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Furman To Tackle Wofford At Noon Saturday In Regular Season Finale

Jordan Hawkins
Jordan Hawkins

Furman vs. Wofford Game Notes

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Riding a four-game Southern Conference winning streak, Furman will attempt to continue its strong late season run and claim a share of the 2013 SoCon championship Saturday when it entertains Wofford, its oldest football rival, in a noon clash at Paladin Stadium.

This contest will mark the 87th renewal of the state's original football rivalry, which began in 1889.  The Paladins own a 51-28-7 series lead over the Terriers and are 31-10-5 versus Wofford in Greenville, having posted a 26-21 triumph over the fifth-ranked Terriers in 2011 in the last clash in Paladin Stadium.

Furman (6-5, 5-2 SoCon), whose four-game SoCon win streak features triumphs over Appalachian State (27-10), Georgia Southern (16-14), Samford ( 35-17), and Western Carolina (32-20), is currently tied for second place in the league standings with Samford (7-4, 5-2 SoCon), a half game behind Chattanooga (8-3, 6-2 SoCon), which completed its conference schedule last Saturday with a 17-14 overtime loss at Samford.

A Furman victory over Wofford (5-5, 4-3 SoCon) would give the Paladins a share of the SoCon championship, and a Samford triumph over Elon would earn the Paladins an additional prize – the league's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, which get underway Nov. 30.  Furman's path to the league's automatic qualifier is only through a three-way tiebreaker (with Samford and Chattanooga), which the Paladins will by win based on three teams' results versus the three or four teams that will finish fourth in the league standings.

Furman captured its last of a league record 12 SoCon championships in 2004.  The Paladins' last made a playoff appearance in 2006.

Preceded by special recognition of Furman's 10 senior football players, Saturday's contest will be video live streamed in HD to subscribers through Stretch Internet at FurmanPaladins.com.

The most timely, comprehensive football live stats offering of any SoCon school will be provided through StatBroadcast at FurmanPaladins.com. Fans can click on the live stats link located in the schedule box on the home page or add the mobile-enabled web app for all live stats on their phone at PaladinsMobile.com.  Twitter updates will be provided @FurmanPaladins and @PaladinFootball

The radio broadcast will be presented by the Furman Sports Network featuring flagship station WGOG-FM 96.3 in Seneca and Greenville's FoxSports AM 1440.  In addition, fans can access the game broadcast via stadium transmitter at FM 105.9 and audio stream through Stretch Internet at FurmanPaladins.com.  Dan Scott, the "Voice of the Paladins," will call the play-by-play and be joined by Corey Stewart with color commentary.

Sporting a 2-4 overall record and 1-2 worksheet in SoCon play just five weeks ago, the Paladins were on nobody's radar following a 31-9 loss at Chattanooga on Oct. 12, but a 27-10 win over departing league member  Appalachian State on Oct. 19 turned around Furman's season.  After a very respectable loss to 12th-ranked LSU the following week, the Paladins turned continued their comeback with successive wins at Georgia Southern, a home triumph over Samford, and last week's victory at Western Carolina.

Fueling Furman's surge has been an opportunistic, ball control offense, a defense that has forced turnovers and registered big plays, and special teams work highlighted by the superb performance of All-America candidate placekicker/punter Ray Early.

A season after finishing last in the SoCon in turnover margin (-0.63) with a league low 13 takeaways and 20 turnovers, the Paladins have reversed course and now top the SoCon and rank 12th nationally in turnover margin (+.90), having gained 25 turnovers while losing possession 14 times through 11 games.  Over the last five games, Furman has suffered five turnovers while feasting on 16 miscues by the opposition, and have recorded interception returns for touchdowns covering 74, 98, and 89 yards.

Offensively the Paladins have benefited from the return of sophomore quarterback Reese Hannon, who missed three early season games due to injury.  The Greer, S.C., product has passed for 1,130 yards and five touchdowns.  His backup, true freshman Richard Hayes III, who made the switch from defensive back to offense on Oct. 6 following injuries to a trio of Paladin signal callers, has also stepped up his production, evidenced by last week's 12-carry, 144-yard performance against Western Carolina that featured a decisive 60-yard, third quarter touchdown run.

Junior running back Hank McCloud heads into the Wofford game with a SoCon leading 942 yards and chance to become the 15th 1,000-yard rusher in program history.  Looking to help him reach the milestone will be senior All-America tackle and Jacobs Blocking Award candidate Dakota Dozier.

Furman's receiving corps has made strides in overcoming the loss of its top performer, Gary Robinson (24 rec., 351 yds., 2 TDs), to a fractured ankle at mid-season with the emergence of freshman wide receiver Andrej Suttles (37 rec., 494 yds., 2 TDs) and consistent play of senior wide out Ryan Culbreath (25 rec., 310, 3 TDs).

Defensively senior safety Greg Worthy tops the squad with 106 tackles along with sophomore linebacker Carl Rider right behind with 102 tackles, including eight tackles for-loss and two fumble recoveries.

Last week Ray Early booted a school record six field goals en route to capturing Sports Network National Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this fall.  Early, who has connected on 17 of his last 19 field goal tries, also deposited seven of his nine kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks and continued his superb work as the squad's punter, where he is averaging a league best 43.6 yard per attempt.

NOTING THE PALADINS

CONNECTIONS
Furman and Wofford share many player connections.  Furman freshman free safety Trey Robinson will be among a host of former Dorman H.S. players on the sidelines this Saturday, along with Wofford senior safety Josh Davis, senior kicker/punter Paul Inclan, senior wide receiver Rob Greene, and sophomore running back Ray Smith.  Furman freshman defensive end James Elliott and Wofford redshirt freshman defensive end James Thurley were teammates at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tenn., which is coached by former Paladin and Furman Hall of Fame quarterback Ingle Martin.  Greer H.S. will be represented in Saturday's game by two former players — Paladin quarterback Reese Hannon and Wofford offensive guard Tymeco Gregory.  Paladin freshman defensive end Brian Nwokolo and Terrier senior punter/placekicker Kasey Redfern are products of Ragsdale (N.C.) H.S.

SQUAD, DEPTH CHART BREAKDOWN
Furman's 2013 roster features 86 players, including 11 seniors, 12 juniors, and 19 sophomores to go along with 44 freshmen (redshirt and true), who represent 51.1 percent of the squad.  The Paladins' offensive and defensive depth chart for the Wofford game features eight seniors, eight juniors, 12 sophomores, and 16 freshmen. Furman's defensive front seven includes four juniors, four sophomores, and six freshmen.  The Paladins list freshman backups at eight of the 11 defensive positions

PHILLIPS OUT
Furman junior left guard Tank Phillips, a veteran of 18 starts over the last two seasons,  including all 10 this year, sustained a fractured leg in the first half of the Western Carolina game.  His exit from the lineup is the third by a Paladin regular this year — a list that also includes senior defensive end Shawn Boone (torn knee ligaments) and junior wide receiver Gary Robinson (fractured ankle), who suffered season ending injuries earlier in the season.  In addition, the Paladins have lost two quarterbacks for the campaign, including freshman Dillon Woodruff (fractured shoulder) , who started in the season opener at Gardner-Webb in place of the injured Reese Hannon (strained oblique), and early season backup signal caller Terry Robinson (torn knee ligaments), who sustained season ending injury against Elon.

FINDING A WAY TO WIN
The fact that Furman is playing for a SoCon championship this Saturday when considering some of the issues the Paladins have dealt with over the last several months is pretty remarkable.  Take, for instance, the defensive line.  Following national signing day and prior to the start of spring practice head coach Bruce Fowler was informed that two projected fifth-year seniors, veteran starting nose guard Neal Rodgers and likely starting tackle Rashaun Phillips, could not return for their final season after it was discovered paperwork for redshirt seasons had not been filed, as believed, by the previous coaching staff.  To cover the massive crater, Fowler robbed his linebacking corps of its most experienced performer, junior Gary Wilkins, who made the switch to end, and moved junior Ira McCune from end to tackle.  Sophomore John Mackey, Rodgers' projected backup this year, was promoted into the starting lineup.  Two weeks into the season the Paladins' lone returning starter on the defensive line, senior end Shawn Boone, sustained torn knee ligaments in practice and was lost for the year.  Shortly thereafter the Paladins lost redshirt freshman tackle Sebastian Rice to injury, thus putting Furman four men down in its defensive line.   To deal with those developments, Fowler switched McCune back to end to replace Boone and took the redshirt off the back of true freshman tackle Jordan Hawkins.   The only inside depth the Paladins have possessed since week three of the season is junior nose guard  Danny Palmer, who entered the 2013 campaign with no career tackles, and true freshman Jackson Buonomia, who made the switch from offensive guard to the defensive front.  Furman's backup defensive ends include redshirt freshmen Brian Ross and true freshmen Brad Minter.

READY FOR THE CALL
Furman senior offensive guard Ryan Storms has battled injuries for much of his career, with the latest coming this year when he sustained torn meniscus early in the preseason.  Sidelined over the first nine games, he saw his first action (seven plays) against Samford two weeks ago but then found himself thrust back into the lineup after starting left guard Tank Phillips sustained a fractured leg early in Saturday's contest at Western Carolina.  A veteran of 21 starts and over 1,200 snaps, Storms logged 65 snaps against the Catamounts and posted nine knockdowns.

THE DRIVE FOR FIVE
Furman's current four-game Southern Conference winning streak is its longest in-season run of success in the league since 2006.  The last time the Paladins won five straight SoCon games was in a 2004 on the way to winning the league crown — the last of the program's 12 SoCon championships (1978-80-81-82-83-85-88-89-90-99-01-04).

TAKING IS BETTER THAN GIVING...IN THIS CASE
Last year Furman finished last in the SoCon in turnover margin (-0.63) with a league low 13 takeaways compared to 20 turnovers.  Eleven games into the 2013 campaign the Paladins have reversed course and now top the SoCon and rank 12th in FCS in turnover margin (+0.90), having gained 25 turnovers while losing possession 14 times.  Over the last five games, during which time the Paladins have gone 4-1, Furman's turnover margin is +2.20 (16 gained, 5 lost).

2012    2013
13        Turnovers Gained    25
20        Turnovers Lost    14
-0.63    Turnover Margin    +1.00

RAY EARLY...THREE-WAY STANDOUT
Ray Early is fashioning a truly outstanding season in three roles:  placekicker, punter, and kickoff specialist.  The Paladin senior added another chapter to a tremendous 2013 campaign on Saturday at Western Carolina by kicking a school record six field goals (48, 24, 40, 39, 30, 32) in seven attempts and accounting for 20 points in propelling Furman to a 32-20  victory over the Catamounts in Cullowhee, N.C.  The six field goals topped the previous record of five held by Glen Connally (vs. East Tennessee State, 1990).  Early also deposited seven of his nine kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, and averaged 41.3 yards on three punts against the Catamounts — all of which garnered him Sports Network National Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this season, and  SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the third time this year (and fifth time of his career).   Three weeks ago he collected his first following Furman's 16-14 road win over Georgia Southern.  After missing his first three field goal tries this year, the Darlington, S.C., product has now converted 17 of his last 19 attempts, including six from 40-plus yards, leaving him just one shy of tying another school record for most field goals in a season (18) currently held by Mike Wood (1986).  He is now 40-for-56 on field goals in his career (including 4-for-4 from 50-plus yards) and has climbed to fourth on Furman's all-tiime kick scoring chart (233 points).  In addition to leading the SoCon in field goals made per game (1.5) and field goal percentage (77.3 percent 17-of-22), he tops the league and ranks 11th nationally in punting (43.6 avg.).  He has also recorded touchbacks on 32 of his 56 kickoffs this fall.

RH 3
True freshman backup quarterback Richard Hayes III can certainly be considered one of Furman's unsung heroes this fall, especially after his superb 12-carry performance against Western Carolina that netted 144 yards and a touchdown in the Paladins' 32-20 victory.  He reeled off a 54-yard first half run to set up a field goal and in the third quarter broke Western Carolina's back with a 60-yard touchdown bolt only one offensive play after the Catamounts had scored to cut Furman's lead to 19-17.  The 144 rushing yards were the most by a Paladin quarterback since 1986 and second highest tally by a signal caller in program history (153, Keith Moore vs. Western Caorlina, 1986).  Hayes'  productivity at quarterback began on Oct. 6 when he made the unlikely switch from defensive back to offense after injuries to Reese Hannon, Dillon Woodruff, and Terry Robinson, forced the Paladins to call on true freshman Duncan Fletcher, the Paladins' fourth string quarterback, for starts against both Elon and Chattanooga.  When Hayes saw his first action against Chattanooga (5 rushes, 14 yards), he was the fifth quarterback to play for the Paladins in 2013.  He has since settled into the role as Hannon's backup but continues to see quality playing time in various schemes.  Heading into the Wofford game he is Furman's second leading rusher with 44 carries for 292 yards and two touchdowns.  As a senior quarterback at Greensboro's Dudley (N.C.) High School, he ran for 1,802 yards and 33 touchdowns and passed for 1,506 yards and eight scores.

SECOND HALF IMPROVEMENT
u    After getting doubled up, 206-103, on the scoreboard in the second half of games last year, Furman has narrowed the deficit to 126-111 through 11 contests this year, with the 28-0 second half blanking by LSU (Oct. 26) swinging the differential in the opposition's favor for the first time since the season opener.

MCCLOUD TAKES AIM AT 1,000
In rushing 18 times for 87 yards against Western Carolina, junior running back Hank McCloud  upped his season rushing tally to a Southern Conference *leading 942 yards with at least one game remaining.  He is bidding to become Furman's third straight 1,000-yard rusher, succeeding Jerodis Williams, who ran for 1,055 yards in 2011 and 1,170 yards last season.  Furman has produced 14 1,000-yard rushers in its history.

*As recognized by NCAA Statistics, which do not include FBS transition programs Georgia Southern and Appalachian State

A WORTHY ENTRY
Greg Worthy, Furman's senior safety and squad's most experienced performer with 44 games and 37 starts, cracked the school's career Top 20 tackles chart on Saturday against Western Carolina with a five-tackle performance in the 32-20 win over the Catamounts.  His 315 career tackles rank 20th in program history and the most ever by a Paladin defensive back.  The Hampton, Ga./Griffin H.S., product has 106 tackles on the season, which ranks second in the Southern Conference.

HAVE A GAME, WOULD YOU?
Marcus McMorris has fashioned some impressive performances in his three seasons as a Paladin, including a Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Week display against Elon in 2012 when he returned a fumble a school record 95 yards in a 35-17 Paladin victory, but he managed to top them all on Nov. 9 against Samford — all while playing a new position.  Furman's regular starter at free safety through the first nine games, the junior from Newberry, S.C., made the switch to weak side linebacker versus the Bulldogs and responded with a career tying 11 tackles, including 1.5 for-loss, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown that sealed the decision over the Bulldogs.  That performance earned him SoCon Defensive Player of the Week, College Football Performance Awards National Linebacker of the Week, and Sports Network National Defensive Player of the Week honors.

THREE IN A ROW
A hallmark of Furman's late-season rise has been some Herculean individual performances — three, in fact, that have helped the Paladins produce three straight national player of the week accolodes.  Three weeks ago placekicker/punter Ray Early collected Sports Network National Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his performance in Furman's 16-14 win over Georgia Southern.  Two weeks ago it was linebacker Marcus McMorris (see note above) whose Herculean performance keyed the Paladins to a 35-17 victory over Samford.  And last week, Early made it a national trifecta for the Paladins with his record setting six-field goal display in a 32-20 triumph over Western Carolina.

PICK-SIX CITY
Furman has returned interceptions for touchdowns in three of its last five games.  The run of "pick-sixes" began versus Appalachian State (Oct. 19) when junior defensive end Gary Wilkins stepped in front of a pass and ran it back 98 yards for a touchdown in a 27-10 win over the Mountaineers.  The following week at LSU, sophomore cornerback Reggie Thomas returned a 74-yard pickoff for a score to give the Paladins a 7-0 lead over the 12th-ranked Tigers, and on Nov. 9  versus Samford Marcus McMorris collected a pass at the Paladin 11-yard line and ran it back 89 yards to seal the Paladins' 35-17 victory.  The three pick-sixes are the most ever in a season by the Paladins, and all three rank among the top 15 interception returns in program history.

SUTTLES STEPPING UP
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Andrej Suttles is well on his way to recording one of the top freshman campaigns in Furman history, and his strong play of late has been especially huge for the Paladins, who lost their leading receiver, junior Gary Robinson (24 rec., 351 yds., 2 TDs) with a fractured ankle very early in Furman's 27-10 win over Appalachian State (Oct. 19).  Two weeks ago in a 35-17 win over Samford, Suttles caught three passes for 115 yards and touchdown, with his 85-yard catch and run for a score just before intermission giving Furman a 21-9 lead.  The 85-yard reception, which represented the seventh longest in program history, followed on the heels of a 75-yard touchdown catch the previous week in the Paladins' 16-14 road triumph over Georgia Southern.  Through 11 games, Suttles has registered 37 receptions for 494 yards and two touchdowns, which is within striking distance of Furman's freshman receiving standards currently held by David Hendrix (2008, 46 rec., 565 yds. in 12 games).

FU STYLE SENDOFFS
Furman's 27-10 win over Appalachian State (Oct. 19) and the 16-14 triumph over Georgia Southern (Nov. 2) gave the Paladins wins in their final two meetings with the Mountaineers and Eagles, who are departing the league following the 2013-14 school year to join the FBS Sunbelt Conference.  Furman, which won two of its final three meetings with Appalachian State, wrapped up its 43-year SoCon series rivalry with the Mountaineers with a 23-18-3 record — the only program in the league to post a winning series against App State.  The Paladins went 15-6-1 versus App State in Greenville.  Furman won three of the final four clashes with Georgia Southern in Statesboro.

THE LAST ROBINSON STANDING
With brothers Gary and Terry Robinson sidelined for the remainder of the season with injuries, the Paladins are down to one Robinson on their active roster — true freshman safety Trey Robinson, who has increasingly gained the confidence of the coaching staff with stellar play. Against LSU (Oct. 26), the former Dorman High standout notched a season high eight tackles, a week after tallying six stops in the win over Appalachian State. Two weeks ago against Samford, Robinson earned the first start of his career, stepping in at free safety after Marcus McMorris was switched to weak side linebacker.  In his inaugural start against the Bulldogs he tallied four tackles, a pass deflection, and an interception in the end zone that halted a scoring threat.  He registered seven stops, including two for-loss, versus Western Carolina.

GRADUATION SUCCESS RATE LEADER
Furman University's football program ranked 10th nationally in Graduation Success Rate (GSR) among all Division I institutions, the NCAA announced in its latest report on October 22.   For all football participants who enrolled at the university from 2003-06, Furman's 95 percent GSR was tied with Harvard and Penn of the Ivy League for 10th among the 245 NCAA Division 1 football playing institutions that together comprise the Football Bowl (FBS) and Football Championship (FCS) Subdivisions.  Brown University of the Ivy League and Davidson of the Pioneer League led the way with a 98 GSR followed by Dartmouth (97), Yale (97) Bucknell (97), and Northwestern (97).  Holy Cross (96), Lafayette (96), and Rice (96) were tied for seventh, with Furman (95), Harvard (95), and Penn (95) rounding out the Top 10.  Other notables include Notre Dame (94), Columbia (94), Stanford (93), Cornell (92), Duke (92), Richmond (91), Princeton (90), Colgate (90), William & Mary (84), and Vanderbilt (82).  Furman was the first private school to win an FCS football national championship (1988) and has won a record 12 Southern Conference titles, in addition to producing 15 CoSIDA Academic All-Americans and 10 NCAA Post-Graduate Scholars — both league highs.Furman football's national GSR highlighted a strong overall report for the university's 19-sport intercollegiate athletics program, which scored a GSR of 94, including 11 sports with perfect marks of 100.   The NCAA developed the GSR to more accurately assess the academic success of student-athletes. The rate holds institutions accountable for transfer students, includes mid-year enrollees, and is calculated for every sport. Under the calculation, institutions are not penalized for outgoing transfer students who leave in good academic standing. The outgoing transfers are included in the receiving institution's GSR cohort.

NCAA GRADUATION SUCCESS RATE (2013)
Rank    School    GSR
    1)    Brown    98
        Davidson    98
    3)    Dartmouth    97
        Yale    97
        Bucknell    97
        Northwestern    97
    7)     Holy Cross    96
        Lafayette    96
        Rice    96
    10)    FURMAN    95
        Harvard    95
        Penn    95