Paladins Power Past ETSU for their Best Start Since 2001

Furman clinches a 16-8 victory over East Tennessee State, showcasing a strong defense to maintain their 7-1 overall record.

Furman DE Jack Barton attempts to block a kick by ETSU
Source: Furman Athletics

FCS No. 3 Furman used another strong defensive effort, needing just three field goals and a touchdown to dispatch league rival East Tennessee State, 16-8, on homecoming to equal its best start to a season since 2005, and best start to a SoCon campaign since ’01 on a beautiful, unseasonably warm, late-October Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.

With the win, Furman improves to 7-1 overall and 5-0 in Southern Conference action, while the Bucs dropped to 2-6 overall and 1-4 in league play.

Ian Williams connected on field goals of 23, a career-long 52, and 32 yards through the first three quarters to give Furman a 9-0 lead. Joshua Harris, who finished the contest with a career-high matching eight receptions (eight rec vs. ETSU last season) for 78 yards, added a 22-yard touchdown later in the third quarter, as Furman assumed a seemingly safe 16-0 lead heading into the final frame.

Furman’s lone trip to the end zone on the afternoon came as a result of its third interception of Bucs quarterback William Riddle, which came from Micah Robinson, setting up the Paladin offense at the ETSU 42.

Four plays later, Huff found Harris on a tunnel screen and he did the rest, racing 22 yards with 42 seconds remaining in the third quarter to give the Paladins a seemingly commanding lead.

The Bucs would certainly make things interesting in the final quarter, however, as Ton’Quez Ball returned a Ryan Leavy blocked punt eight yards for a score with just under 12 minutes remaining, making it a 16-6 contest. The Bucs wisely opted to go for the two point game to make it a one-score game, and Riddle found Xavier Galliardetz on the conversion, getting the Blue and Gold to within eight, at 16-8.

The Paladin defense, which held the Bucs at bay all afternoon, would hold serve the rest of the day, with a Braden Gilby sack of Riddle for a loss of eight yards on 4th-and-5 from the Furman 38 effectively ending the threat.

Roberto would rush it three times for 11 yards, forcing ETSU to burn its final timeout in the process, and Roberto’s final first down of the day allowed Huff and the Paladin offense to run off the remaining time on the clock en route to its seventh win of the season.

The Paladins would finish the day holding a 300-230 edge in total offense, with the Bucs holding the 119-85 advantage in rushing yards. The Paladins held the 215-111 advantage in aerial yards.

Furman quarterback Tyler Huff was solid in the winning effort once again, connecting on 21-of-35 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown, while rushing just three times for 16 yards.

The Paladins were led on the ground by Dominic Roberto, as he rushed for 65 tough yards on 22 attempts.

The aforementioned Joshua Harris led the Furman receiving efforts, as he hauled in eight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, while Luke Shiflett had five catches for 34 yards and Kyndel Dean hauled in four passes for 60 yards.

Riddle finished the afternoon by connecting on 11-of-24 throws for 111 yards, with three INTs and was sacked twice.

The Bucs ground game was led by Trey Foster, who rushed for a career-high 80 yards on 12 rush attempts.

Defensively, the Paladins got a monster afternoon from senior defensive end Jack Barton, who finished with six tackles, 1.0 sack, two tackles-for-loss and his sixth-career blocked kick.

The 7-1 start marks the Paladins best start to a campaign since 2005, when Furman was able to knock off Elon, 45-6, ascending to No. 1 in the nation following its seventh win in eight games to start the ’05 season. The ranking at the top of the FCS polls, however, would be short-lived, as the Paladins fell, 27-24, on the road to No. 14 Georgia Southern.

Next Saturday’s contest at Chattanooga (7-2, 6-1 SoCon) offers a chance for the Paladins to gain at least a share of their 15th Southern Conference football crown, while a win by the Mocs would give them the chance to lock up the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

Like Furman, the 15th-ranked Mocs survived an upset scare, surviving to get a 24-23 win over VMI on the road this past Saturday.

How It Happened

Furman and East Tennessee State engaged in what was a defensive battle at Paladin Stadium on homecoming in Greenville.

The Paladins appeared to have gotten on the board almost immediately when Kam Brinson picked off a William Riddle pass and returned it 47 yards for a score, however, upon review, his knee was ruled to have been down to nullify the score, which would have given the Paladins a 7-0 lead after just three plays. Brinson’s pick would be the first of what would be three on the day by the Furman defense.

The Paladins would have to settle for a 23-yard Ian Williams field goal with just under eight minutes remaining in the quarter.

Williams added a career-best 52-yard field goal later in the opening frame, helping the Paladins assume the 6-0 advantage. Cally Chizik’s interception late in the opening half—his third of the season—was among the lone highlights of the quarter.

With the Bucs threatening in the third quarter Jack Barton’s sixth-career blocked kick kept the of a 43-yard field goal attempt by ETSU’s Ewan Johnson kept the Bucs off the scoreboard.

Williams would add another 32-yard field goal with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter, and then less than a minute later, Micah Robinson picked off Riddle at the Bucs’ 42, helping set up the lone trip to the end zone for either team on the day.

On 3rd-and-6 at the Bucs 22, Tyler Huff found Joshua Harris on a tunnel screen and it resulted in a 22-yard scoring play for the Paladins to make it a 16-0 game with just 46 remaining in the frame.

ETSU would make it interesting in the 4th quarter when Teddy Wilson blocked a Ryan Leavy punt, and Ton’Quez Ball scooped it up and returned it eight yards for a score to make it a 16-8 game following Riddle’s connection with Xavier Galliardetz on the two-point conversion despite heavy pressure from Furman linebacker Braden Gilby to make it a 16-8 game with just under 12 minutes left.

However, the Paladin defense would lock down the Bucs the rest of the way en route to the big Southern Conference win.

Furman and Chattanooga for the title

The meeting between the Paladins and Mocs will be for the Southern Conference title. Stay tuned later in the week for a full preview of the game here on Redshirt Sports.

The Paladins were able to come up with a 24-21 win over then No. 6 Chattanooga last season. The Mocs will be finishing up their Southern Conference season with the game against the Paladins, while the Paladins still have games vs. VMI (Nov. 11) and at Wofford (Nov. 18).

Should the Mocs win, they would claim the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs and it would mark the Mocs ninth Southern Conference crown.

The Mocs would then head into their off week before concluding the season at FBS Alabama with the full knowledge they had secured their first SoCon title since 2015 and first FCS playoff bid since 2016.

It would also mark the Mocs’ first SoCon crown under Rusty Wright, who took over the program in 2019. A home win by the Mocs would also mean Chattanooga will have secured no worse than a share of their eighth league crown since joining the SoCon in 1977.

A win by Furman next week would mark a 12th-straight Southern Conference win for Furman, and it would also help the Paladins secure the automatic bid to the playoffs and at least a share of their league-standard 15th Southern Conference title.

Furman, which is No. 2 in the latest AFCA Coaches and FCS Stats (media) polls, respectively, will be sporting their highest ranking since 2005 when the Paladins were No. 1 nationally when they head for a late-October test at Georgia Southern. A 6-0 start to SoCon play in 2023 would also mark Furman’s best start to a SoCon season since 1989.

The matchup between the Paladins and Mocs will mark the third time in the past five meetings that the two have come into the matchup ranked. The Mocs were ranked No.6/7 coming into the clash last season, while the Paladins were ranked No. 24 in the FCS Stats poll.

The Mocs will enter Saturday’s clash ranked No. 14. UTC’s lone league setback this season was a 52-50 loss vs Western Carolina in what was an epic SoCon battle.

With the Paladins ascending to No.2 in both polls, it marks the highest ranking achieved by a SoCon team since Oct. 29, 2012, when Georgia Southern ranked No.2 in the then SportsNetwork (now STATS FCS) medial poll.

The meeting will mark the 53rd all-time clash between the two, with Furman holding a 31-21 edge. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Finley Stadium.

Elsewhere around the SoCon

Mercer stayed alive for a potential SoCon at-large bid to the FCS playoffs, as the Bears went to No. 10 Western Carolina (5-3, 3-2 SoCon) and handed the Catamounts a 45-38 setback. The loss dropped the Catamounts six more spots in the FCS poll to No. 16.

Despite back-to-back seven-win campaigns, the Bears have been on the outside looking in when it came to the FCS playoffs each of the past two seasons. The Bears have never qualified for the FCS playoffs since re-starting the football program back in 2013 following what had been a 72-year hiatus.

A big reason as to why the Bears, who re-entered the poll this week at No. 25 in the FCS Stats media poll, had much to do with a defense that caused problems for the high-octane Catamounts all afternoon.

The Bears were opportunistic, intercepting Cole Gonzales three times, while causing six turnovers. Mercer got a nine-yard INT return for a score, while Michael Wasson had a 24-yard fumble return for a TD in the contest.

For his efforts Saturday, Mercer quarterback Carter Peevy was named the SoCon’s Offensive Player of the Week, completing 18-of-28 passes for 212 yards with a touchdown and an INT.

The Bears likely need wins in their final two SoCon games at The Citadel (Nov. 4) and at Samford (Nov. 11) to secure an FCS playoff invite.

The Catamounts, who were once again without star running back Desmond Reid, saw Gonzales pace the passing efforts, connecting on 32-of-51 throws for 388 yards with five scoring tosses and three INTs.

Chattanooga was able to hold off a valiant effort from VMI, knocking off the Keydets 24-23 in Lexington, VA, moving to 7-2 overall and 6-1 in league action.

UTC was out-gained 440-356 in total offense, including 210-172 on the ground. The Mocs were able to get a little luck as well, as the Keydets missed both a PAT and a field goal, leaving four crucial points on the field.

Chase Artopoeus connected on 9-of-17 passes for 184 yards with a pair of scores, while VMI’s Collin Ironside connected on 20-of-32 passes for 184 yards, with a pair of INTs.

Hunter Rice had a monster day on the ground for the Keydets, rushing for 208 yards and three scores on 25 attempts.UTC was led by Gino Appleberry, who finished with 113 yards and a TD on 21 attempts.

Finally, Samford (5-4, 4-3 SoCon) was all over winless The Citadel (0-8, 0-5 SoCon), 37-7 , as Jay Stanton, who rushed for 96 yards and a pair of scores, and also had a receiving score, ascended to No. 2 on the school’s all-time rushing list behind Chris Evans.

SoCon Power Rankings

  1. Furman 7-1, 5-0 SoCon
  2. Chattanooga 7-2, 6-1 SoCon
  3. Western Carolina 5-3, 3-2 SoCon
  4. Mercer 6-3, 4-2 SoCon
  5. Samford 5-4, 4-3 SoCon
  6. VMI 3-5, 2-4 SoCon
  7. Wofford 0-8, 0-5 SoCon
  8. The Citadel 0-8, 0-5 SoCon