2013 Final Record: 8-6, 6-2 SoCon/co-SoCon Champions
Seniors: (10)–Ryan Culbreath (WR), Dakota Dozier (LT), Ray Early (P/PK), Shawn Boone (DE), Richard Feacher (RB), Cameron Mason (TE), Ryan Storms (OG), Austin Williams (CB), Tony Caldwell (FB), John Nenos (OT), Greg Worthy (SS)
The Wins: Presbyterian (21-20), at The Citadel (24-17), Appalachian State (27-10), at Georgia Southern (16-14), #20 Samford (35-17), at Western Carolina (32-20), Wofford (27-14), at #24 SC State (30-20)
The Losses: at Gardner-Webb (28-21), at #23 Coastal Carolina (35-28), Elon (28-25), at Chattanooga (31-9), at #13 LSU (48-16), at #1 North Dakota State (38-7)
All-SoCon Honorees: DE Gary Wilkins (1st Team/Coaches and Media); LT Dakota Dozier (1st Team/Coaches and Media); LB Carl Rider (1st Team Media); PK/P Ray Early (1st Team/Coaches and Media); SS Greg Worthy (1st Team Media/Second Team Coaches); NIC Jairus Hollman (2nd Team Media); RB Hank McCloud (2nd Team Media); WR Andrej Suttles (All-Freshman); RB Marcus Anderson (All-Freshman); DB Trey Robinson (All-Freshman); LB T.J. Warren (All-Freshman).
SoCon Coach of the Year: Bruce Fowler (Coaches)
Jacobs Blocking Award: LT Dakota Dozier (Coaches and Media)
GREENVILLE, S.C.–As the 2013 season headed into November, Furman sat at 3-5 overall, but still 3-2 in Southern Conference play and held out a winning lottery ticket hopes of winning a Southern Conference title and advancing into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
But it was a hope, and for those who had followed Paladin football for the previous grueling six years, the chances may not have been great, but there was a noticeable change in the way the Paladins were playing heading into November as opposed to how Furman had played on that hot August evening in Boiling Springs, N.C., in a 28-21 loss to Gardner-Webb.
What would transpire from mid-October until the second week of December of the 2013 football season was one of the more miraculous turnarounds in Southern Conference and Furman football history.
The Paladins would go on to finish the regular-season with four-straight wins, including winning their final five against FCS foes, while also getting the right mix of circumstances to not only win the school’s 13th Southern Conference title, but also qualify for the program’s 16th FCS postseason appearance and have an opportunity to compete for a national championship for the first time since 2006.
It all started on Nov. 2 in Statesboro, GA, which seems like a natural place to start for those who have followed the rich history of Paladin football. Georgia Southern–a program on the move to the Sun Belt Conference and at the time, a team reeling a bit coming off a 38-14 loss at Appalachian State and hit with a rash of injuries unlike any other in the four years that Jeff Monken had been there, according to the Eagles’ head coach Jeff Monken.
But it wouldn’t be in Bruce Fowler’s personality or program pride to take pity on the Eagles, as the Purple and White went for the jugular on the game’s first play and never looked back en route to a 16-14 win to snap a three-game losing streak to the Eagles. Monken would be left with a myriad of excuses for a second-straight season, although this time explaining why his team lost instead of brushing off why the Eagles went for a two-point conversion with only seconds remaining and the Eagles already ahead 36-17 with under a minute to play in 2012.
From that point forward, Furman took its play to a different level, and somewhere between Oct. 19 and Nov. 2, this team began to believe in itself. But the win to open November, coupled with a 28-26 loss by league-leading Samford at The Citadel that same Saturday set in motion would be an action-packed final month of the 2013 season in the Southern, and for Furman, would be a prelude to an unprecedented 13th Southern Conference crown–the program’s first in nine years–while also being the beginning of the dominoes falling into place for Furman to gain the tradition-rich league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
The final month of the season would have Paladin fans on the edge of their seats not only following the Paladins’ results each week, whether at the game or on the radio or internet, but also saw the Paladin fans adopting a second team–the Samford Bulldogs.
After a 35-17 homecoming stunner over the 20th-ranked team in the FCS at the time, the Paladins needed Samford to win its final two games of the season against both Chattanooga and Elon, which would not only ensure the program a share of its 13th league title, but also the SoCon’s automatic bid to the playoffs due to the SoCon’s tiebreaker policy, as the league would end in a three-way tie atop the SoCon for a second-straight season, as Samford, Chattanooga and Furman would all end with 6-2 league records.
The story of Furman’s 2013 dream season would agonizingly come down to the final play of the 2013 season, which was the game taking place between Samford and Elon–one of two final games still going on in the 2013 Southern Conference regular season. While Furman’s 27-14 win over Wofford had ensured the Paladins a share of the 2013 Southern Conference title, the Paladins needed for Samford to beat Elon in order to force a three-way bid, which would give the Paladins the tiebreaker between Chattanooga and Samford in a battle for the automatic bid.
A loss by Samford, and the Paladins would likely not find themselves in the postseason because the first tiebreaker between two teams is head-to-head, which would of course go to Chattanooga, who claimed a 31-9 win over the Paladins in the Scenic City. At that time, the Paladins were playing without quarterback Reese Hannon, who was sidelined with an injury in the third quarter of the 24-17 win over The Citadel a few weeks earlier.
The Paladins found themselves needing the Bulldogs to score a TD on the final game of the game to keep their playoff hopes alive. That’s indeed what would happen, as Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin would connect with wideout Chris Cephus on a 12-yard scoring pass with seven seconds to play, helping the Bulldogs to a dramatic 33-32 win over the Phoenix, ultimately allowing the Paladins to qualify for the postseason.
Two years earlier, a 41-34 loss to Elon had led Paladin fans to much heartbreak, ultimately keeping the Paladins out of the postseason. Two years later, Paladin fans were able to exorcise those demons in Elon’s last Southern Conference game before moving to the CAA, with that exorcist proving to the Samford.
If the pass had fallen incomplete, the Paladins would have likely seen their playoff hopes fade, and though there would have been a Southern Conference title to celebrate, it would have been a little bit hollow without the prospects to play for something more.
The events of that Saturday were enough to carry both Furman and Samford into the FCS postseason, but after losses to both Samford and Alabama to close the season, it had kept the Mocs out of the FCS postseason, keeping that 28-year playoff absence intact at least one more season.
Not only did the Paladins need the Bulldogs to beat the Phoenix in the final game of the regular-season, they also needed the Bulldogs to win the game head-to-head with the Mocs the week before. In what was another nail-biting finish, and after Warren Handrahan kicked the Bulldogs into the lead on a 43-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime, giving Samford the 17-14 lead. Then on defense the Bulldogs would hold the Mocs to a field goal attempt, and Nick Pollard’s field goal attempt would connect with the left upright, handing the Bulldogs another dramatic win.
As a result of the three-way tie, between the Samford, Chattanooga and the Paladins, the tiebreaker did not go head-to-head, and since one of Furman’s losses was to one of the teams it was tied with (Chattanooga) and the other came against the team in last place (Elon), the Paladins would actually benefit from their league home-opening loss to the Phoenix. Wins at The Citadel (24-17) and at Georgia Southern (16-14) actually clinched the Southern Conference auto bid for the Paladins. The Citadel defeated Samford (28-26) and Chattanooga lost to Georgia Southern (23-21), clinching the SoCon’s auto bid for the Paladins.
While things seemingly went perfect down the stretch for the Paladins, they certainly did their part, which was in their control. The Paladins won their final four games of the regular-season, posting wins over Georgia Southern (16-14), No. 20 Samford (35-17), Western Carolina (32-20) and Wofford (27-14) to close out the season, and on selection Sunday, the Paladins learned who they would face in the playoffs. Despite putting out a bid in hopes of a home game, at 7-5 and as co-Southern Conference champions, the Paladins were just happy to be in the postseason in many respects. The road ahead would not be easy, as the Paladins found that they would be on the road for at least the first two rounds if they were fortunate enough to win their opener against South Carolina State. A victory would reward the Paladins with a trip to two-time defending national champion and winner of 20-straight games North Dakota State in the Fargo Dome.
Stay tuned for Part II of this look back at the 2013 football season for the Furman Paladins, in which Saturday Blitz will take a detailed, game-by-game look at the 2013 season and the drama that played out from in what was the 13th Southern Conference title season for the program, fittingly occurring in 2013.