SoCon Football 2016: Furman’s Challenge To Get Back To The Top of the SoCon (Part 1 of 3)

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — A couple of weeks ago at the Spartanburg Marriott, Furman found itself picked seventh in the league’s preseason media poll — just two ahead of VMI and East Tennessee State. It’s the lowest Furman has been picked in a preseason poll since also being seventh just prior to the 1995 season, and coming off a 3–8 campaign, few could argue that selection.

The Southern Conference has never been an easy FCS conference to navigate, but over the decades, no program has done it better or been more consistent than Furman. A league standard 13 Southern Conference titles prove that.

Since winning that 13th Southern Conference crown two years ago, things certainly haven’t come easy for the Paladins, who have posted just a 7–16 mark since that remarkable run to the Southern Conference title.

The 2016 season will see a change in offense for the Paladins,

The Magic of 2013:

A complete release of the 2013 review is at the link below.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1RFd7-Evm-DMZWie85rpyZyC4HQ_31AG7/view?usp=sharing

Furman’s run in 2013 was one of the more remarkable runs to a Southern Conference title in league history, with the Paladins rebounding from a 3–5 record through the first two months of the season to claim their 13th Southern Conference crown.

After just missing a SoCon crown and the playoff appearance in 2011, which was Bruce Fowler’s first season at the helm of the Furman football program, the Paladins saw the college football gods smile upon the proud program, getting some help along the way for the title and playoff appearance, with the most notable help coming from the Samford Bulldogs, who scored a last-second TD in the final regular-season game, which helped the Paladins ultimately garner a postseason invite due to it being the SoCon’s automatic qualifier.

While Furman did what it had to, and the Paladins certainly deserved to be in the playoffs, no one would dispute the fact that the recent kings of the SoCon have been Chattanooga. Even in the 2013 season, when the Paladins put together that strong finish to the campaign, the Mocs still made easy work of the Paladins, posting a 31–9 win over Furman in the Scenic City.

Furman would put together memorable wins against Appalachian State, at Georgia Southern, at Western Carolina and arch-rival Wofford down the stretch, along with putting up a respectable performance against SEC West and No. 13 ranked LSU down on the Bayou in the latter part of the 2013 season.

The Paladins, of course, went on to win their opening round clash against South Carolina State before losing at eventual national champion and top-ranked North Dakota State, who claimed went on to claim a third-straight national title, and is likely considered right up there with the 1996 Marshall team and the 2007 Appalachian State team as being one of the best teams in the history of FCS/Division I-AA football.

Despite losing the contest 38–7 to the Bison, Furman had plenty to look forward to in 2014, with the return of 18 starters and a seasonsed signal-caller in Reese Hannon, most had the Paladins ranked as a Top 15–20 team head into the campaign. Furman finished with an 8–6 overall record and a 6–2 Southern Conference mark.

The Paladins boasted a 1,000-yard rusher, in Hank McCloud (1,092 yds), as well as reliable options in the passing game, in Jordan Snellings and Andrej Suttles. Suttles, who was a big-play threat, finished strong and had a program freshman record 697 receiving yards and three TDs on 44 catches.

The defense, which still finished near the bottom of the Southern Conference, was physical and was one that despite its struggles to consistently stop opponents, made up for it with their ability to cause turnovers, finishing ninth nationally in turnover margin (+1.0). Furman returned the likes of Marcus McMorris and Gary Wilkins to spearhead what shuild have shaped up to be one of the top defensive units in the history of Furman football.

Wilkins had garnered All-SoCon honors with 79 tackles, 13.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks and a 97-yard INT return for a score against Appalachian State. McMorris was also key to the Paladin success, garnering All-SoCon accolades following a campaign which saw him finish with 113 tackles, two sacks, a pair of INTs and a TD.

But things started to turn sour in the summer, with Jairus Hollman — an All-American defensive back — asked to leave the program, while one of the Paladins’ top offensive linemen — center Eric Thoni — was suspended for the entire season.

The Walking Wounded of 2014:

The 2014 season was one that would be a season that will be considered as one of disappointment and bad luck.

Things literally got started off on the wrong foot for Furman, and despite a 13–3 win in the opener, buoyed by one of the best defensive performances in recent memory, the Paladins took an immediate blow to repeating as Southern Conference champions when starting quarterback Reese Hannon went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the third quarter.

It would see the Paladins’ season head in a negative direction, despite a second-straight win, with the Paladins downing Mercer, 25–20, in the Bears’ first-ever Southern Conference game in history at Five Star Stadium in Macon. Dillon Woodruff would assume the starting quarterback role for the next three games, however, would eventually give way to P.J. Blazejowski, who took over at quarterback in the third quarter of the Western Carolina game, and though the Paladins struggled, as Blazejowski’s comfort level with the offense improved, so did his confidence.

The Paladins’ woes in 2014 would start with a 10–7 loss at Presbyterian and it would be the start of a historic slide for the proud football program that had lifted the Southern Conference title trophy just a year earlier, as the Paladins went on to lose their next nine games.

A narrow, 37–31, overtime loss to No. 5 Coastal Carolina seemed to do-in the Paladins, as Furman would turn around and put on maybe its worst homecoming performance in the history of the program, with a 45–0 home loss to Samford, marking the first time the Paladins had been shutout at home since a 21–0 loss to Georgia Southern in 1991.

There were few bright spots in the setback for the Paladins, as the Paladins would fall behind 24–0 in the contest before finding their way onto the scoreboard. One of the few bright spots was the play of freshman quarterback P.J. Blazejowski, who completed 20-of-37 passes for 217 yards and a pair of scores, but did throw three picks.

Blazejowski also posted 22 rushing yards. But the Paladins struggled running the ball, netting just 82 yards in the contest, while turning it over four times in the loss. Furman’s defense would come up with a big play, as defensive back Nick Miller gave Furman its next chance to build on its seven-point fourth quarter lead when he scooped a Tyler Renew fumble at The Citadel 48, but was ruled down at the spot by an inadvertent whistle despite keeping his feet through the entire play.

Just inside midfield, the Paladins needed just seven plays to reach the end zone once again, however, Garcia’s four-yard TD run was erased due to a holding penalty. Furman would eventually have to settle for a Jon Croft Hollingsworth 30-yard field goal, which could have given the Paladins a 10-point lead with 3:57 remaining, but the attempt missed wide right.

The Citadel made the most of the Paladin mishaps, and would cash in on a score to tie the game when it counted, driving 80 yards in seven plays, which was aided by a pass interference call against Furman and a 45-yard completion from Miller to Jonathan Dorogny to the Paladin 8-yard line.

The Paladins would finally snap their losing streak a week later when Wofford paid a visit to Paladin Stadium.

Furman freshman quarterback P.J. Blazejowski set a school record for a second-straight week, as he completed a perfect 15-of-15 passes for 305 yards and a pair of scores, leading the Paladins to a 31–14 win over Wofford in Southern Conference action Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium. The win for the Paladins marks a third in the last four seasons against the Terriers.

Furman snapped an eight-game losing streak with the win over Wofford (5–5, 3–3). The losing streak was the Paladins’ longest since the 1969–70 seasons. Blazejowski, who also threw for 300 yards last week (307 yds vs. The Citadel last week), became the first Furman quarterback to eclipse the 300-yard passing mark in consecutive weeks since Cleve Hightower in 1969, when Hightower threw for 356 and 346 in back-to-back weeks against Mississippi College and Wofford.

The true freshman quarterback and reigning Southern Conference Freshman of the Week eclipsed the previous consecutive completions mark in a single game, set by Dave Henderson in 1978 against Marshall and Billy Napier against Georgia Southern in the FCS semifinals in 2001, as both Henderson and Napier completed 12-straight passes.

The two scoring tosses for the Saint Augustine, FL, came in the first and fourth quarters, as both Jordan Snellings and Andrej Suttles posted scoring receptions of 61 and 59 yards, respectively. The Paladins would rebound from a 14–10 second quarter deficit to take the win, as the Paladins score 21 unanswered points to get the win, including out-scoring the Terriers 14–0 in the second half.

The final game of the season would see No. 8 and Southern Conference champion Chattanoooga. After starting the game with some success, the Paladins would find their struggles from the second quarter on in the contest, and would never seemingly gain their collective footing in the 45–19 loss.

Junior quarterback Jacob Huesman passed for 257 yards and a pair of scores, while also rushing for 103 yards and a pair of touchdowns, to lead FCS ninth-ranked Chattanooga to a 45–19 win over the Paladins on the final Saturday afternoon of the 2014 season at Paladin Stadium.

Furman ended the season with a 3–9 overall record and a 2–5 record in SoCon play, while Chattanooga improves to 9–3overall and the Mocs were a perfect 7–0 in SoCon play — the first SoCon team to finish league play unbeaten since Appalachian completed league 8–0 back in 2009.

After opening the season with two-straight wins, the Paladins closed the campaign with losses in nine out of their final 10 games, including suffering their third-straight loss to the Mocs, which marks the first time that has happened in the series between the two teams since between 1928–68.

Huesman’s scoring passes covered 17 and 8 yards, and added scoring runs of one and 10 yards, as he finished with an impressive 360 yards of total offense by the time the dust settled on the final game of the 2014 season for the Furman Paladins.

Keon Williams ran for 97 yards and two scores for UTC, which piled up 499 yards in balanced offense. The Mocs ran for 242 yards and passed for 257.

Furman finished with 325 total yards led by quarterback P.J. Blazejowski. who passed for 127 yards and ran for 67 yards and a score.

The 2014 season was brought to a merciful end with the loss to the ninth-ranked Mocs, and Furman found itself with just a 2–5 SoCon record at season’s end. It had been a demoralizing campaign for players and fans after it had seemed like the program was about to take that next step.

Injuries, particularly to the starting quarterback, and lack of a running game proved to be the undoing of the 2014 Furman Paladin football team. The Paladins lost the likes of Gary Wilkins, Marcus McMorris and Ira McCune to graduation from the defensive side of the ball, while the offense graduated talented running back Hank McCloud and three from the offensive line. Wilkins garnered third-team All-American honors after completing the campaign ranked second to only Chattanooga’s Davis Tull in total sacks on the season, posting 8.5 sacks to close the campaign.

Wilkins completed his career at Furman by amassing 294 career tackles, 36 TFL, 15.5 sacks, 2 FR and 2 INTs. Wilkins began to make the transition to the Paladin defensive line in the Elon game of his sophomore season, and that game would ultimately end up putting Wilkins along the edge for good. Below is a year-by-year analyis of Wilkins’ career in the Purple and White. His 15.5 career quarterback hits are good enough to rank him fifth all-time in school history.

A Paladin led the SoCon in tackles for the second-straight season, with Cory Magwood leading the league by posting 123 tackles, following up the big season in 2013 by Carl Rider, who also led the SoCon with 136 tackles.

The Disappointment of 2015

Jordan Snellings Graduated As One of Furman’s All-Time Greats At Wide Receiver

Furman’s 2015 football season certainly seemed to show a lot of promise early on in the campaign, with the Paladins competing with a Top-5 ranked Coastal Carolina team to open the season before eventually dropping what was a heartbreaker in Greenville, dropping what was a 38–35 decision on the home turf.

Following what was a 525-yard outburst in the season-opener against Coastal Carolina, it would be hard to imagine the Paladins would encounter such problems offensively for the remainder of the campaign, especially running the football.

It would turn out to be a record-setting night for Paladin signal-caller Reese Hannon, who passed for 365 yards, setting a new school single-game passing mark, surpassing the previous school mark of 356 passing yards set by Chris Forcier in a 26–21 home loss to Samford in 2011 and Cleve Hightower against Wofford in 1969.

Hannon, who also added 35 rushing yards, compiled 400 yards of total offense, which also set a new school mark for total offense. His 400 yards of total offense surpassed P.J. Blazejowski’s previous record of 382 yards of total offense set in 2014 by then true freshman signal-caller P.J. Blazejowski last season against The Citadel.

The Paladins would then have a monumental task the following two weeks after the season-opening loss to the No. 3 ranked Chanticleers, with the Paladins slated to go on the road and face two FBS opponents in back-to-back weeks for the first time since the 1984 season, when Furman faced both Georgia Tech and NC State on consecutive fall Saturdays. Furman would first be on the road at Virginia Tech before following that trip up with a visit to Orlando and the Central Florida.

The Paladins would find it tough treading against the Hokies, who downed the Paladins 42–3 in Blacksburg in the second week of the campaign. Furman struggled to effectively move the football all afternoon against the tough Hokies defensive front, which limited the Paladins to just 254 yards of total offensive output on 67 plays, while holding the Paladins to one of its lowest passing outputs of the campaign, as Furman mustered only 118 yards through the air.

Led by backup quarterback Brandon Motley, who connected on 16-of-24 passes for 233 yards and a pair of scores, while also rushing for 38 yards and a TD, the Hokies rolled up 583 yards of total offense in the win, while also rushing for 38 yards and a score.

At 0–2, the pressure was on the Paladins to perform a week later, taking on their second-straight FBS foe in as many weeks, as Furman traveled to the Sunshine State to meet Central Florida — a team that had won the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl a couple of years earlier and came into the season having made two-straight bowl appearances.

Furman, however, would not be phased, picking up its first win over an FBS opponent since a 28–3 win at North Carolina in 1999, as Furman walked away with its first win of the campaign in dramatic fashion, posting a 16–15 win over the Golden Knights.

The winning points for Furman would come from the boot of place-kicker Jon Croft Hollingsworth, as he connected on a school-record 55-yard field goal with 12:10 remaining in the game.

The defense helped close out the historic win for the Purple and White, sealing the win by forcing a pair of UCF punts, a Byron Johnson fumble recovery and Trey Robinson’s second INT of the game, as the Paladins improved overcame a 12–0 deficit to claim the 16–15 win.

For his efforts in helping the Paladins to secure the upset win, Robinson would be named the STATS FCS National Player of the Week, finishing with 10 tackles to go with his two pickoffs.

At 1–2, Furman would open the grueling Southern Conference slate with a tough home test against an improving VMI club under first-year head coach Scott Wachenheim.

The Paladins would again use a defense that produced timely turnovers and big plays to symie the gritty Keydets, as Furman battled to a 24–21 win at Paladin Stadium.

It was again another game-winning field goal from Jon Croft Hollingsworth for the second week in a row, as this time he connected from 42 yards out with 4:35 left, to help Furman secure the three-point win. The win over the Keydets helped the Paladins avenge a 31–15 loss from a year earlier.

Offensively, Reese Hannon completed 22-of-40 throws for 197 yards, while freshman running back Triston Luke led the Paladins’ ground efforts, producing 57 yards on 11 carries in the win.

Senior defensive back Rodney Anderson, who produced some de-cleating hits in the contest, posted a caereer-high 11 tackles, while senior All-SoCon cornerback Reggie Thomas made would might be considered the game-changing play.

VMI had just forced Furman to punt the ball on theprevious series and seemed to be gaining the momentum in the football game, and the Keydets had the ball back with a chance to drive down and take the lead for the second time in the game. However, the senior cornerback who has a propensity for making game-changing plays against military schools, duplicating the monumental play he made in the fourth quarter at The Citadel a couple of years ago, as he picked off Keydet signal-caller Al Cobb.

With 2nd-and-9 at the Furman 20, the senior from Abbeville, S.C., picked off Cobb for a second time, but the ball would be forced free by VMI after a 42-yard return but the ball would be recovered by Furman linebacker Carl Rider at the VMI 46, giving the Paladins great field position. Furman needed eight plays to move it 21 yards, which was well within the range of Hollingsworth, who connected from 42 yards to give the Paladins the lead with 4:35 left.

Furman would step out of conference for the final time in 2015 when it hosted South Carolina State at Paladin Stadium amid stormy conditions at Paladin Stadium. In what was the first trip for the Bulldogs to the Upstate since 1998, they emerged with the same result, dropping their eighth-straight game in Greenville since posting a 17–0 win in the first-ever meeting between the two at Paladin Stadium in the 1982 Division I-AA playoffs, as Furman claimed a 17–3 win in a defensive battle.

On a night void of offense for much of the night, the Paladins would use their defense on a rainy, wet night to match their victory total for the entire 2014 season. The Paladins got an early chip shot field goal from Jon Croft Hollingsworth after the Bulldogs turned the ball over at their own five.

Then Ernie Cain would set up the next score before the half, as he scampered 49 yards to put the Paladins in the red zone again. Triston Luke punched it in on a 6-yard scoring run — the first of his career as a Paladin — putting the Paladins on top 10–0.

Furman’s defense, which was the story of the night, turned back SC State on its first real scoring threat of the night, as on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Brad Minter broke through the line and got the initial hit on SC State running back Jalen Simmons before being joined by a host of Paladins to turn back the Bulldogs.

SC State added a field goal in the fourth, but Furman would seal the game on a 9-play, 59-yard drive, capped by Luke’s second scoring run of the night, which saw the freshman bounce it outside in Barry Sanders-like fashion, out-racing the Bulldog defense to the corner of the end zone, making it a 17–3 game with 7:37 remaining.

Trey Robinson’s second INT of the game would close the door on any hopes of a miraculous comeback from the Bulldogs with a little over two minutes to play. Carl Rider turned in a huge performance for the Paladin defense, recording a game-high 19 tackles.

The Paladins then made their way into hostile territory for the first time in conference play in the 2014 season, taking on the preseason league favorites Chattanooga in the Scenic City. The Mocs were the two-time defending Southern Conference champions, and came into the clash looking to get off notch their second Southern Conference win of the season after opening league play with a win over Samford.

It would be a dominant performance in the ground game for the Mocs, as Chattanooga out-gained the Mocs 245–59 in ground yards, and a bulk of the damage was done by Mocs running back Derek Craine, who rushed for 138 yards and three scores en route to leading the Mocs to a 2–0 Southern Conference mark.

It marked the second time this season the Paladins were held without a TD for the second time this season and third time in the past two campaigns (Chattanooga ’15, Virginia Tech ’15 and Samford ‘14). UTC has not given up a TD in the past eight quarters of football.

The win was both the Mocs fourth-straight overall and fourth-straight in the series against Furman, as Chattanooga improved to 4–1 overall and remained perfect in Southern Conference action, at 2–0. It was also the ninth-straight Southern Conference win for the Mocs, including the eighth which came by double-digits.

The loss dropped Furman to 3–3 overall and 1–1 in league play, as the Paladins head into an off-week next Saturday.

It was another tough afternoon for Paladin signal-caller Reese Hannon, who connected on 19-of-34 passes for 176 yards, with a pair of picks, including one which was returned 35 yards for a TD by UTC defensive back Lucas Webb in the second quarter, which was part of a 21-point outburst for the Mocs which saw them blow open the game. Hannon was also sacked four times in the contest.

The Paladins started the game strong, and would receiving the opening kickoff, driving the ball 69 yards in nine plays to take the lead, however, had the settle for a 25-yard field goal from Jon C. Hollingsworth after not being able to punch it in for six.

Later in the opening quarter, Furman had a chance to extend its lead to two scores on 3rd-and-4 from the UTC 42, when Hannon rolled right and tossed a perfectly thrown pass to wideout Andy Schumpert behind the Mocs secondary, but he dropped the ball at the 5-yard line.

That miscue would loom large, as the Paladin offense would go silent over the final three quarters, due in large part to Chattanooga’s defense, which recorded four sacks and held the Paladins to just 11 rushing yards over the final three quarters.

Furman’s defense would hold the Mocs without a first down for the first three possessions of the game, however, the Mocs would find the end zone early in the second quarter, as Craine rushed it in from four yards out to make it a 7–3 lead with 11:38 remaining in the half.

After UTC’s defense held Furman’s offense and forced a punt again, the Mocs would post a 10-play, 50-yard scoring drive capped by another 4-yard Craine scoring run to make it 14–3 with 5:25 remaining until the half.

On the first play of the next Paladin drive, Hannon’s pass was picked off and returned for a score, making it a 21–3 Mocs lead, as Furman yielded 14 points to the Mocs in a 10-second span. That would remain the score as the two teams entered the locker room.

Chattanooga would put the game away in the second half, posting 10 points to close out the impressive win. Henrique Ribeiro posted a 36-yard field goal with 7:52 to play in the third quarter, increasing the lead to 24–3, and then in the fourth quarter, the Mocs ate up nearly over half the quarter, with a 12-play, 94 yard drive, which was capped by a third 4-yard scoring run from Craine to close out the win.

Hannon finished the day hitting on 19-of-34 passes for 176 yards and a pair of INTs. He has not tossed a TD pass since the Central Florida game, and has tossed a pair of picks returned for scores this season. Last week, Hannon moved into fifth on the school’s all-time passing charts, however, has struggled this season with just three INTs with six INTs.

Huesman finished the day hitting on 9-of-15 for 104 yards, while rushing for 68 yards, accounting for 172 yards. The Paladins would get a much-needed off-week before hitting the field against The Citadel in a key Southern Conference game in mid-October, as the 3–0 Bulldogs paid a visit to Greenville.

Quarterback Dominique Allen rushed for 67 yards and a pair of scores, leading The Citadel triple-option offense, which rolled up a total of 388 rushing yards on the day en route to a 38–17 win over Furman on a homecoming SoCon Saturday at Paladin Stadium.

Furman dropped to 3–4 and 1–2 in Southern Conference play. The Paladins were dominated in virtually every phase of the football, as the Paladins dropped their second-straight homecoming game, as Furman was a 45–0 loser to Samford last season. The Paladins have been out-scored 83–17

The opening half of play saw the Bulldogs completely dominate the football game, out-gaining the Paladins 314–79 in the opening half alone. The Paladins registered 60 of their 79 yards in the opening drive of the game. All told, the Bulldogs recorded a 455–295 advantage in total offense in the contest. It marked the fifth time in seven games this season in which the Paladins failed to reach the 300 yard mark.

Things would seemingly start out well for the Paladins, as Furman’s defense would force the Bulldogs into a punt and then the Paladin offense went to work. Furman needed just seven plays to drive 60 yards, punching it in the end zone on a 20-yard scoring strike from starting quarterback Reese Hannon to wideout Chad Scott, as the Paladins took a 7–0 lead with 10:27 remaining in the opening quarter of play.

From that point, it was all Bulldogs, who would score 24 unaswered points to take the 24–7 lead to the locker room. First, Cam Jackson would get the Bulldogs on the board following the Furman score, running it in from 34 yards, as the Bulldogs needed just six plays to travel 74 yards to answer the Furman score.

Following a stop by the Bulldog defense, The Citadel’s offense continued to click with Allen at the controls, however, Furman’s defense would tighten up in the red zone, limiting the Bulldogs to an Erik Goins field goal attempt. However, after it appeared the Paladins’Trey Robinson blocked the field goal attempt,

Furman was whistled for a personal foul leaping penalty, giving the Bulldogs a first down. That would set the stage for the Bulldogs’ lone mistake of the day a couple of plays later on a 2nd-and-8 play from the Furman 11, Allen’s pass was tipped in the end zone and plucked out of the air by linebacker Carl Rider to end the Bulldog threat.

That threat was only delayed by a few minutes, however, as the Furman offense would once again struggle to move the football, and the Bulldogs would get the ball back with good field position after the Jon Croft Hollingsworth punt. Allen scored his ninth rushing TD of the season and first of two on the day, as he plunged in from a yard out to end the six-play, 54-yard drive to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the day, at 14–7, with 11;53 remaining in the half.

The Citadel defense continued their dominance on the next series, as the Bulldogs forced Furman into another punt after a promising 11-yard gain on first down, as Hannon hooked up with wideout Andrej Suttles on the drive’s first play.

The ensuing drive would see the Bulldogs execute a beautifully conceived reverse, which wideout Brandon Eakins ran 35 yards for a score, and a 21–7 lead. The Bulldogs closed the frame with a 22-yard Erik Goins field goal to take the 24–7 lead to the break.

Furman would at least things interesting coming out in the second half, as the Paladins would reel off 10 unanswered points to make it a seven-point game. Hannon would lead the Paladins into The Citadel red zone before leaving the game with a concussion.

Hannon also left the 2013 game against the Bulldogs with a slight injury before Duncan Fletcher came into rescue the Paladins under center. This time, P.J. Blazejowski entered the lineup and on his first play, the Paladins went to their bag of tricks to get within 10 of the Bulldogs.

Fletcher would also play a role in the 2015 meeting between the rivals, as the All-SoCon tight end hauled in a 19-yard pass from Logan McCarter on a double pass, despite being interfered with by the Bulldogs defender.

The Paladin defense force a rare three-and-out, and Blazejowski led the Paladins on a 13-play, 62-yard drive, however, had to settle for a 20-yard Jon Croft Hollingsworth field goal to make it a 24–17 game with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter.

But in true championship-like fashion, the Bulldogs displayed the killer instinct which they have displayed throughout the 2015 season to this point, scoring 14 unanswered points over the final 19 minutes of game action.

The biggest play of the game by the Bulldogs came on the ensuing drive, facing 3rd-and-8 at midfield. Allen dropped back and hit a wide open Reggie Williams for a gain of 50 yards to the Furman 1. On the next play, Allen recorded his second 1-yard scoring plunge to make it a 31–17 game with 1:39 remaining in the first.

The Bulldogs would cap the game a little over midway through the fourth quarter, as Blazejowski was picked off for the first of two times on the day, with the first of two INTs coming from Bulldog linebacker Tevin Floyd, which he returned 29 yards to the Paladin 25.

Three plays later, Jackson set the final scoreline with his second TD run of the day, with an 11-yard TD run to make it a 38–17 game with 3:57 left. James Riley recorded the Bulldogs’ 13 INT of the season and second of the day to end Furman’s final scoring threat.

For the game, Allen finished with 67 yards passing and an INT on 3-for-7 passing. He rushed for 35 yards and a pair of scores, and was one of eight ball-carriers for the Bulldogs in the contest. Jackson led the Bulldogs with 78 yards rushing on just six rushes, with two going for scores, totaling 46 of those 78 rush yards. He averaged an impressive 13.0 YPC.

Hannon completed 6-of-10 passes for 71 yards and a score before leaving early in the third with a concussion. Blazejowski completed 9-of-15 passes for 69 yards and had a pair of picks. Ernie Cain led the Paladins’ ground efforts with 54 yards on just five attempts, while Chad Scott hauled in four passes for 41 yards and a score.

Furman headed to Samford a week later looking to rebound from consecutive losses to a pair of teams looking to turn the tide of their respective seasons. The game looked like it go the way of the homestanding Bulldogs early on, as Samford would carry a a 17–0 lead into the locker room before Furman stormed back for a historic win in the second half.

Furman stormed back from a 17-point halftime deficit and in the process, posted its largest come-from-behind win in a game since 1973, with a 20–17 win at Seibert Stadium over Samford.

The Bulldogs have now dropped three-straight and four of their last five contests with the loss to the Paladins. Furman, which came in on the heels of back-to-back losses to The Citadel (L, 38–17) and Chattanooga (31–3), snapped its two-game skid with the win.

Furman’s Jon Croft Hollingsworth was 2-for-2 on field goals in the contest, posting his second game-winning kick of the season, as he knocked home a 19-yard field goal as time expired to help the Paladins to the come-from-behind win. The Paladins started on the comeback trail with a 43-yard scoring run from Antonio Wilcox, who rushed for a career-high 133 yards and a score, while starting quarterback P.J. Blazejowski connected on 14-of-28 throws for 174 yards, a TD and a pair of INTs.

Defensively, the Paladins got another huge afternoon from linebacker Cory Magwood, who posted a game-high 16 tackles, including 10 of which were solo stops, and his linebacking mate Carl Rider added 10 stops.

Senior cornerback Reggie Thomas added a late-game interception, allowing the Paladins to turn it into what proved to be the game-winning points by Hollingsworth.

The Paladins held the Bulldogs to their lowest point total (17 pts) among FCS opponents they have faced this season, and the 360 yards of total offense was the third-lowest total the Bulldogs have produced this season in a game this season.

Only Chattanooga, which held the Bulldogs to 313 yards in a 31–21 win in an early SoCon meeting, held Samford to a lower yardage total among its FCS opposition this season. The 462 yards of total offense by the Paladins were the most it gained in a game this season against a SoCon foe, and the most since the season-opening 525-yard output against Coastal Carolina.

Following the win over Samford, the Paladins would continue on the road the following week when it returned to the SoCon road the following week, as the Paladins took a trip t Cullowhee to face off against the Western Carolina Catamounts.

The meeting between the two would end up resulting in what was the worst loss in the history of the rivalry between the two proud programs, as Furman dropped a 48–13 decision to Western Carolina at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.

It would turn out to be one of the most forgettable afternoons of the season for Furman and it would be a low point of the campaign following so much promise a week earlier against Samford in the come-from-behind win.

Quarterback Troy Mitchell passed for 305 yards and accounted for five TD responsibilities on Senior Day in Cullowhee, as Furman defeated Western Carolina, 48–10, in Southern Conference action Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.

Mitchell completed the afternoon by connecting on 27-of-35 passes for 305 yards, throwing for scores of 29, 21 and 36 yards on the day, while finishing with 55 rushing yards and scoring runs of two and three yards to finish with 360 yards of total offense and five TD responsibilities.

The win gave the Catamount win was the second successive win over the Paladins, marking the first time the Catamounts have beaten the Paladins in back-to-back seasons since 1993 and ‘94.

With the win, the Catamounts insured their second straight winning season since 1993 and ’94, and improved to 6–3 overall and 4–2 in league action. The loss dropped the Paladins to 4–5 overall and 2–3 in Southern Conference play.

Mitchell would put the Catamounts ahead early, following a pair consecutive Paladin turnovers. Mitchell scored on a pair of runs to give the Catamounts an early 14–0 lead.

The Catamounts increased that lead to 31–3 by halftime. Mitchell hit tight end Tyler Sexton for a 29-yard scoring strike early in the second quarter, and after the Catamount defense forced the Paladins to punt, it didn’t take long for Mitchell to continue what was a memorable senior day for the native of Houston, TX, as he hooked up with Steffon Hill for a 36-yard scoring strike to put the Catamounts ahead 28–0 with 9:27 remaining in the half, and the rout was on.

Furman would finally get on the board on the ensuing play, using a long catch-and-run from freshman running back Antonio Wilcox, who hauled in a short pass from quarterback Reese Hannon and scampered 53 yards to the 25, and after a late hit on Hannon after he released the pass, the ball was advanced to the 14. However, Furman would see the promising drive stall, and called on Jon Croft Hollingsworth, who connected on a 32-yard field goal to make it a 28–3 game.

Western Carolina’s Logan Howard would answer the Hollingsworth field goal with a 38-yard field goal, completing a 14-play, 60-yard drive with 3:12 remaining in the half, setting the score at 31–3 at the break.

P.J. Blazejowski would relieve Reese Hannon under center in the second half, and it started in promising fashion, as the Paladins drove it 73 yards all the way down to the WCU one, however, turned the ball over on downs.

The Catamounts would put the game well out of reach on its next drive to extend their lead to 35 points (38–3), driving 99 yards in 15 plays, culminating with a 2-yard scoring run by Hill with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter.

Furman would score its only TD of the game on what was the final play of the third quarter, as reserve running back Kealand Dirks scored on a 1-yard plunge to make it 38–10, as the Paladins used nine plays to drive it 80 yards.

The fourth frame would see Western Carolina continue its offensive onslaught, as Howard connected on his second field goal of the night early in the fourth, making it 41–10,and then a blocked punt led to Western’s final score, as it was a senior-to-senior connection, when Mitchell hit wideout for a 21-yard scoring strike with 11:13 remaining to set the final margin.

Western rolled up 581 yards of total offense on the day, including 276 on the ground, with Detrez Newsome rushing for 184 of those yards on 21 attempts. Hill was impressive at wideout, hauling in 10 passes for 130 yards and a score.

Hannon connected on 8-of-14 throws for 108 yards, while Blazejowski finished the night making good on

7-of-12 passes for 132 yards. Andrej Suttles led all Paladin wideouts with six catches for 116 yards.

All told, Furman amassed 329 yards of total offense, with 240 coming through the air and 89 yards on the ground.

Dirks led the Paladins with 27 rushing yards to go with the lone Furman TD of the afternoon.

The 48–10 loss marks the worst for Furman in the 43 meetings between the two programs, eclipsing the 41–21 loss, which also came in Cullowhee back in 2005. Saturday’s loss marked Furman’s first at Whitmire Stadium since that fateful meeting a decade ago.

The following Saturday would be another emotional one for Paladin nation, as Bobby Lamb returned to Furman’s Paladin Stadium for the first time since he was head coach of the program for nine years from 2001–10 before being fired just prior to the final game of the regular-season in 2010. Lamb, of course, moved on to Mercer where he had made some real inroads as the program continued to build from the ground up after not having had a program for some 72 years.

Mercer, which was in its third season since that long hiatus and under the leadership of Lamb, had faced off against Furman once before in Macon, as the Paladins were able to come away with a hard-fought 25–20 win in what was the first Southern Conference game ever played for the Bears.

The game started slow, and though the Paladins were able to force an early turnover, it was Mercer that would begin to take initiative and put points on the board a 43-yard field goal by Jagger Lieb put the Bears ahead 3–0 with 4:23 remaining in the opening quarter.

The Paladin offense, which had looked anemic with both P.J. Blazejowski and Reese Hannon under center in the opening half of play, as the Paladins were locked down by the Bears’ stingy unit, and at halftime, had amassed just 54 yards of total offense and two first downs.

Trailing 13–0 at the break, things would go from bad to worse for the Paladins, who on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, would turn the ball over in great field position to the Bears. Furman’s Antonio Wilcox mis-handled the Hannon hand-off and the ball was recovered by the Bears at the Paladin 29 and turned into points six plays later, when Russ tossed his second short scoring pass of the contest of the afternoon, as he connected with wideout Avery Ward, who hauled in a second scoring pass on the day with a three-yard reception to make a 20–0 lead for Mercer following Lieb’s PAT with 8:22 remaining in the third quarter.

Midway through the third quarter the Paladin offense would begin to finally click, as the Paladins would get things going in the third quarter of play on the shoulders of junior quarter Reese Hannon, who after going 0-for-5 in the opening half of play, finished the third quarter completing six passes for 86 yards and a TD in the quarter, cutting the Mercer lead to 13 points, as he hooked up with wideout Andrej Suttles on what was the first of his two scoring catches, with the first covering 22 yards to make it a 20–7 game with 3:29 remaining.

The Paladins cut into the lead even more on the ensuing possession after the Paladin defense came up with yet another stop. Hannon led the Paladins on another drive, utlizing the airways once again, as he found Suttles down the middle for a 26-yard scoring strike with 11:41 left, and Jon Croft Hollingsworth’s PAT made it a 20–14.

Furman’s defense would get greedy from that point, picking off a John Russ pass, as Paladin senior cornerback leaped high into the air to intercept an underthrown pass intended for Ward at the Furman 5-yard line.

Following a Furman punt, the Paladin defense came up with its second turnover when Jordan Hawkins pounced on a Mercer fumble to give the Paladins life once again, as the Furman offense took over the ball at its own 32.

However, four plays later, Hannon was sacked by Mercer bandit linebacker Tosin Aguebor and coughed up the football, and Aguebor recovered the fumble to give the Bears the ball at the Furman 40. Mercer would move the ball to the Furman 25, however, a pair of penalties would force the Bears to settle for a 44-yard field goal attempt from Lieb, which he hooked wide left with 1:15 left.

After incompletions on the first two plays with the ball back in its possession, Hannon, who suffered a concussion earlier this season against The Citadel, was shaken up after being pressured and hit on his second down pass, which fell incomplete. Hannon left the game and back came P.J. Blazejowski, who started the game for the Paladins under center.

Blazejowski would connect on big pass plays to Jordan Snellings for a gain of 34 yards into Mercer territory, and then on the next play, found Logan McCarter down the seam for a 37-yard connection to get the Paladins all the way down to the two. Redshirt freshman running back Kealand Dirks bowled over the line from two yards out to tie the game, 20–20, pending the PAT.

The drama continued, however, as Dirks was flagged for spiking the football in his excitement, and Mercer was given the option of forcing Furman into a long PAT, or allowing the 15-yard penalty to be assessed following the kickoff. The Bears opted for the PAT, and Jon Croft Hollingsworth, which had a pair of game-winning field goals, including a 53-yarder against Central Florida, and was a perfect 14-for-14 on PATs for the season, missed the 35-yard PAT, and the game remained tied, 20–20. Mercer ran out the remainder of the clock to force overtime.

Furman won the toss in overtime and deferred, and Mercer needed only three plays to get into the end zone and score what would prove to be the game-winning score, as Alex Lakes, who finished with 141 yards rushing on 19 attempts, scored his only TD on a 3-yard scamper in OT to give the Bears a 27–20 lead following Lieb’s PAT.

Furman’s first possession would end after only one play, as Blazejowski’s pass intended for Suttles in the end zone was picked off by Zach Jackson, and the Mercer sideline erupted in celebration following the pick.

The loss ensured Furman of its third losing season in its last five, while the win meant Mercer would finish with a chance at a winning season for the second time in three seasons since bringing the program back after a 72-year hiatus in 2013. Mercer out-gained Furman, 374–285, in the contest, including 286–60 in rushing yards. Blazejowski finished the afternoon connecting on 6-of-11 passes for 92 yards, with a TD and an INT, while Hannon completed 10-of-21 passes for 133 yards with a pair of TD passes.

Suttles had one of his best games of the season, hauling in eight passes for 101 yards and a pair of scores, while Snellings had five catches for 60 yards and McCarter finished with two grabs for 59 yards.

Mercer’s Tee Mitchell joined Lakes with a 100-yard rushing afternoon of his own, finishing with 112 yards on 21 attempts. Mercer quarterback John Russ connected on 13-of-21 passes for 88 yards and a pair of scores.

Furman finished out the regular season with a trip to arch-rival Wofford, facing the Terriers in a game with nothing more than pride on the line. It would be a game that would go back-and-forth, however, for the first time since the 2012 season, the Terriers found their way into the victory column against the Paladins, scoring a 38–28 on what was an overcast afternoon at Gibbs Stadium to close out the season.

Evan Jacks, who rushed for 120 yards and a pair of scores in the win, powered a Wofford ground game that rolled up 417 yards on the ground in the win.

Furman’s 4–7 season marked the first time the Paladins have finished two-straight seasons below .500 since doing so in 1968 and 1969, finishing 1–8 and 1–9 in those two campaigns.

The three losing seasons in the past five marks Furman’s worst run of success since 1966–70. Furman, however, did win its 13 SoCon title just two years ago.

Both of Jacks’ touchdowns on the day came from a yard out, while Furman’s P.J. Blaejowski passed for 215 yards and three scores for the Paladins in the loss.

The Paladins found themselves trailing, 17–14, at the halftime break and the Terriers would add to their advantage quickly using a pair of TDs, with the last coming on Jacks’ 1-yard plunge, to take a 31–14 lead.

Furman would respond, however, as the Paladins would set up the score by going to their bag of tricks, as punter Jon Croft Hollingsworth hooked up with for a 34-yard pass connection. That would set up a Blazejowski 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Duncan Fletcher to make it a 31–21 game with 13:37 remaining.

The Paldins would inch even closer to their I-85 rivals two possessions later, as running back Antonio Wilcox for a 16-yard scoring pass to make it a 31–28 game with just over four minutes to play in the contest.

But Wofford would secure the win by tacking on a late TD run of 29 yards by Chase Nelson a fourth down play, putting the game out of reach for Furman and setting the final score, at 38–28.

The loss to Wofford would be the end of some standout careers for the Paladins, including wideout Jordan Snellings, who finished out his stellar Furman career by hauling in 139 career catches, which ranks fourth on the school’s all-time receptions ledger, and his 1,700 career receiving yards ranks him 10th on the school’s all-time yardage list. He completed his career with 10 scoring catches.

What’s In Store For 2016?

It’s hard to know what to expect for the 2016 season, but there have been changes in the coaching staff to try and help shore up some of the problems that have plagued the Paladins the past two seasons.

As for head coach Bruce Fowler, he needs to win and he needs to have a pretty good season to ensure he is the head coach at Furman in 2017.

A good season probably means the Paladins, with their schedule, need to at least finish 6–5 this fall, maybe 7–4, for Fowler to be the head coach in 2017.

If not, Furman could welcome in a new boss, which would likely not be part of that storied lineage that has helped build the Purple and White into a Southern Conference power over the past three-plus decades.

Fowler was a player on the Paladins’ first Southern Conference title-winning team in 1978, and is the coach of the latest Furman team to win the Southern Conference title.

Not since Art Baker, who preceded Dick Sheridan, have the Paladins looked outside their own coaching family for a head coach. However, Fowler has the coaches in place to at least threaten seven wins this fall, and is a good football coach, but certainly has not had luck on his side in four of his five seasons at the helm.

The Paladins have an extremely difficult early season slate to manage, including games against at Michigan State, at The Citadel, vs. Chattanooga and at Coastal Carolina.

The biggest problem for the Paladins has been offense over the past two seasons has been running the football. That obviously has to change if the Paladins hope to factor into the 2016 Southern Conference football race.

MEDIA DAY 2016

Furman Head Coach Bruce Fowler (Middle) and All-SoCon Defensive Back Trey Robinson (Left) and Quarterback Reese Hannon (Right) were interviewed by the league’s media at the SoCon’s Annual Media Rouser To Kick Off The 2016 Season

SPARTANBURG, S.C. —I was able to catch up with Furman head coach Bruce Fowler and Palmetto State products Reese Hannon and Trey Robinson at the Southern Conference media outing at the Spartanburg Marriott a couple of weeks ago, and despite the Paladins being seventh in the nine-team Southern Conference.

The past two seasons of course haven’t been what Furman fans nor its coaching staff have expected. Injuries, close losses and even some blowouts to conference foes its not accustomed to losing to by such large margins are just a few of the reasons the Paladin staff is more than on edge entering the 2016 season. However, that doesn’t seem to concern coach Fowler as many might think.

“I am as excited about this season as I have ever been as a head coach since taking the job six years ago. Honestly I probably have over-analyzed every little detail as to why things didn’t go according to plan last season, so I have tried to take a little more relaxed approach heading into this season,” said head coach Bruce Fowler.

While the first four games were no picnic last season, the first four games the Paladins begin the season with this fall will be among the toughest opening four games in program history, starting with Michigan State.

“We’re always up for games like the opener against Michigan. We know they are an outstanding football team and they were in the Final Four of the college football last season before losing to Alabama, but it’s cool to play those games and especially against a program with such a rich tradition and one that we haven’t ever played before in our history, so that’s pretty cool too,” quipped senior quarterback Reese Hannon.

Michigan State is not the only test the Paladins must take on to start out the season, but will also battle defending SoCon co-champion The Citadel, who is coming off a 9–4 campaign, which including a win over SEC East member and Palmetto State rival South Carolina, 23–22, as well as the program’s first-ever FCS playoff road win, with a thrilling 38–35 win at Coastal Carolina.

Furman and The Citadel represent the SoCon’s most-played rivalry in the SoCon, with the two programs meeting for the 96th time the fall, with the Paladins holding a 58–34–3 edge. However, The Citadel has won three of the past four in the series, including a 38–17 win last fall at Paladin Stadium. Furman lost 42–40 in OT in their last trip to Charleston.

Then Furman opens the home slate with a Chattanooga team looking to become the first since both former league and now FBS and Sun Belt members Georgia Southern and Appalachian State accomplished it in recent times and would be the first current league member.

The Mocs have become dominant in league play, too, having won three-straight league crowns, sporting a record 19–3 record in league games over the past three seasons, and have one 13 of their past 14 in conference play. Over the past four meetings between the two — all resulting in Mocs victories — Chattanooga has out-scored Furman an astounding 138–41, including a 31–3 demolition of the Paladins in the 2015 meeting. The only good news is that three-time SoCon Offensive Player of the Year and quarterback Jacob Huesman is now in camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Furman closes out the first four games on the slate with a trip to Coastal Carolina, which has won six of seven all-time against the Paladins, including winning each of the past five games by a combined 25 points. Two of those games went to overtime.

The Chanticleers, who are under fifth-year head coach Joe Moglia, have now been invited to play in the Sun Belt Conference. The Chants, who will be in the transitional stages to the league this season and will begin play in the SBC in 2017, won’t be the team that they have been the past three years, especially without Alex Ross at quarterback, who has moved on, however, D’Angelo Henderson, who was one of the best running backs in FCS football returns to the fold after rushing for 1,346 yards and 13 scores last season.

“It’s a tough way to start the season, but you got them on the schedule no matter how you look at it, and we just gotta go out there and play those games, and execute our gameplan, and if we can do that, I think we can give ourselves a shot to have a good start,” Fowler said.

The challenge of getting back to the top of the league and re-establishing program pedigree is something that has been one of the key driving factors in moving forward all summer.

“We had a tremendous number of players stay up here this summer, and that was key for us to kind of get some continuity,” Fowler went on to say. “I really like our new hires on the defensive side of the ball — Ramal Faunteroy out of Shepherd University in West Virginia, and D.J. Bryant, who spent time in the NFL with the New York Giants in the NFL and was an outstanding linebacker at James Madsion, where he will have an outstanding rapport with his former position coach at JMU and our second-year defensive coordinator Kyle Gillenwater.”

Fauntleroy was the head coach at NCAA Division II Shepherd’s State where he spent the past seven seasons as the head coach in the mountain state. He helped the Rams field the nation’s top rushing defense each of the past four seasons.

Fauntleroy will take over the defensive line responsibilities vacated by coach Jimmy Lindsey, who helped develop Furman’s pass rush and defensive line into one of the top units in the Southern Conference in his four years helping the Paladins inexperienced, undersized defensive front. Despite being inexperienced and a unit that produced a league-low eight sacks, plenty of talent returns, including veterans like Brad Minter and Brian Ross at the respective defensie end spots, and Jordan Hawkins and Jaylin Reid inside, as all four up front will have a change to garner All-SoCon plaudits this fall.

“Perhaps the part that has me most excited about this coming season is coach Gillenwater and our defense. The scheme is very similar to what the scheme was at James Madison when the Dukes were in their heyday as a program in the mid-2000s, which included a national title in 2004, and I really like some of the things we can do with it. It’s a simple and complex defense at the same time, designed to create havoc, force turnovers and with several new blitz schemes. Our players knew the defense last year, so the install wasn’t all that hard, but our biggest thing was we weren’t executing properly making the plays we needed to make. We have a good defense though and we were better than the numbers we put up last season,” Folwer added.

Bryant is another excellent addition to the Paladin defense, having played linebacker for Gillenwater during his time at James Madison. Bryant’s mere presence commands respect for the simple fact that he played at a high level during his time James Madison and was a member of one of the best teams in JMU history in 2008, which won 12 games before getting defeated at home against Montana (), as well as being a key figure a couple of years later on a JMU team that took down ACC title favorite and No. 13 Virginia Tech. By the time his senior season rolled around, he was an All-CAA standout and for a second time in his career.

New defensive line coach battles for a loose football in his senior season at James Madison against arch-rival Richmond

Bryant’s stellar career as a Duke took him down a path which enabled him to have a chance at a professional career, signing a free agent deal with the Houston Texans and spent time as a scout team member for four other NFL franchises before being a member of the Edmonto Eskimos on the Canadian Football League prior to joining the Furman staff this past February. Like Fauntleroy, Bryant brings a youthful energy and an excellent work ethic to Furman’s coaching staff.

“Having both coaches Bryant and Fauntleroy as part of helping develop our outside and inside guys along of our defensive line is something I am excited to see this season, and both bring a tremendous amount of collective aptitude as coaches for our their particular coaching assignments on defense, being able to read things during a game and helping relay that to our guys in a way that they can prepare for opponents, as well as understand the entirety of what coach Gillenwater’s defense should look like when clicking on all cylinders. I am thrilled to have them both as coaches on the defensive side of the ball for the 2016 season,” said Fowler.

All-Southern Conference defensive back Trey Robinson continues a long line of reat Paladin defensive backs that has seemingly gotten better with each season under Fowler

One of the areas of keen interest on the defensive side of the football once again this season will be the defensive backfield. There are two reasons for such interest: 1) Trey Robinson and 2) Furman ranked second in the SoCon and 20th in the FCS last season in total pass defense (182.3 YPG).

The Paladin lineage in the defensive backfield includes names like Ernest Gibson, John Keith, Walter Booth, Richie Jackson, Rodney Johnson, Ryan Steed and most recently, Reggie Thomas.

“I am familiar with some of the greats that have played here. I know Ryan Steed and know how talented of a corner he was here at Furman and I played with probably the best corner in our league last year, Reggie Thomas. Reggie was underrated and you people don’t realize how talented he was but you see it on film. I have heard a lot about the guys on past teams. We’ll miss Reggie, but I am excited about Aaquil [Annoor], Jacque[Evangelister], Jamarri [Milliken], and Byron [Johnson] back to help us be one of the best secondaries in the country. Add to that the fact that you have such a talented group coming in and redshirt guys that haven’t even seen the field yet but should this season, I feel we have a tremendous collection of athleticism, speed and depth,” Robinson said.

When you consider the Paladins had just eight sacks last fall, the interest level rises even more. Robinson will once again play a key role in helping the Paladins defend the airways in 2016. Robinson, who has started since he was a freshman on the 2013 SoCon title-winning team, garnering the starting cornerback job by mid-season before suffering a shoulder injury late during the 14-game campaign. The senior was not shy in letting me know what he loves about playing safety for the Paladins.

“Before every play I think to myself, if this ball is in the air and anywhere near where I can get to it, it’s mine. That’s the mentality you have to have in the secondary. You just have to want it more no matter what,” said the preseason First Team All-SoCon safety.

Robinson has not been a stranger to making key plays throughout his career, especially in big ball games, starting with Furman’s Homecoming triumph over No. 17 and league leading Samford during his freshman season of 2013 — one that also saw the Paladins claim a share of the Southern Conference title.

In the 34–17 win, Robinson posted four tackles and sealed Furman’s win by picking off Samford’s Andy Summerlin, who set a school-record with 44 completions in the loss, as the Paladins continued their strong play down the stretch and eventually made the postseason.

Then just last season it was Robinson coming to the rescue again in the Paladins’ 16–15 FBS win over Central Florida — its first since 1999. All Robinson did was pick off two passes in helping the Paladins to a big program win. With the struggles the Paladins have encountered the past couple of seasons, the win was one that helped solidify in the minds of many that the Paladins still had the kind of pedigree that had routinely given FBS opponents fits in past seasons.

As a prep, Robinson starred in Spartanburg, where he played for head coach Dave Gutshall at Dorman. He played quarterback and was one of the best athletes on the Cavaliers’ roster.

Successful seasons for Furman in the past has most often meant creating turnovers. In 2013, the Paladins biggest reason for success in gaining what was the program’s 13th Southern Conference title was turnover margin, finishing the season +1.0 and ranked ninth nationally in turnover margin, creating 31 turnovers, including picking off 13 passes and recovering 18 fumbles.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this preview coming up later this week.