MACON, GA. -- Harris Roberts passed for 189 yards and five touchdowns and Furman held on to beat Mercer, 35-30, in Southern Conference football action Saturday afternoon at Five Star Stadium.
The victory, the sixth in the last seven games for Furman (6-4, 6-2 SoCon), earned the Paladins a share of the 2018 Southern Conference championship — the program's league best 14th title.
Furman finishes in a three-way tie for the SoCon crown with Wofford and East Tennessee State. Wofford collected the league's automatic qualifier to the 2018 FCS playoffs. Furman and ETSU will now be at-large candidates for a playoff bid, with the 24-team field to be announced Sunday at 12:30 ET on ESPNU.
Roberts, a redshirt senior, completed 16-of-23 passes for 189 yards and threw strikes covering 19, 10, 19, 24, and 11 yards, including two each to wide receiver Ryan DeLuca and tight end Jake Walker. Roberts' five scoring tosses were the most by a Paladin quarterback since 2011.
Devin Wynn ran for 135 yards to lead the Paladins' ground game that accounted for 245 yards. Furman finished with 434 total yards.
"I'm really thrilled for your young men and everybody associated with our program,"said head coach Clay Hendrix. "We knew it wouldn't be easy, and it certainly wasn't. We've faced our share of adversity this year, and I think we've learned from that. They guys hung in there and fought, and did it again tonight.
"You know, I was out there (in Paladin Stadium) prior to Wednesday's practice and imagined putting a 2018 championship on the field house wall, and now we can do that. It feels good."
The Paladins' third straight road triumph required a strong finish after Mercer erased a 29-17 deficit with a pair of second half touchdowns, taking a 30-29 lead on 24-yard scoring strike from Kaelan Riley to Tyray Devezin four minutes into the fourth quarter.
Furman answered with a nine-play, 67-yard drive that Walker capped when he slipped behind the Bears' secondary to collect Robert's 11-yard touchdown pass for the 35-30 advantage with 6:52 remaining.
The Paladin defense forced a Mercer punt, and Furman followed with a 29-yard possession that netted a pair of crucial first downs while burning 4:24 of clock.
A 42-yard Grayson Atkins punt and Mercer penalty backed the Bears up to their on 4-yard line with 1:28 to go. That helped Furman's defense finish the game, which freshman bandit Adrian Hope, a Jerry Rice Award nominee, did by sacking quarterback Kaelan Riley and forcing a fumble, which Hope recovered on the Furman 38 as time expired.
Hope, who entered the game with 12.5 sacks — tops among FCS freshman — finished the game with four tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and game ending recovery. His 15 sacks are the most by a Paladin freshman and third most in program history.
The Paladins looked to be in good shape behind Harris, whose three first half touchdown passes gave Furman a 20-10 halftime lead.
It didn't last long as Mercer's Sidney Otiwu recovered a Paladin fumble and returned it for a touchdown on the first play of the second half.
The Paladins responded with a 10-play, 95-yard drive that DeLuca finished with a 24-yard touchdown catch — his second of the game — to make it 26-17.
Furman took advantage of a Hope sack and forced fumble that Dru Seabrook recovered at the Mercer 37 to set up its next score, which came on a 42-yard Grayson Atkins field goal that made it 29-17. Atkins' field goal was his 11th consecutive make, one shy of the Furman record set by Danny Marshall in 2001.
Hunter Reid, Sports Information