CULLOWHEE, N.C. -- Antonio Wilcox rushed for a career high 202 yards and a touchdown, headlining a dominant ground attack that produced 363 yards, and Furman's defense turned in a stellar performance to help power the Paladins to a 28-6 victory over 18th-ranked Western Carolina in Southern Conference football action Saturday afternoon at rain-soaked E.J. Whitmire Stadium.
The victory, the 600th in Furman football history, marked the sixth straight triumph for the Paladins (6-3, 5-1 SoCon), who improved to 6-3 overall and maintained a share of first place in the SoCon while posting their first win over a ranked opponent since 2013.
Western Carolina (6-3, 4-2 SoCon), which avoided the shutout with a late fourth quarter touchdown, fell for the eighth time in the last 10 clashes against Furman.
"I'm really proud of our guys and how they responded today," said first-year Furman head coach Clay Hendrix. "I thought the first possession of the second half was huge. We had the lead, got the ball, and made a few minor adjustments in the running game...and they responded and did a good job breaking some tackles. That was fun, breaking off some long runs, because if you've got the lead, especially a two-score lead, you feel that much better about things because conditions were tough.
"Other than maybe their first and last possessions of the game, we played very solid defensively. That's an offense that really stretches you in a lot of different ways, but we responded."
Wilcox's 202-yard rushing performance was a career best and most by a Paladin since Jerodis Williams ran for 239 in a win over Western Carolina in Greenville in 2012.
Kealand Dirks followed with a 15-carry, 119-yard effort that included a pair of touchdown runs.
Furman accounted for the game's only first half score, getting a 44-yard touchdown strike from quarterback P.J. Blazejowski to Andy Schumpert early in the second period.
It was a different story in the second half, however, as the Paladins wasted no time in taking command. On the second play of the third quarter, Wilcox, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior, burst through the line on a career long 68-yard run to the Western Carolina 6, and on the next play Dirks slammed off the right side into the end zone to help stretch the lead to 14-0.
A fumble recovery by safety Bryan Okeh at the Furman 44 set up the Paladins' next score, which Dirks delivered with a 53-yard bolt up the middle to make it 21-0 at the 4:43 mark of the third period.
Wilcox finished off his impressive display when he dashed 48 yards through the heart of Western Carolina's defense midway through the fourth quarter.
Limited to only 144 total yards over the game's first quarters, the Paladins amassed 279 second half yards to finish with 423.
Western Carolina, which entered the contest as the SoCon leader in scoring offense (38.6 ppg) and total offense (467.8 ypg), had 348 total yards.
Okey's career high 14 tackles led all defenders. Jonah Tibbs and Reynard Ellis followed with 10 stops apiece for the Paladins.
Furman, which is idle next Saturday, will play host to The Citadel on Nov. 11 in a 2:00 p.m. Family Weekend contest at Paladin Stadium.
Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information