GREENVILLE, S.C -- Winners of five straight games, Furman will look to extend its run of success and remain in the hunt for the Southern Conference championship this Saturday when it travels to Cullowhee, N.C., to battle STATS 18th-ranked Western Carolina in a 3:30 p.m. ESPN3 broadcast showdown at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.
Saturday's radio broadcast will be carried over the Furman IMG Sports Network, headed up by flagship station Fox Sports 1440. It will also be streamed through FurmanPaladins.com and via the Tune-In and iHeart applications. Dan Scott, "The Voice of the Paladins", is set to deliver the play-by-play, and he will be joined on the broadcast by analyst David Cobb. Former Paladin defensive back standout Marcus McMorris will provide sideline reports.
Live stats driven by Western Carolina can be accessed through FurmanPaladins.com.
The Paladins (5-3, 4-1 SoCon) and Catamounts (6-2, 4-1 SoCon), the league's two turnaround stories this fall, head into the weekend tied for first place in the conference along with eighth-ranked Wofford, which fell last Saturday to Samford, ranked ninth in this week's poll. The Bulldogs are a half game out of first place with a 3-1 SoCon record.
Furman, a consensus No. 7 pick in a pair of SoCon preseson polls, has already topped last year's three-win (3-8) campaign under first-year head coach Clay Hendrix. The Paladins, who started the campaign 0-3 with a 24-23 loss at Wofford, a 34-31 last second setback to Elon (ranked 10th in this week's poll), and a defeat at the hands of FBS 15th-ranked N.C. State, all foes with 6-1 records, have found course over the last five weeks with a balanced, efficient offensive attack, opportunistic defense, and consistent special teams play.
Western Carolina, meanwhile, has put last year's 2-9 mark in the rear view mirror with the SoCon's most explosive offense (467.8 ypg), which fueled a 38-34 triumph over Samford on Sept. 23 that vaulted the Catamounts into the Top 25.
Furman, which checks in at No. 2 in the SoCon in total offense (426.5 ygp), didn't have a huge day offensively in last Saturday's 28-21 win over Mercer, but the Paladins were on cue when it counted, converting fourth down plays on each of their four touchdown drives against the Bears. Furman leads the league in third down and fourth down conversion percentages (50.9% and 75.0%, respectively) and boasts one of the nation's most efficient passing attacks headed up by senior quarterback P.J. Blazejowski (1,535 yards, 13 TDs), who sports a trio of effective receivers, including wide receivers Logan McCarter (22 rec., 444 yds., 3 TDs) and Thomas Gordon (20 rec., 381 yds., 1 TD), and tight end Andy Schumpert (18 rec., 337 yds., 6 TDs), who counts five touchdown grabs in the last four games.
A revived Paladin ground attack has played a critical role in the squad's 2017 surge. Powered by senior center Matthew Schmidt and senior guard Terrell Bush, the Paladin offensive front has paved the way for fullbacks Kealand Dirks (430 yds., 4 TDs) and Antonio Wilcox (385 yds., 9 TDs), and tailback Darius Morehead (381 yds., 4 TDs).
Furman's defense, which features just two seniors in its 22-man two-deep, leads the SoCon with 23 sacks, a significant improvement over last year's 12 takedowns. True freshmen linebackers Elijah McCoy and Reynard Ellis top the squad with 48 and 47 tackles, respectively. The duo hasn't known defeat since moving into the starting lineup in the Paladins' 45-15 hammering of Colgate on Sept. 23.
Junior nose guard Jaylan Reid is coming off a season high seven tackle performance against Mercer, and junior outside linebacker Joe Farrar was equally effective against the Bears, recording six tackles, a tackle for-loss, and a interception in the end zone that sealed the victory. Sophomore safety Bryan Okeh notched a career high 13 tackles in the triumph.
The work of senior kicker/punter Jon Croft Hollingsworth and freshman placekicker Grayson Atkins has been notable. Hollingsworth has produced touchbacks on 24 of his 51 kickoffs and averaged 42.5 yards per punt this fall. Atkins, meanwhile, continues to top all league kickers with 54 points (6x9 FGs, 36x36 PATs).
The last two meetings between the Paladins and Catamounts have been blowouts. Two years ago in Cullowhee, where Furman has won eight of the last nine meetings and is 14-6-1 all-time, Western Carolina blasted the Paladins, 48-10, in the Furman's worst loss in series history. Last year in Greenville, Furman responded with a 49-21 thrashing, highlighted by a 387-yard rushing performance.
Furman leads the all-time series 30-12-2.
Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information