After taking some bitter but not wholly unexpected medicine at North Carolina State, Furman returns home to regain its vigor against its 1st Southern Conference opponent, Mercer.
The Paladins have split road games since the season’s grand opening at home, a 29-18 triumph over North Carolina A&T. Furman then traveled to Cookeville, Tenn., where it blanked Tennessee Tech 26-0, and to Raleigh, where N.C. State of the ACC ran roughshod over the outmanned visitors, 45-7.
“I think we’re getting better,” head coach Clay Hendrix said on his Monday streaming show. “It’s a little hard to judge based on the score of the other night (N.C. State). I’d have liked to have been a little more competitive.
“We had a highly motivated and competitive group of players (to play), but we also had a highly motivated crowd behind them, and it was everything I thought it would be. The disappointing thing is that we didn’t make it more competitive, but when I looked at the tape, I saw that our kids played hard for 60 minutes. We did a lot of good things, but we’ve also got a lot of things to clean up.”
Those games were played to prepare for this one and, in N.C. State’s case, provide a generous parting gift.
“It’s time to move on to the Southern Conference,” Hendrix said. “Everything we want is out there before us.”
Kickoff for the football game between the Paladins and the Bears is 2 p.m. for Family Weekend at Paladin Stadium.
Furman (2-1) has won its last two league openers, including a 35-7 decision over Western Carolina a year ago, and is 2-2 in league beginnings under head coach Clay Hendrix.
Mercer (1-1) was idle last week after falling to Alabama, 48-14, two weeks ago. The Bears opened the season with a 69-0 win over Point.
Three quarterbacks -- Fred Payton, Carter Peevy and Dylan Fromme -- have all seen action in both games, combining to hit 28 of 43 passes for 407 yards and 7 touchdowns. Ten different receivers have caught passes, led by Parker Wroble with 6.
Mercer rushed for 539 yards against Point University, an NAIA school in West Point, Ga. The Bears rushed for 48 yards against the University of Alabama, the nation’s top-ranked college team.
Furman is 4-3 versus Mercer since the Bears joined the SoCon in 2014 and 2-1 in clashes in Greenville, having captured a 45-10 verdict in 2019 in the last meeting in Paladin Stadium.
Mercer won this spring’s contest, 26-14, in Macon. The Paladins hold a 10-7-2 advantage in the all-time series.
Mercer’s Drew Cronic will be making his 1st appearance in Paladin Stadium as a head coach after serving as a Furman assistant coach on two occasions. The first ran from 2002-10, and the second was a 1-year stint as offensive coordinator under Hendrix in 2017.
After taking it on the chin in a pair of clashes against FBS foes in their last outings, both Furman and Mercer will be anxious to test their mettle against FCS competition.
Furman, despite losing senior tackle to Matt Sochovka to a season-ending knee injury in the season opener, owns a quality defense fronted by end Landon Lawrence, tackle London Lewis, nose guard Cameron Coleman and bandit Adrian Hope (24.5 career sacks), who collectively own 122 games of experience and 53 starts. Top backups include 5th-year senior interior lineman Parkert Stokes (44 g/87 tackles) and bandit Elijah McKoy (38g/27gs/237 tackles).
The Paladins have gotten stellar play from junior cornerback Travis Blackshear in the early going. The Savannah, Ga., product has totaled 14 tackles, a SoCon-leading 3 interceptions, fumble recovery, forced fumble and sack through three games.
In their two FCS games this year, defensive coordinator Duane Vaughn’s troops have surrendered only 18 points, 94 rushing yards, 366 passing yards (43.1 completion percentage), and just 230 yards of offense per game.
Furman’s offense has shown flashes of improvement from its spring performance, but the Paladins are looking for more firepower.
Furman’s running game, which is averaging just 128.0 yards per game and 3.2 per rush, certainly has the horses, pun intended, led by 5th-year senior tailback Devin Wynn (186 yds., 2 TDs) and running backs Devin Abrams and Dominic Roberto. Wynn heads into Saturday’s game ranked 9th on Furman’s career rushing yards ledger (2,654) and 10th in touchdowns (27). A pair of redshirt sophomore running backs, Devin Abrams and Dominic Roberto, are proven performers.
The Paladins’ passing game, built behind junior quarterback Hamp Sisson (50-88, 644 yds., 4 TDs, 2 Int.), sports three key targets, beginning with junior All-America tight end Ryan Miller (9 rec., 197 yds., 2 TDs) and including impressive freshman wideout Joshua Harris (9 rec., 126 yds., TD) and 5th-year senior wideout Ryan DeLuca (6 rec., 71 yds.). Miller has registered 8 touchdown catches in the last 10 games, and DeLuca is 33 yards shy of reaching 1,000 for his career, which includes 62 receptions.
Furman’s kicking game has been a plus, courtesy of Timmy Bleekrode, who has converted 7 of 9 field goals, including a career best 51-yarder in the win over Tennessee Tech.
“We’ve played against some really good defenses so far this year,” Hendrix said, “and we’ll see another good one this week.”
The Game:Furman Paladins (2-1, 0-0 SoCon) vs. Mercer Bears (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)
Date: Saturday, September 25, 2021
Site:Greenville (Paladin Stadium, on campus)
Kickoff:2:05 p.m. EDT
Video Stream:ESPN+ (Brock Bowling, play-by-play), Ellis Tolbert (analyst)
Radio:Van Wagner/Furman Sports Network (ESPN Upstate: 97.7 FM/1330 AM, Greenville; 97.1 FM/950 AM, Spartanburg); Audacy.com; FurmanPaladins.com: Dan Scott (play-by-play), David Cobb (analyst); Marcus McMorris (sideline); Tom Van Hoy (spotter/pre-game & halftime host)
Tickets:Tickets can be purchased at the Timmons Arena Box Office, located in the lobby of Timmons Arena, and at the East Stands Box Office of Paladin Stadium beginning at noon. All single-game credit card transactions are charged a 2.5 percent convenience fee online, over the phone, or at the box office. All ticket sales are final. No exchanges, no refunds.
Furman GameDay Schedule Of Events
10 a.m. — Parking Lots Open
11 a.m. — Furman Fan Zone Opens (Live Music Begins at Noon)
Noon — Box Offices Open
12:30 p.m. — Furman Band & Spirit Perform (Ingles Concert Stage)
12:30 p.m. — Paladin Stadium Gates Open, Champions Walk Begins
1:30 p.m. — Furman Fan Zone Closes & Wicked Weed Endzone Experience Opens
2:05 p.m. — Kickoff