff between the Paladins and Cardinals is slated for 2 p.m. EST at Benton Stadium. Furman’s win over Elon was its seventh in succession. The Paladins head to the Lone Star State with a five-game road winning streak and return to the home state of several notable Paladins, including Wayne WR Anderson Jr. (Prosper, TX), DB Dominic Morris (Spring, TX), RB Kendall Thomas (Round Rock, TX), RB Myion Hicks (Desoto, TX) and RB Grant Robinson (Plano, TX), representing some of those names that will suit up Saturday for the ‘Dins.
The win by the Paladins helped them secure 10 wins in a season for the first time since 2005 when the Paladins completed the campaign with an 11-3 overall record. It was also Furman’s first home playoff game since playing Nicholls State in 2005, and the Paladins improved to 12-7 all-time in the FCS Playoffs at Paladin Stadium. The win over the Phoenix also snapped what had been a four-game losing streak to Elon in Furman’s home venue.
The story of the game was Furman’s defense, which was able to make Elon’s balanced offense one-dimensional, as the Paladins held the Phoenix to just 77 rushing yards on 28 rush attempts, sacking Elon quarterback Matthew McKay on four occasions in Saturday’s win. It marked the third time this season that the Paladin defense has been able to hold an opponent without a touchdown, as the Phoenix joined both North Greenville (W, 52-0) and VMI (W, 41-3) in that distinct company. The point total by Elon also marked the fewest ever allowed by a Furman defense in its 37-game playoff history.
Furman ended the contest with a slight advantage in total yards, owning a 391-315 advantage in total offense, which included holding a significant 251-77 edge in rushing offense.
The Paladins, which did have an impressive and balanced effort in the opening round playoff win, and it was led as usual by quarterback Tyler Huff, running back Dominic Roberto, and All-American tight end Ryan Miller.
Huff finished the contest by connecting on 16-of-26 passes for 140 yards and one TD, while he was Furman’s second-leading rusher, finishing with 93 yards and one TD on only 10 attempts.
"Our defense has done a tremendous job all year and they have picked us up at times when we [the offense] have been slacking and they did again today and to hold an offense like that to six points is incredible and watching them play hard gives the offense a little oomph and we got to back them up…Sometimes we feel a little bad when the defensive is pulling all the weight and we’re slacking and not putting up points, but when we’re playing team ball like this, it’s hard to lose and we’re playing phenomenal right now and I’m proud of our defense." — Tyler Huff
Roberto also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season for the Paladin ground attack, as he finished the day with 98 yards on 23 attempts. The redshirt junior running back now has 1,061 rushing yards this season.
For Miller, it was another big day catching the football, as he added his 28th career TD catch to add on to his school-record. His 30-yard catch in the first quarter marked his 12th receiving score of the season. All told, Miller finished the game with nine catches for 74 yards to go with his first-quarter scoring grab.
On the defensive side of the ball, Furman’s effort was once again a collective one. Linebackers Braden Gilby and Bryce McCormick added seven tackles apiece to lead the way, while Furman reserve defensive lineman and Lehigh transfer Xavier Stephens added 2.5 of Furman’s four sacks on the day, as he finished the contest with four total stops. Graduate senior defensive lineman Matt Sochovka added five stops, half-a-sack, and a pass breakup.
And though Furman didn’t block a field goal in Saturday’s win, it found a way to blow up a play on special teams, as Furman All-SoCon cornerback Travis Blackshear leveled Elon’s talented place-kicker Skyler Davis on an attempted fake field goal in the second quarter, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by safety Kam Brinson. Brinson’s fumble recovery marked his nation-leading fourth fumble recovery of the season.
Elon was led by quarterback Matthew McKay, who finished the contest completing 20-of-40 passes for 238 yards and rushed for 53 yards on 11 attempts.
How It Happened
Elon used a fake punt on 4th-and-1 to extend its opening drive of the game, and that would lead to the opening points of the contest, as Skyler Davis connected on a 51-yard field goal to give the Phoenix the early 3-0 lead with just under 11 minutes remaining in the opening quarter of play. The Davis attempt just grazed the cross-bar as it went through the uprights.
Furman would respond with a 30-yard TD pass from Tyler Huff-to-Ryan Miller to take a 7-3 lead with 6:17 remaining in the opening quarter, concluding what was a 6-play, 68-yard drive.
The Paladins would extend that lead to 14-3 early in the second quarter, as Devin Abrams took a handoff from Huff and raced around the right side for a 10-yard score, increasing the Paladin lead to 11 with 14:41 remaining in the half.
It would be the lone score of the second frame, as Furman maintained the 11-point lead entering the halftime locker room. Helping maintain that lead heading into the halftime locker room was one big play, which came once again from the Furman special teams. On a 4th-and-3 play and with Furman’s propensity for blocking field goals this season, the Phoenix opted to use a little trickery when lining up to attempt a field goal with 2:21 remaining in the opening half of play. However, Furman was more than equal to the task, as Elon holder Jeff Yurk attempted a backward lateral pass to place-kicker Skylar Davis. Furman’s all-conference cornerback Travis Blackshear blew up the play and de-cleated Davis, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by Paladin safety Kam Brinson to help the Paladins protect their 11-point lead.
Furman would score the only points of the third quarter, which came following having a Devin Abrams touchdown called back for a holding infraction, and that forced the Paladins to settle for a 24-yard Axel Lepvreau field goal with just under five minutes left in the frame, giving the Paladins a 17-3 lead.
Elon would manage to get a little closer in the fourth quarter, as Davis set a new NCAA record for most 50-yard field goals in a season, as he connected on his seventh of the season and second of the day, splitting the uprights from 51 yards out once again just 20 seconds into the final quarter, cutting Furman’s lead to 11 once again.
Furman was able to close out the opening round playoff win in strong fashion, however, as the Paladin offense would eat up 12:44 of the 15 minutes of football in the final frame. A 16-play, 75-yard drive, which was extended by a roughing the punter penalty by Elon, allowed the Paladins to eat up 9:39 off the fourth quarter clock and would be capped by a 9-yard touchdown run by Huff around the left side, giving the Paladins a 24-6 lead with five minutes to play.
Furman’s offense would get the ball back one more time following a turnover on downs forced by the Furman defense. The Paladins took over at the Elon 44, and Grant Robinson would finish off the Phoenix with a 25-yard scoring run with 2:44 remaining to set the final margin and secure the 31-6 opening round win.