Saturday, October 21, 2023

#3 Furman Holds Off #8 Western Carolina in SoCon Showdown

CULLOWHEE – A quiet mountain town hosted a raucous college football game on Saturday afternoon. Two teams, conference rivals for longer than many fans have been alive, faced off for the first time as opponents ranked in the top ten nationally. The momentum shifted on a whim at times as the sun made its way over EJ Whitmire Stadium, but it was the Furman Paladins and quarterback Tyler Huff who delivered the final blow and defeated the host Western Carolina Catamounts, 29-17 to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Southern Conference title.

Western rolled the dice to start the game, going for it on fourth down near the Furman forty-yard-line but a dropped pass gave the ball to Furman. The Paladins, on the offensive for the first time for the afternoon, moved the ball pretty well with a mix of runs and passes. A roll-out pass from the nine-yard-line from Tyler Huff to Mason Pline got the Paladins on the board and an offside penalty negated a missed PAT attempt. The Paladins decided to go for two with the second chance, but Andreas Keaton broke up a pass near the goal line to keep it 6-0 early in the first half. The Catamounts’ second drive played out much like the first drive with the home team facing a fourth and short and coming up short. Furman went sixty-six yards on five plays and extended their lead to thirteen with Huff’s second touchdown of the half, this one a sixteen-yard toss to Colton Hinton.

Western Carolina mounted yet another yard-consuming drive as the first quarter clock ran out. When the second quarter began, the Catamounts were situated in the red zone, hoping to claw back some of the two-score deficit the visiting Paladins forced upon them. Cole Gonzales’s nine-yard touchdown pass to AJ Colombo did just that and the Catamounts faithful celebrated the home team’s first points of the day. Furman ensured that celebration would be short-lived as Wayne Anderson rushed fifty-four yards down the home sideline to set up another Furman score two plays later, a nine-yard scamper by Dominic Roberto.

Western Carolina was willing to tempt the fates on the ensuing drive, taking another risk on a fourth down play. Like the two prior fourth down attempts, the pass was incomplete and the Paladins took over. Unlike previous possessions, however, the Catamounts defense held firm and forced the first punt of the afternoon. The Western Carolina offense regrouped, cheering on their defense for keeping them in the game, and responded in kind, marching sixty-three yards in eight plays with Cole Gonzales finding David White by the pylon to make it 20-14 late in the half. Furman attempted a long field goal as time ran out in the half, but it was wide right.

Furman wanted to force the Catamounts to play their style of football coming out of the half. Taking seven-and-a-half minutes off of the clock, the Paladins marched sixty-nine yards and were on the doorstep of making it a two-score game. The Western Carolina defense stood strong and forced a field goal attempt, but the snap was bobbled, and the Catamounts took over, seeking a potential tying or go-ahead score. That hope grew as the home team marched down the field, but a pass intended for a Catamounts receiver in the end zone was picked off by Furman’s Cally Chizik whose momentum carried him out of the end zone and out of bounds at the one-yard-line. The Western Carolina defense rallied to the aid of their offense, forcing a Furman punt that was shanked and went out of bounds at the thirty-five-yard line. Western Carolina’s offense faced the same fate as their counterparts, finding themselves unable to move the ball and forced to punt. 

Both teams traded field goals midway through the final quarter to keep the margin close, but Tyler Huff drove the final stake in the hearts of the Catamounts faithful with a fifty-three-yard touchdown run down the visiting sideline with under a minute left on the clock. A Western comeback attempt was thwarted and the Paladins were able to kneel to run out the final seconds of the clock and continue their perfect streak in conference play.

Notable North Carolinians

Dominic Roberto (Pine Forest) – the graduate running back led the Paladins with 154 rushing yards.

Branson Adams (Dudley) – the sophomore running back led the Catamounts with sixty-one rushing yards.

AJ Colombo (Cuthbertson) – the sophomore wide receiver opened the scoring for the Catamounts with a touchdown reception in the second quarter.

Up Next

Both teams are at home in Southern Conference action as Western Carolina (5-2, 3-1) hosts Mercer for homecoming while Furman (6-1, 4-0) hosts East Tennessee State.