Furman’s Defense Smothers No. 20 Samford
GREENVILLE, S.C.–Andrej Suttles caught three passes for 115 yards, including an 85-yard TD late in the second quarter, while Reese Hannon completed 10-of-14 passes for 159 yards and a TD, as Furman knocked off No. 20 Samford in Southern Conference football action on homecoming Saturday at Paladin Stadium.
The Paladins improved to 5-5 overall and 4-2 in Southern Conference play, while Samford suffered its second-straight setback in league play, falling to 6-4 and 4-2 in the SoCon.
With No. 17 Wofford’s 20-10 loss at No. 24 Chattanooga meant Furman is locked in a three-way tie for second place in the league standings with both Wofford and Samford, as all three teams now sport 4-2 league marks.
Samford and Chattanooga square off next weekend in Birmingham in another key Southern Conference matchup, which will further define the league’s championship race and playoff chase.
Should Samford win that game, Furman would be in line for an unprecedented 13th Southern Conference crown and potential playoff bid should the Paladins take care of business against Western Carolina and Wofford in the final two games of the 2013 season.
Taking the field in all black for the first time in school history, the Paladins would use big plays on offense and an opportunistic, aggressive defense, which pressured Bulldogs’ senior starter and Walter Payton Award candidate Andy Summerlin all afternoon en route to snapping a two-game skid against the Bulldogs.
The Paladins won the opening coin toss and elected to receive, and much took the initiative from the outset, much like last week’s win at Georgia Southern. Despite taking 14 more plays, it would be the same result, as Marcus Anderson’s first-career TD for the Paladins set the tone midway through the opening quarter, as he capped a 15-play, 79-yard drive to put the Paladins a 7-0 lead with 7:41 to play in the opening quarter.
The Bulldogs’ no-huddle offense, which would prove to be as good as advertised at times and rolled up 531 yards of total offense on the day, would also get points on their opening drive of the day, as the Bulldogs used 13 plays to travel 66 yards, but Furman’s defense clamped down in the red zone, holding the potent Samford offense to a Warren Handrahan 26-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 contest with 4:16 remaining in the opening quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tanner Skogen would fumble the football producing the game’s first turnover, and the Bulldogs took over the football in excellent field position, however, the black-clad Paladin defense stood tall once again, forcing the Samford offense backwards, as the Bulldogs netted -1 yard on five plays. Once again, Handrahan was called upon for a field goal try, and he was true from 41 yards out, cutting Furman’s lead to just a point, at 7-6, with 2:59 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Paladins would increase their advantage to eight points midway through the second quarter, as the Paladins were put in good position by virtue of a defense that forced three turnovers (2 INTs, 1 fumble), with two of those scores leading to Paladin TDs, while the other turnover halted a Samford scoring drive deep in the Furman red zone.
On a third-and-eight play, the Paladins brought a heavy rush against Summerlin, and Marcus McMorris, who started at weakside linebacker after playing the entire season as the Paladins’ free safety, sacked the Bulldogs’ signal-caller and the ball came free, which was also recovered by McMorris, giving the Paladins the football at the Samford 11.
Furman needed just two plays to find the end zone, and for the fifth time in 2013, it came from the ‘wildcat’ formation, as Richard Hayes III found the end zone for the first time in his career from six yards out, giving the Paladins a 14-6 lead with 6:13 remaining in the half following Ray Early’s PAT.
Samford would quell the Paladins’ momentum gained by Hayes’ first scoring run, as one of the best kick returners in the history of the Southern Conference, Fabian Truss, returning Early’s ensuing kickoff 76 yards down the sideline, giving the league’s best passing offense excellent field position.
The Furman red zone defense would once again force the Bulldogs to settle for a Handrahan field goal, as his 36-yard field goal got the Bulldogs within five points with 4:34 to play in the half.
It appeared the game was ready to take a turn for the worse for Furman on the ensuing kickoff, as junior running back Hank McCloud brought the ball out of the end zone and got an excellent return just across midfield, however, the ball was stripped free by the Bulldogs and recovered by Josh Killett, giving the Bulldogs excellent field position at their own 42.
On the drive’s opening play, however, John Mackey and Ira McCune got good penetration to stonewall Truss for a one-yard loss, and the Paladin defense would force the second Samford punt of the opening half, coming out of what could have been a momentum-swinging situation without suffering any damage.
With the ball back in its possession at its own 14, Hannon gained a yard on a keeper up the middle with a little under two minutes to play in the opening half, which would set the stage for the longest play of the season from scrimmage from Furman.
On 2nd-and-nine, Hannon found Suttles on a 10-yard strike, and Suttles did the rest as he proceeded to pivot at the 25, showing an uncanny sense of balance and body control to elude a Samford defender and then used his speed to cut across the field, while getting a final block from David Dingess on Samford All-America safety Jaquiski Tartt at the Furman 30 to complete the 85-yard scoring play. After Early’s PAT, Furman had a 21-9 lead over Samford with 1:46 remaining in the half, with the homecoming crowd creating a palpable energy.
It’s been quite a two-week stretch for Suttles, who had a 75-yard scoring reception on a halfback pass from Skogen last week, and now has caught nine passes for 230 yards and a pair of scores the past two weeks.
That would be how the two teams would enter the locker room, and Samford got the ball to open the second half. Furman would produce maybe its biggest play of the game on defense just on the Bulldogs’ opening series. Samford faced a 4th-and-1 at the Samford 47, however, D’Morrise Bledsoe was stopped for a loss of a yard, handing the ball to the Paladin offense in great field position just inside Samford territory to start the ensuing drive.
Much like the opening play in the 16-14 win at Georgia Southern last week, the Paladins went for the jugular on the first play, as Skogen took the hand-off from Hannon, and proceeded to throw his second scoring pass in as many weeks, finding sophomore wideout Jordan Snellings on a beautiful spiraled pass down the right sideline.
Skogen has completed both of his passes for 121 yards and a pair of scores each of the past two weeks. The one variation in the halfback pass against Samford as opposed to the one against Georgia Southern was that last week’s 75-yarder came on a toss sweep to the right, while the one against Samford came on a straight on an off-tackle hand-off to the right side, with both producing the same result. The pass gave the Paladins a 28-9 lead with 12:57 to play in the third quarter.
The story the rest of the way would remain the Furman defense, with Truss finally reaching the end zone on a 23-yard run late in the third period to account for the Bulldogs’ lone TD of the day, and after a two-point conversion, would get as close as 11 points (28-17), however, though the Bulldogs would threaten, would get no closer.
With Samford driving with under two minutes left, the Furman defense got pressure on Summerlin once again, and he threw it right to McMorris, who picked it off and proceeded to return it 89 yards for a score. In a late October win at Elon last year, McMorris recovered a fumble and returned it 95 yards for a score.McMorris also had a 52-yard INT for a score against Western Carolina last season, as nearly every time he has touched the ball for the Paladins in his career he has produced a big play, with three scores in his career after Saturday’s 89-yarder.
The Paladins now have six defensive scores (3 INT returns, 3 fumble returns) for scores in each of the past two seasons. Furman has now intercepted 10 passes this season, which now leads the SoCon.
The Bulldogs held substantial advantages in yardage (531-336) and plays (102-51), but the Paladins showed why they continue to rank among the nation’s top teams in red zone defense, yielding just three field goals, while intercepting a pass and returning for a score late in the game with Samford driving deep in the Paladin red zone. The 17 points were a season low for Samford. In its past three FCS games—all of which the Paladins have won—the Paladins have allowed a combined 41 points.
Aside from Suttles and Hannon, running back Hank McCloud rushed 15 times for 70 yards, increasing his season total to 855 yards. Snellings caught two passes for 53 yards, including that 46-yard strike from Skogen, which was his first scoring catch of the season for the 2012 SoCon All-Freshman team honoree.
Samford’s Fabian Truss rushed reached the century mark rushing the football against the Paladins for a second-straight season, with 117 yards and a TD on 18 attempts. The Bulldogs got a pair of 100-yard receiving efforts, as Chris Cephus caught five passes for 108 yards, while freshman sensation Karel Hamilton had seven grabs for 101 yards.
Defensively, Furman had three sacks and eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage, with strong safety Greg Worthy matching his career high for tackles established earlier this season against PC, while nickel Jairus Hollman posted 13 stops, 1.5 TFL and a PBU. McMorris posted 11 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT and a TD. Justin Cooper led Samford with 11 tackles and 1.5 TFL.
Furman returns to action next Saturday with a trip to Cullowhee, N.C., to face Western Carolina. Kickoff for that contest is slated for 3:30 p.m.