GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Kealand Dirks ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns to headline a 387-yard rushing performance that helped power Furman to a 49-21 victory over Western Carolina in Southern Conference football action Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.
The win, the third in the last four games for Furman (3-7, 3-4 SoCon), snapped the Paladins' six-game home losing skid heading into next Saturday's 3:00 p.m. season finale at Mercer.
Making the first start of his career, Dirks, a redshirt sophomore from Clemmons, N.C., ran 17 times and scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 9 yards, with his second tally putting the Paladins ahead for good, 28-21, late in the third quarter.
Antonio Wilcox added 105 yards rushing to help give Furman its first twin, 100-yard rushing performances in a game since Jerodis Williams (239) and Hank McCloud (123) accomplished the feat in a 45-24 victory over Western Carolina in 2012. Furman's 619 total yards marked its highest output since the aforementioned game against the Catamounts.
Quarterback Reese Hannon, playing his final game in Paladin Stadium, continued his stellar play by completing 15-of-21 passes for 232 yards and a score. The Greer, S.C., native also rushed for 42 yards and reached the end zone on a pair of 3-yard runs.
"I'm really proud of our guys...they've just kept fighting and it paid off for them today in a big way," said Furman head coach Bruce Fowler. "It started up front with our offensive line. They did a great job blocking, and all of our backs — Kealand Dirks, Antonio Wilcox, and Kealand Dirks — ran really hard, as did Reese, who also mixed things up and executed very well. That's the way we want to play football."
Furman trailed 14-13 at halftime after having to settle for a pair of Jon Croft Hollingsworth field goals following trips into the red zone.
The third quarter was a different story, however, as Hannon gave the Paladins their first lead with his first of two 3-yard runs, capping an 8-play 70-yard drive for a 20-14 advantage at the 10:46 mark.
After Western Carolina regained the lead, 21-20, on a Tyrie Adams 6-yard touchdown strike to Spearman Robinson, Furman answered with touchdowns on its final four possessions — the go-ahead score coming on a six-play, 64-yard drive that featured five consecutive runs for 58 yards, including Dirks' 9-yard scoring run. A two-point Hannon conversion pass to tight end Kevin Mall made it 28-21 with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter.
Furman's defense set up the Paladins' next score when safety Aaquil Annoor scooped up a fumble and returned it 25 yards to the Western Carolina 44. Five plays later Hannon found Richard Hayes, III open on a 17-yard wheel route pass play to help extend the advantage to 35-21.
The Paladins padded their lead with a pair of fourth quarter touchdown runs by Hannon and Hayes and forced Western Carolina to turn the ball over on downs at the Furman 2 when Nick Miller batted down a pass in the end zone with six minutes remaining in the contest.
Hayes led Furman with five receptions for 61 yards and a score, and senior wide receiver Andrej Suttles caught two passes for 64 yards to become Furman's all-time receiving yards leader with 2,478 yards, surpassing Adam Mims (2,433 yards, 2006-10).
Senior linebacker Carl Rider paced Furman with 10 tackles, including 2.5 for-loss and a sack, and, in the process, cracked Furman's career Top 20 tackles ledger, upping his career tally to 334, good for 18th all-time.
Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information