Furman Closes Out Season By Hosting Arch-rival The Citadel

WHO: The Citadel (6-4, 4-3 SoCon) at Furman (3-7, 2-5 SoCon) WHEN: Nov. 17, 2012, 12 p.m. WHERE: GREENVILLE, S.C., PALADIN STADIUM (16,000)

GREENVILLE, S.C.–For the first time since 1992, bitter Palmetto State rivals Furman and The Citadel meet in the final regular-season game, and there’s something on the line for one of those teams, as The Citadel needs a win to become playoff eligible. With a win, it would mark the first time the Bulldogs have participated in the FCS postseason since that 1992 campaign, which of course was the last time the two met at the end of a season.

For a long time, the Furman-Citadel rivalry was a significant part of rivalry week, as the Paladins and Bulldogs met on the final week of the college football season. However, after a nine-game winning streak from 1982-90, Citadel Athletics Director Walt Nadzak petitioned to have the game moved to the middle of October rather than at the end of the campaign. Nadzak would win that petition and the game was moved to mid-October instead of the end of the season in 1993, and with that move, the rivalry lost a little of its luster.

On that late November afternoon back in 1992, the Bulldogs, led by quarterback Jack Douglas and fullback Everette Sands led The Citadel to a 20-14 and a Southern Conference regular-season crown, as The Citadel claimed the No. 1 overall seed heading into the postseason.

With wins over Southern Conference c0-champions Appalachian State (52-28, Sept. 15) and Georgia Southern (23-21, Sept. 8), a Bulldog win at Furman might give the SoCon a chance of getting four teams in the FCS postseason for the first time in league history, with the lone team standing in the way being the Paladins.

Last week, the Paladins were the only team standing between Appalachian State and a Southern Conference title, and the Mountaineers were able to squeak out a ninth-straight win over the Paladins at Kidd Brewer Stadium, with 33-28 victory to lift the 2012 trophy.

The Bulldogs enter Saturday’s regular-season finale having clinched their first winning season since 2007, claiming a 27-24 win over VMI in the battle for the Silver Shaiko in what was the 33rd meeting between the two military rivals and former Southern Conference foes. A win on Saturday over the Paladins would also give the Bulldogs a chance to finish the league slate with a winning record (5-3) for the first time since finishing with back-to-back winning seasons on the SoCon hardwood in 2006 and ’07.

It’s certainly been a struggle for the Paladins this season, who haven’t finished with less than four wins in a season since the 1994 season (3-8), and have only finished with less than four wins twice since 1971 (’72 and ’94). The Paladins have lost to two of the three tied for the SoCon title–Wofford and Appalachian State–by a combined total of five points, however, it’s a young football team that is showing plenty of positive signs heading towards the 2013 season.

Saturday’s clash between the Paladins and Bulldogs will mark the 92nd all-time between two schools with a history of loving to hate each other, marking the most-played rivalry among two league members. The Paladins hold a 57-31-3 all-time series edge, and have won the past six between the two in Greenville, and the Bulldogs have claimed a victory in their last six trips to the Upstate of South Carolina, since getting wins over both Furman () and Wofford () at Paladin Stadium and Gibbs Stadium, respectively, in 1998.

Since the turn of the century, the Paladins hold a 9-3 series edge against the Bulldogs, with The Citadel getting wins over the Paladins in 2003 (10-9), ’07 (54-51, OT) and ’09 (38-28), which all of course came at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston. The Paladins are now playing for the seniors and for next season, and with a win, it could catapult the Paladins’ momentum into spring practice. A win for the Bulldogs would at least give the program a chance to make its fourth playoff appearance in school history, and first since the legendary Charlie Taafe roamed the sidelines for the Bulldogs in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s.

Furman’s Bruce Fowler was able to garner his first win as a head coach, as the Paladins posted a 16-6 win in Charleston last September, snapping a two-game losing streak in Charleston, which dated back to a 2005 triple overtime win (39-31). Saturday will also mark Senior Day for Furman, and it will bid farewell to some greats on both sides of the football, including running back Jerodis Williams on offense, and linebacker Mitch McGrath, defensive end Josh Lynn and free safety Nathan Wade on the defensive side of the football.

Now nearly through his second full season as head coach, Fowler enters Saturday’s contest with a 9-12 record as head coach, while Kevin Higgins, who is nearly through his eighth full season in Charleston, enters Saturday’s matchup with a 37-54 record in Charleston, and has at least ensured the Bulldogs of their second winning season in his time on the sidelines for the Bulldogs.

The Rivalry:

The Paladins and Bulldogs rivalry has much to do with the contrast of both schools—The Citadel being a disciplined military education that prepares a man for the world and to be a leader through service, while Furman’s stringent academic standards challenge good minds to be great ones. They are both vastly different and both offer a quality education, but both fanbases view each other in a condescending manner. For Citadel fans, Furman is usually viewed as the school full of students that wear Polo, drive BMWs and is only for students who have family members who are members of the bourgeoisie. Furman fans view Citadel cadets as “bellhops,” mostly due to their uniforms resembling that of your upscale hotel porter. They also have the condescending view of Citadel cadets as being “West Point rejects” or members of a lesser military institution than those of the other major service academies, Army, Navy and Air Force.

Both stereotypes are vastly skewed, and both are quality institutions which offer outstanding educations in their own right, but the aforementioned stereotypes each fanbase holds for the other institution is what makes the rivalry what it is to this day.

There have been some truly great games played between the only two remaining charter members on the league’s gridiron.

Furman’s success and its championship history has The Citadel at the heart of the story, as the Bulldogs were the team the Paladins had to go through to garner its first of a league-standard tying 12 league championships.

One of the memories that will forever live in the minds of Furman fans will be the 1978 meeting between the two schools—a matchup that would ultimately end up deciding the Southern Conference title—with Furman getting a 17-13 win over the Bulldogs to claim the crown.

Furman needed a goal-line stand on a Citadel drive late in the fourth quarter, as the Paladins kept talented Citadel running back Stump Mitchell out of the Sirrine Stadium on a fourth-and-goal, allowing Furman to claim the the program’s first league title.

The Paladins went on to finish 8-3 in 1979. There was plenty of irony in that day on the sidelines, too, as former Paladin head coach Art Baker, was on the sidelines as the head coach of the Bulldogs’ football program.

Baker coached five seasons at Furman (1973-77), compiling a 27-24 overall record and was a coach that many will tell you helped lay the foundation for Furman’s future championship success.Baker also spent five seasons in Charleston at the helm of  The Citadel’s program, where he posted a 30-24-1 mark at the helm. One of the memories that will forever live in the minds of Furman fans will be the 1978 meeting between the two schools—a matchup that would ultimately end up deciding the Southern Conference title—with Furman getting a 17-13 win over the Bulldogs to claim the crown.

Furman needed a goal-line stand on a Citadel drive late in the fourth quarter, as the Paladins kept talented Citadel running back Stump Mitchell out of the Sirrine Stadium on a fourth-and-goal, allowing Furman to claim the first of its league-standard 12 Southern Conference crowns. The Paladins went on to finish 8-3 in 1978.

It was the 1998 meeting between the two that saw the Bulldogs forge a comeback for the record books. It was October 17, 1998, and Paladin Stadium was especially alive with the home-side nearly fully purple and white on what was a beautiful, mid-October Saturday afternoon. It looked as if it would be a near-perfect sequence of events on that particular homecoming Saturday, and after the Paladins jumped out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, it looked like a homecoming win over the arch-rival Bulldogs would be a mere formality.

Former standout Furman wide receiver Des Kitchings was in high gear on that afternoon, scoring two of the Paladins three TDs in the contest—one of which came on 65-yard run on a reverse, and the other coming on a 52-yard pass from quarterback Justin Hill early in the second quarter, which gave the Paladins a 21-0 lead with 10:30 remaining in the half. That is where the perfect Saturday for the Paladins would end, however, as the Bulldogs stormed back dominated the next 40 minutes of football.

It was Citadel signal-caller Stanley Myers and running back Antonio Smith that did a large majority of the damage, as the duo would keep the Paladin defense off-balance the remainder of the game to help the Bulldogs to the 25-24 win. Myers connected on an astounding 18-of-19 passes in the contest for 167 yards and a TD, while Smith rushed for 110 yards and a couple of TDs to help the Bulldogs rebound for the win.

Myers completed 18-straight passes against the Paladin defense, setting a new Southern Conference standard for consecutive pass-completions in a single game. That record would later be shattered by Appalachian State’s Richie Williams, also against the Paladins, when he completed 28-consecutive throws against the Paladins in 2004.

Trailing 25-24, the Paladins had a chance to win the contest late in the fourth quarter, driving all the way to the Citadel 31, but Jason Wells’ potential game-winning field goal was blocked by Citadel cornerback Marcus Johnson and the Bulldogs were able to preserve the one-point, come-from-behind win.

The two have had a pair of overtime decisions in the recent past. Both the 2005 and ’07 meetings needed overtime to decide things between the two archrivals, and both were at The Citadel’s Johnson-Hagood Stadium.

It was Furman that fell behind 21-7 in the ’05 contest, and the Paladins had plenty of ground to make up when starting signal-caller Ingle Martin exited the lineup with cramps in the third quarter in the sweltering Charleston October heat.

Backup signal-caller Renaldo Gray would come into the contest, and his versatility as a run-pass threat would save the fifth-ranked Paladins, as Furman would score 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime, eventually winning a triple overtime thriller, 39-31. The Paladins had only 226 yards of total offense through the first three quarters, as their offense was stymied.

However, after Gray came into the game, the Paladin offense found another gear and generated 235 yards the remainder of the game in getting the thrilling win. In 2007, it was the Duran Lawson show, as the Bulldogs rolled up a school-record 641 yards en route to a 54-51 overtime win over the Paladins on another warm afternoon in the Port City.

The 641 yards gained by the Bulldogs were not only a Citadel record for single-game total offense, it was also the most yards ever given up by a Paladin defense, eclipsing the previous record surrendered by a Furman defense, which was 640 yards to Georgia Southern in the 1985 national championship game. Lawson set a single-game Citadel record for total offense, accounting for 486 total offensive yards (386 passing, 100 rushing) of the 641 yards gained by the Bulldogs offense on the afternoon. Not lost in the loss for the Paladins was the performance by wideout Patrick Sprague, who had a record-breaking afternoon for a Furman receiver.

Sprague caught nine passes for 238 yards and three scores, setting the school record for receiving yards in a single game. In stark contrast to the ‘05 and ’07 meetings, the ’03 meeting  in Charleston was one that was a much more defensively slanted contest, with the Bulldogs taking a narrow 10-9 win, benefiting mostly from late-game Paladin miscues.

Furman rebounded from a 10-0 halftime deficit, getting a 29-yard field goal from Danny Marshall late in the third quarter and the Paladins finally found the end zone via Furman backup quarterback Josh Stepp, who scampered in from three yards out to make the score 10-9. However, a bad exchange on the extra-point attempt forced the Paladins into a botched PAT.

Furman was then forced into an onside kick to try and get the ball back, but The Citadel recovered and was able to run all but 12 seconds off the game clock. The Paladins eventually got the ball back with only 12 seconds remaining at their own 16, but could not get within Marshall’s field-goal range and time ran out, with the Bulldogs holding on for the 10-9 win.

 Game Preview: In now its third season of operation, The Citadel’s triple option offense has been widely considered a success, and that offense will be relied upon to help the Bulldogs notch one more win and become playoff eligible for the first time since 1992. The Bulldogs come into Saturday’s matchup against the Paladins ranking 49th nationally in total offense (386.0 YPG), 46th in scoring offense (28.6 PPG), fourth in rushing offense (302.5 YPG) and 119th in passing offense (46.1 YPG).

Obviously, this is a Citadel offense that has shown the ability to put up yards and points this season, as we saw with the Bulldogs’ Southern Conference opener this season when the Bulldogs posted 52 points and 618 yards in the 52-28 win at Appalachian State. The Bulldogs’ offense has been led by a pair of signal-callers this season, with senior Ben Dupree (23-of-41 passing, 336 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT/149 rush att, 755 yds, 8 TDs, 5.1 YPC) and junior Aaron Miller (32-of-64 passing, 499 yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs/76 rush att, 260 yds, 5 TDs, 3.4 YPC) logging action under center and the duo has thrived in the third year of the triple-option offense.

Dupree offers more of the rushing threat under center, and has shown the ability to make the big plays in the passing game when needed this season, which has made this offense more dangerous and much more versatile this season. Dupree has had some strong performances for the Bulldogs this season, including the early season perfomance in Boone.

In helping the Bulldogs to their first win in the High Country since 1992, Dupree rushed for 180 yards and a pair of TDs, while throwing for 56 yards on 2-for-4 passing. In winning the battle for the “Silver Shaiko” last week against VMI, Dupree fashioned a solid performance, rushing for 45 yards and a score, while also throwing for 49 yards, completing all three of his passes. Miller has offered more of the passing threat for the Bulldogs this season, having effectively thrown the deep ball this season.

He completed a couple of key throws in the league-opening win over Georgia Southern back on Sept. 8.

Miller’s development into being a solid passing threat this season for the Bulldogs has allowed the offense to become maybe even a more versatile triple-option than either Georgia Southern or Wofford this season.

He enjoyed one of  his top performances of the season against Appalachian State, completing both of his passes for 99 yards, and those long pass completions would both lead the Bulldog scores. One of the running backs that has been overlooked in the Southern Conference this season has been Darien Robinson (128 rush att, 953 yds, 6 TDs, 7.4 YPC/8 rec, 41 yds). Robinson needs just 47 yards to become the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Bulldogs since Tory Cooper rushed eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau in 2007.

Robinson is a powerful running back that will start in the “B” back role on Saturday afternoon against the Paladins. Robinson has great vision, and has a good knack for being able to adequately follow his blocks. Though he has only eight receptions this season, he has the ability to be a dangerous weapon catching the football out of the backfield for the Bulldogs. In the 16-6 loss to Paladins last season, Robinson carried the ball eight times for 33 yards. He enjoyed his best performance this season against Elon just a couple of weeks ago in The Citadel’s 38-24 win over Elon, as he rushed for a career-best 178 yards and a TD on 20 rush attempts.

The Citadel will also have two experienced, veteran players at the respective slotback positions heading into Saturday’s showdown at arch-rival Furman.

One of those two starters for The Citadel will be senior slotback Rickey Anderson (52 rush att, 418 yds, 7 TDs, 8.0 YPC/4 rec, 53 yds, 13.2 YPR), while set to man the other slotback position will be classmate Van Dyke Jones (33 rush att, 166 yds, 3 TDs, 5.0 YPC/2 rec, 52 yds, 26.0 YPR).

Both Anderson and Jones have been significant factors in the ground attack for the Bulldogs this season, ranking third and fifth nationally in rushing on the squad, respectively.

Anderson had his first 100-yard rushing effort earlier this season against Appalachian State in the 52-28 road victory, as Anderson completed the contest with 102 yards and a TD on just nine carries. Anderson ranks as maybe The Citadel’s most athletic player on the offensive side of the football, and could be a big play threat in the passing game as well, with his tremendous speed coming out of the backfield.

In the 16-6 loss to Furman last season, Anderson finished with 29 yards on five carries. Jones has also enjoyed some strong performances for the Bulldogs this season, and like Anderson, is one of the veteran offensive leaders for The Citadel.

Jones will be making his 24th-career start against the Paladins on Saturday, and he has been a valuable asset both catching the football out of the backfield this season, as well as rushing the football, mostly on the edge for the Bulldogs this season.

Matt Thompson (13 rec, 284 yds, 1 TD, 21.4 YPR) and Greg Adams (7 rec, 105 yds, 15.0 YPR) offer the two main receiving options for the Bulldogs heading into Saturday afternoon’s clash, with both having made some timely catches this season. Another solid receiving threat for The Citadel this season has been Domonic Jones (11 rec, 178 yds, 2 TDs, 16.2 YPR), who is a big, physical wideout that has caused matchup problems on the perimeter with that size this season.

Rounding out the receiving options for the Bulldogs heading into Saturday’s showdown at Paladin Stadium is tight end Alex Glover, who is more of a blocking presence for the Bulldogs this season rather than being a threat in the passing game for The Citadel. Glover took over at the tight end position when Cullen Brown moved to right tackle.

The offensive line has been a veteran unit for The Citadel this season, and anchoring that unit has been among the best centers in the SoCon and in the FCS, in center Mike Sellers.  Sellers is part of a unit that has helped the Bulldogs average 5.9 yards-per-play and 5.6 yards-per-rush this season. Sellers will be joined up front by tackles Brown and Devin Bice (LT), while Jim Knowles (RG) and Robert Finke (LG) are set to man the respective guard positions for the Bulldogs on Saturday against the Paladins. Finke is the lone relative newcomer to the offensive front, having replaced Robert Finke at left guard.

Furman has continued to see improvement on the defensive side of the football with each passing week this season, and Saturday offers a chance for the unit to put it all together in hopes of shutting down the Bulldogs and ending the season on a winning note on Saturday. It will be the final game in a Paladin uniform for five starters on defense on Saturday (Josh Lynn DE, Matt Solomon LB, Mitch McGrath LB, Nathan Wade FS and Colton Keig DT).

The Paladins enter Saturday’s contest ranking 85th in total defense (402.5 YPG), 80th in scoring defense (29.6 PPG), 65th in rushing defense (158.2 YPG),  81st in passing defense (233.8 YPG). The Paladins enter Saturday afternoon’s contest ranking second in the SoCon in sacks this season, having recorded 25 sacks this season, with 11 of those sacks coming over the past couple of weeks.

The Paladins are led along the defensive front by defensive ends Josh Lynn (34 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FF) and Shawn Boone (21 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks), while Ricky Lang (22 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks), who is the backup defensive end that leads the team in sacks, will also be playing his final game as a Paladin as a reserve defensive end. Furman has been as strong at defensive end since the 2007, when the Paladins led the SoCon in sacks, as the bookend position was headlined by Wallace Artis.

The Paladins have been solid at defensive tackle this season, too, with both Colton Keig (38 tackles, 4.0 TFL) and Neal Rodgers (31 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack) set to start on Saturday against the Bulldogs. It will be the final game in a Paladin uniform at defensive tackle for Keig, who has started every game this season and will be making his 32nd start at defensive tackle in his career against the Bulldogs.

Furman has been solid at linebacker all season, and have had among the more underrated linebacking corps in the Southern Conference this season.

Two-thirds of the Paladin linebacking unit will be playing their final game in the Purple and White on Saturday, as both senior middle linebacker Matt Solomon (81 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 PBUs) and All-SoCon strong side linebacker Mitch McGrath (76 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs, 2 FFs, 1 FR) will be in action for a final time in their collegiate careers.

Both McGrath and Solomon are among the two most physical players on the Furman defense, and in his second-straight season as a full-time starter on the Paladin defense, McGrath has once again been a special player for the Paladin defense, and is the most opportunistic playmaker on the defensive side of the ball for the Paladins.

The lone underclassmen at linebacker–sophomore weakside linebacker Gary Wilkins (85 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FR, 1 TD, 1 blkd kick)–might be the most talented of the Paladin trio. Wilkins’ 85 tackles lead the team, and he scored his first-career TD as a Paladin last Saturday, stripping the ball loose and recovering a fumble in the end zone for a TD in the 33-28 loss to Appalachian State.

Most of Furman’s struggles have come in defending the pass this season, but the secondary is the unit that has seen maybe the most improvement on the defensive side of the ball from the 2012 season’s beginning to the end. The lone senior starter in the Paladin secondary heading into Saturday is free safety Nathan Wade (72 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT). Wade needs just three tackles to register a second-straight season with 75 tackles, and the hard-hitting senior safety began the season as a second-team all-league pick.

Joining Wade at safety on Saturday will be junior Greg Worthy (68 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 PBUs) at strong safety, who began the season as a first-team All-SoCon selection, has been solid all season for the Paladins at strong safety and is one of the more physical performers on the defensive side of the football for the Paladins. Worthy is also one of the more athletic players on the Paladin defense, and will be called on to be a key playmaker on Saturday against the Bulldogs.

The two cornerback positions are the two that have seen the Paladins struggle at the most this season, with the graduation of All-American Ryan Steed. Manning those two positions on Saturday afternoon for the Paladins will be both true freshman Reggie Thomas (33 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU) and junior Austin Williams (23 tackles, 2 PBUs, 1 FF).

Like Furman, The Citadel has seen its share of struggles on the defensive side of the football this season, and enter Saturday’s showdown with arch-rival Furman ranking

The Bulldogs’ defensive unit has been powered by its talented defensive front all season, which features talented defensive tackle Derrick Douglas (16 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD), who is coming off SoCon Defensive Player of the Week accolades for his performance in the 27-24 win over VMI, while defensive end Chris Billingslea () ranks as one of the top defensive ends in the Southern Conference this season.

In the win over the Keydets, Douglas came to the rescue for the Bulldogs, as he had four tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a 21-yard fumble return for a score in the three-point win to garner the SoCon’s weekly defensive accolade. He missed the first three games of the season with a torn ACL, which he suffered in spring drills prior to the season.

Rounding out the starters for the Bulldogs along the defensive line for Saturday’s showdown with arch-rival Furman at Paladin Stadium are Bay Amrhein (23 tackles, 2.0 TFL) at defensive end, and freshman Mitchell Jeter (22 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3,0 sacks) at defensive tackle. Jeter is making a strong case for SoCon All-Freshman honors this season, teaming with Douglas to form one of the league premier defensive tackle tandems.

Linebacker was the position hit hardest by graduation coming into the year for the Bulldogs, but The Citadel has had a couple of players step up and provide some solid play at the position this season, including the team’s leading tackler Carson Smith (84 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 4 PBUs). Smith will start at weakside linebacker on Saturday, and posted a seven tackles and a blocked punt returned for a TD in a 28-10 home loss to Chattanooga to garner SoCon Defensive Player of the Week accolades earlier this season.

Joining Smith at linebacker for the Bulldogs on Saturday will be both freshman James Riley (31 tackles, 3.0 TFL , 1.5 sacks) and sophomore Akeem Garnett (26 tackles, 2 PBU, 1 FF), who have both proven to be solid performers in their first respective seasons starting in the second line of the Bulldogs’ defense this season.

Riley and Garnett have been called upon in the latter part of the season for the Bulldogs, as this has been a unit decimated by injuries during the 2012 campaign, with Rah Muhammad going down with a broken ankle to bring a premature end to his 2012 campaign,while senior Yemi Oyegunle was lost at the season’s halfway point with a groin injury.

Riley, who will start middle linebacker on Saturday, is maybe the most physical player on the defensive side of the football, and responded when thrust into the starting 11 on the defensive side of the ball against Wofford, posting 12 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and a sack in a 24-21 loss at Wofford.

Another unit that has been extremely young this season for the Bulldogs this season has been their secondary, which like Furman, lost some key pieces to graduation last season. The unit has improved as the year has progressed, and coming into the regular-season finale, the unit has been led by young cornerbacks Sadath Jean-Pierre (77 tackles, 5 PBUs, 1 FR) and Brandon McCladdie (37 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2 INTs, 3 FFs).

McCladdies’s two INTs lead the team this season, and he will be making his 24th start in 33 games over his Citadel career on Saturday afternoon. Jean-Pierre’s 77 tackles this season rank him second overall on the team in tackles.

The two safety positions will be manned by senior Davis Boyle (31 tackles, 2 PBUs) and sophomore Julian Baxter (36 tackles).  Boyle turned in his best games of the season on the defensive side of the football for the Bulldogs against both Samford and Chattanooga, registering five tackles in both losses. Baxter turned in a season-best seven tackles in the win over Western Carolina.

Furman comes into Saturday’s matchup with the Bulldogs having been inconsistent on the offensive side of the football for much of the campaign. The Paladins come into Saturday’s matchup with arch-rival The Citadel ranking 57th nationally in total offense (375.5 YPG), 66th in scoring offense (25.2 PPG), 47th in rushing offense (164.7 YPG) and 60th in passing offense (210.8 YPG).

Leading the Furman offense this season has been true freshman quarterback Reese Hannon (154-of-250 passing, 1,859 yds, 7 TDs, 7 INTs). Hannon got his career off to a strong start in a 47-45 triple-overtime loss to Coastal Carolina in Furman’s home opener on Sept. 8. In that contest, he took over for an injured Dakota Derrick, and has not relinquished the job ever since. In that contest, Hannon connected on 22-of-35 passes for 235 yards and four TDs, garnering SoCon Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Hannon has five 200-yard passing performances in his nine starts for the Paladins this season, including throwing for 203 yards and Furman’s only offensive TD in the 33-28 loss at Appalachian State last week. Earlier this season, Hannon was added to the initial Jerry Rice Award watch list, which is presented to the nation’s top freshman performer.

The success the Paladin offense has had this season has been due in large part to senior running back Jerodis Williams (181 rush att, 1,067 yds, 10 TDs, 5.7 YPC/21 rec, 142 yds, 6.8 YPR), who will be one of two starters on the offensive side of the ball playing for the final time in the Purple and White, has recorded a second-straight 1,000-yard rushing season.

Williams is one of four 1,000-yard rushers in the Southern Conference this season, and he might offer the best combination of overall talent in one running back. He had one of the best games in school and Southern Conference history early this season against Western Carolina. In that game, Williams accounted for 370 all-purpose yards, which was the second-most in Southern Conference history, as well as the fourth-highest rushing total in school history, having rushed for 239 yards in the contest.

He also had a 100-yard kickoff return in the game, which is one of two 100-yard kick returns this season for the senior, as he also ran a kickoff back 100 yards for a score in last week’s 33-28 loss at Appalachian State. Williams has helped the Paladins lead the country in kickoff returns this season, as the Paladins are averaging 38.9 yards per kick return so far on the campaign.

Williams enters Saturday afternoon’s contest sixth among Paladin running backs on the all-time career rushing ledger, having amassed 2,994 yards over his four-year career in Greenville. With 43 yards rushing on Saturday, he will move past Larry Robinson (1973-76) on the Paladins’ all-time career rushing ledger.

Joining Williams in the backfield for the Paladins, providing support in the running game will be backup tailback Hank McCloud (91 rush att, 429 yds, 5 TDs, 4.7 YPC/9 rec, 78 yds, 8.7 YPC) and fullback Ernie Cain (19 rush att, 108 yds, 3 TDs, 5.7 YPC), who have both proven to be vital assets to the Furman running game this season.

Furman will also bid farewell to one of the best tight ends to ever suit up for the school on Saturday, with the Colin Anderson (27 rec, 455 yds, 16.9 YPR) playing his final game for the Paladins. Anderson will end his career ranking first all-time in TD catches (11) among tight ends, while needing 68 yds to set the school’s all-time mark.

FINAL PREDICTION: Rivalry games are never easy to pick, and this one is no different. It’s a return to the way things should be for Furman and The Citadel, at least for one game, with the two meeting in the final game of the season bringing back memories of the old days, when the Paladins and Bulldogs battled in the final game of the season with postseason implications on the line. Look for Furman to close out the season in style on its home turf with a hard-fought win.

Furman 34, The Citadel 20


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