GREENVILLE, S.C -- It's Furman-Citadel week. Does really much more need to be said?
No. But in the interest of explaining the significance of a mutual disagreement promulgated over generations, we'll claim some liberty to explain.
This Saturday the Southern Conference's oldest and most-contested football rivalry will be renewed when the Paladins (6-3, 5-1 SoCon) and Bulldogs (5-4, 3-4 SoCon) clash for 97th time since first squaring off in 1913. The two longtime Palmetto state foes have played every year since 1919, except for a three-year hiatus (1943-45) during World War II, and have battled as SoCon rivals since 1936.
Saturday's ESPN3 broadcast game at Paladin Stadium is set for 2:00 p.m. and will highlight Family Weekend at Furman. In addition 13 Paladin seniors and a senior student assistant coach will be honored in pre-game ceremonies.
The Paladins lead the all-time series 58-35-3, with the 58 wins marking the most against any foe in program history. Furman sports a 33-14 record in Greenville but has dropped the last two contests to The Citadel in Paladin Stadium, and four of the last five in the series, including a 19-14 verdict last year in Charleston.
While major pride will be on the line, there are also other important stakes surrounding the contest. Furman will be seeking its seventh consecutive win, which it needs to remain in the hunt for a SoCon championship and potential bid to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs. The Citadel, on the other hand, is out to secure a winning season, something that will likely require a victory over Furman with a Nov. 18 contest at Clemson staring the Bulldogs in the face.
Idle last Saturday after thrashing then 18th-ranked Western Carolina, 28-6, in Cullowhee, N.C., on Oct. 28, Furman, which two weeks ago cracked the STATS FCS Top 25 poll for the first time since 2014, is alone in second place in the SoCon standings, a half game behind front runner Wofford but a half game up on Western Carolina and a full game up on Samford.
The return of an old friend, the ground attack, has been a major driver in Furman's rebound this fall under first-year head coach Clay Hendrix, whose troops, behind the stellar work of pair of senior linemen, center Matthew Schmidt and guard Terrell Bush, are averaging 243.0 ypg per game rushing on the campaign (299.4 over the last four contests). The Paladins bludgeoned Western Carolina for a season high 343 ground yards in a driving rainstorm, doing major damage with the battering ram duo of senior Antonio Wilcox (202 yards, TD) and junior Kealand Dirks (119 yards, 2 TDs). Over the Paladins' six-game winning streak Wilcox and Dirks have combined to rush 194 times for 1,002 yards and 14 touchdowns.
No one-trick pony, Furman has also made opponents pay through the air this fall, evidenced by the 183.1 yards per game the Paladins are averaging and 14 passing touchdowns. Senior quarterback P.J. Blazejowski has been the engineer, throwing for 1,595 yards while ranking among the nation's most efficient passers (currently second) in the FCS with a 179.71 rating.
Blazejowski has three primary targets, including wide receivers Logan McCarter (22 rec., 444 yds., 3 TDs) and Thomas Gordon (21 rec., 397 yds., 1 TD), and tight end Andy Schumpert (19 rec., 381 yds., 7 TDs) — the later of whom has TD catches in the last five games.
The Paladins' offensive balance and efficiency, highlighted by a 50.0 percent third down conversion percentage (sixth in FCS), presents foes with a real challenge.
Furman's defense, which sports only one senior in its 22-man two-deep, has made important strides this season under the direction of coordinator Chad Staggs. The Paladins have yielded just 17.1 points per game over its current six-game winning streak and came within a cat's whisker of posting the shutout at Western Carolina, yielding the Catamounts' lone score with less than two minutes remaining on the clock.
A reversal in turnover margin has also played a big role in the Paladins' surge. After posting a minus three in net turnovers over the first three games, Furman has gone plus seven over the last six outings.
The SoCon's sacks leader with 24 takedowns (double last year's tally), Furman has gotten critical play from true freshmen linebackers Reynard Ellis (57 tackles) and Elijah McCoy (55 tackles), and strong work of late from sophomore safety Bryan Okeh, who has tallied 27 tackles in the last two contests.
The Game: Furman Paladins (6-3, 5-1 SoCon) vs. The Citadel Bulldogs (5-4, 3-4 SoCon) / Family Weekend
Site: Greenville, S.C. (Paladin Stadium, on the campus of Furman University)
Kickoff: 2:04 PM ET
Video Stream: ESPN3, Bob Mihalic (pbp), Sam Wyche (color), Scott Cole (sideline)
Radio: Furman IMG Sports Network (FoxSports 1440/Greenville): Dan Scott (pbp), David Cobb (color), Marcus McMorris (sideline)
Audio Stream: StretchAudio (accessible thru FurmanPaladins.com), iHeart Radio, and TuneIn.com
Live Stats: StatBroadcast (accesible thru FurmanPaladins.com)
Tickets: $25 Available (FurmanPaladins.com); Children 38 inches and shorter admitted free; Timmons Arena, East Stands
Box Offices Open 11:30 AM
Special Ticket Offer No. 1: Four tickets to the game, (4) four drinks, (8) eight hot dogs or (4) four pulled pork sandwiches,
and (4) four popcorns for only $108. Use Promo Code: "4pack" at checkout.
Special Ticket Offer No. 2: Paladin Hospitality Zone ($40 ticket for on-the-field experience that includes full-service dining provided by Ingles Catering, complimentary PREMIUM CRAFT BEER/WINE provided by Total Wine and More, Thomas Creek Brewery, and soft drinks/water. Use promo code "Paladin" for $10 off at checkout.
Special Ticket Offer No. 3: Fans can save $5 off the regular $25 ticket price by using promo code "HolyToledo" at checkout.
Gates Open: 12:30 PM
Game Sponsor: Ingles
9:00 AM -- Family Weekend Packet Pick-Up/Registration (Daniel Chapel)...runs to 1:00 p.m.
11:00 AM -- Paladin Knights Kids Club Punt, Pass, & Kick Competition (Football Practice Fields)
11:00 AM -- Family Weekend Tailgate (Mall)
11:00 AM -- Paladin Regiment Picnic (Music Building)
11:30 AM -- Nate C. The Chief "The Official DJ of the Furman Paladins" Performs
12:30 PM -- Paladin Club Zone Opens (Paladin Stadium)
12:40 PM -- Paladin Regiment March/Concert (Timmons Arena to PAC Circle)
1:04 PM -- Champions Walk (Paladin Stadium)
TBD -- Pre-Game Senior Recognition (Paladin Stadium)
6:00 PM -- Volleyball vs. Mercer (Alley Gym)
+ Paladin Club Zone, located in the area between the home stands and field house, opens 90 minutes prior to kickoff and will include a mason jar giveaway, food sponsored by American Burger Company, and beverages sponsored by Thomas Creek Brewery, Total Wine & More, and Laura Lynn
+ The "Champions Walk" is scheduled to begin approximately 60 minutes prior to kickoff
+ Bojangles BoBerry Biscuit Coupons
+ Tucanos outside stadium with Brazilian Lemonade samples
Family Dental Health Smile Cam, Available Technology Fan Photo of the Game, Palmetto Pride Fanatic Fan of the Game, Mast General Store T-Shirt Toss, Papa John's If We Win You Win Online promotion, Ingles Kicking Hunger Promotion, Ingles Show Us Your Card, Greenville Heritage FCU Take Away Giveback Promotion, TapSnap Tailgater of the Game, Children's Museum of the Upstate Tiny Tailgater of the Game, Chic-Fil-A Cow Toss, ROTC T-Shirt Toss
Furman University Paladin Regiment
Quarter 1 Break -- Women's Golf Team SoCon Championship Recognition
Quarter 3 Break -- Paladin Knights Kids Club Punt, Pass, and Kick Winners
Media Timeout (1st Quarter) -- Furman ScanSource Student-Athlete Leader of the Month (October) Recognition
Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information