GREENVILLE, S.C. — For the second-straight week, Furman overcame a first-half deficit to down an opponent, squeaking past visiting VMI, 24–21, in what was the Southern Conference opener for both clubs Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.

In each of Furman’s last three wins dating back to last season, the Paladins have rebounded from a halftime deficit to win a game.

With the win, Furman evens its overall to 2–2 on the season, while opening Southern Conference play with a victory for the fourth time in five seasons in the Bruce Fowler era. VMI dropped to 1–3 and 0–1 in league action.

In what looked to be a game in which both passing attacks might possibly dominate the game’s headlines, it was the physical play on the defensive side of the football from statistically the two worst defensive units in the SoCon would proved to be the story of the day.

The Paladins were stellar defensively, holding the Keydets to just 279 yards. The Keydets came into the game averaging 472.3 YPG. The Paladins, meanwhile, could only muster a meager 322 yards if total offense in the contest.

For the second-straight week, it was the Furman special teams that proved to be the difference in the game, as a Brian Ross blocked punt and subsequent recovery for a score early in the third quarter helped the Paladins gain momentum, and JC Hollingsworth nailed a 42-yard game-winning field goal with 4:35 remaining to help the Paladins escape the scrappy Keydets, who were playing their first Southern Conference game under new head coach Scott Wachenheim.

Reese Hannon finished the contest completing 23-of-40 passes for 197 yards, while VMI’s strong-armed sophomore signal caller Al Cobb finished the 21-of-42 passing for 235 yards, with 1 touchdown and a pair of picks.

VMI would get the rainy, cool early fall afternoon off to a strong start, a little over midway through the opening quarter. After a three-and-out for the Paladin offense, the Keydets got a short field after a rare shanked punt by Hollingsworth, which gave the ball to VMI in great field position. It took just two plays for the Keydets to take the lead.

Cobb completed a 44-yard bomb to freshman Dante Mauck, in which the true freshman wideout made an acrobatic catch to bring in the football to put the Keydets 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. On the very next play, fullback Derek Ziglar plunged in from a yard out to make it a 7–0 lead for the visitors with 6:25 remaining in the opening quarter.

A little over five minutes into the second, VMI would capitalize on what was the second caused fumble by the Keydets in the opening frame, getting pressure on Reese Hannon and forced the Brian Lipscomb forced and recovered the fumble for the Keydets, helping VMI set up shop at the Furman 40.

The Keydets drove 40 yards in eight plays, as Cobb capped the drive with his lone scoring pass, as the sophomore Volunteer State native connected with wideout Matthew Nicholson, increasing the VMI lead to 14–0 with 7:07 remaining in the half.

Furman would get its only score of the opening half on the ensuing drive following the Keydets’ second score of the opening half, helping the Paladins grab some momentum entering the halftime locker room. The key play in the drive came early on, as Furman faced a 3rd-and-6, which saw Hannon connect with wideout Logan McCarter for a gain of eight yards and a Furman first down at the Paladin 31.

After Antonio Wilcox gained eight on the next play, Hannon hooked up with McCarter again, as this time quarterback-wideout hookup covered 21 yards and into Keydet territory at the 32.

From there, Hannon found preseason All-America tight end Duncan Fletcher for a gain of 13 on following an incompletion, as the Paladins were down to the 19.

Terry Robinson then took an option pitch around the right side for a gain of 11 to get the Paladins inside the 10, and three plays later, Ernie Cain posted his fifth of the season with 1:30 remaining in the half, cutting the VMI lead in half, 14–7, as the two teams entered the halftime locker room.

The Keydets would start the second half with the football, and the Paladins would force a Keydet punt. The Paladins left their defense on the field for each punt on the day by the Keydets, due in large part to the formation the Keydets used, and Furman had gotten a strong rush on VMI punter Hayden Alford all afternoon.

On his first punt of the second half, Paladin defensive end Brian Ross broke through the line and blocked the Alford punt off the edge, and scooped it up at the five and ran it in for a score, tying the game, 14–14.

The Paladin defense would then seize upon that momentum, and off a deflected pass Byron Johnson intercepted a Cobb pass on the second play of the ensuing VMI series, however, the Paladins could not convert on the turnover, as Hollingsworth missed the 47-yard field goal attempt wide left.

It wouldn’t be until late in the quarter until Furman would take its first lead of the game, posting a 12-play 57-yard drive, which ended with a 4-yard Hannon option-keeper to make it a 21–14 Furman lead with 2:21 remaining in the third.

Playing from behind for the first time all afternoon, the Keydets would respond with its most impressive drive of the day, which covered 75 yards in 16 plays, capped by Ziglar’s second score of the day, with a 2-yard scoring run to make it a 21–21 game with 13:36 left.

VMI forced Furman to punt the ball on the ensuing series, and the Keydets had the ball back with a chance to drive down and take the lead once again. However, senior cornerback Reggie Thomas has a way of 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.

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.

VMI would get the ball back and get a 21-yard pass completion from Cobb-to-Nicholson on the first play of the drive. But after three-straight incompletion, twice thanks to leveling hits by Paladin linebacker Cory Magwood, Cobb and the Keydets would be forced to go for it on 4th-and-10 at the Furman 45.

Cobb was pressured out of the pocket once again on fourth down, deciding to pull it down and try and run for the first down, however, Ross provided his second important play of the game, as the junior defensive end tripped up Cobb from behind with a shoestring tackle after a 3-yard gain to force the turnover on downs.

After holding Furman on downs, the Keydets took over at their own 27 without a timeout, but a sack and a tackle-for-loss by the Furman defense would end the game, allowing the Paladins escape with the hard-fought Southern Conference win.

Furman had several highlight hits on the defensive side of the ball, and the Paladins were physical all day on the defensive side of the ball. The Paladins were led by a pair of hard-hitting safeties in the contest, with Rodney Anderson contributing his best career performance, posting 11 tackles and a tackle-for-loss, while Dorman High product and reigning STATS National Defensive Player of the Week Trey Robinson flirted with double-digit tackles for a second-straight week, posting nine stops. The Paladin defense registered three sacks.

Carl Rider finished with another solid performance, posting eight stops and a tackle-for-loss, while Cory Magwood had seven stops. VMI linebacker Allan Cratsenburg led all defensive players with 15 tackles.

Furman out-gained VMI 125–44 on the ground, and held nearly a 16-minute edge in time of possession (37:55–22:05).

Furman will be back at Paladin Stadium next Saturday, facing Palmetto State rival SC State, while VMI returns to Lexington to face Bucknell next Saturday.

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