Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

#7 Paladins Triumph 26-7, Prep for High-Stakes Clash with #2 Montana

On Saturday, #7 Furman vanquished the Chattanooga Mocs in the second round of the FCS playoffs. But the Paladins must endure the elements and a strong Grizzly squad to win.
Courtesy of Furman Athletics

Last Saturday, at a wet and chilly Paladin Stadium, the #7 Furman football squad defeated a fellow SoCon rival in the Chattanooga Mocs. The Paladins prevailed by a strong rushing attack using a stout offensive line to subdue any resistance the Mocs’ defensive line managed to muster. The Paladins will travel nearly 2,000 miles to Missoula, Montana, to face the #2 Montana Grizzlies this Friday. The Paladins must tolerate brutally cold conditions and a solid Grizzly football team. 

In the history books, you would have to travel to 2013 to find the last time the Paladins traveled a similar distance when they faced the #1 North Dakota State Bison in Fargo, North Dakota’s famous Fargodome for the FCS playoffs. The Fargodome then and now utilizes a massive steel enclosure to protect players, fans, and equipment from the harsh arctic blasts and snow. However, #2 Montana’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium has no such protective elements. 

The 25,000-seat stadium, packed with Montana fans for the quarterfinal matchup between the Paladins and the Grizzlies this Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, will likely be sold out. The Grizzlies have enjoyed a ten-game winning streak in Washington-Grizzly and will look to extend it against the Paladins, but the Grizzlies have an advantage up their sleeve: nature. They are veterans to the harsh weather conditions ahead. 

As of Monday, Dec. 4, according to The National Weather Service, it will be as low as 21 degrees (with a lower “feels-like” due to wind) and a slight chance of snow. The Grizzlies blew out Delaware last weekend 49-19 in a cascade of brutal winter conditions. The Paladins must endure something similar while holding off a fierce Grizzly rushing and passing attack to win. 

It has been two decades since the Paladins and Grizzlies last met in the FCS National Championship game in Dec. 2001 in Chattanooga. Although the weather in Chattanooga is much nicer this time of year compared to Missoula, playing football in below-freezing conditions and even snow is a daunting task. The cold makes it difficult for all players to hold or catch the ball. Paired with snow, it is even harder to play competently with the poor visibility that comes with it. Field goal kicking and medium to long-distance passes become nearly impossible. 

Due to the uncertainty with the weather, there is little the Paladins can do to prepare for it other than getting in the right mindset. Luckily, with snow and cold comes more opportunities for rushing, which the Paladins excel at. The Paladins and the offensive staff must draw diverse blocking schemes to protect and open lanes for running Dominic Roberto. The Paladins need to keep the football on the ground and out of the hands of the Montana offense. Passing will be strictly weather permitting.

The big guys will do the dirty work for the Paladins: the offensive and defensive line. Montana’s defense is as good as Furman’s, ranking 18th and 19th, respectively. The Grizzlies utilize a swarming 3-3-5 defense under coordinator Ronnie Bradford, who was elevated to the position after the departure of former coordinator Kent Baer. The Grizzlies have a monster of a defense, and the Paladins must be ready to bear the brunt of it offensively. 

The Montana offense is equally as potent. The Grizzlies rank 29th in total offense out of 122 teams, while the Paladins rank 67th. They have a graduate transfer quarterback (just like Tyler Huff) in Clifton McDowell. He is lightning-quick on his feet and is joined by speedy running backs Nick Ostmo, Eli Gillman, and Xavier Harris, who the Grizzlies use almost equally. The Grizzlies run a similar offensive scheme to the Paladins, utilizing a run-pass-option playbook, but they cater more to running than passing. That being said, the Paladins, like the Grizzlies, must come ready to stop the run. Special teams will also be a difference maker. Punt and kick return yards will be vital. One should expect to see placekicker Ian Williams a lot in this game. If the Paladins are going to win, expect it to come after a low-scoring game with plenty of kicking and punting. 

This will be, by far, the most formidable challenge the Paladins have faced this season. While it will be dusk in Missoula, kickoff will come long after nightfall here in Greenville. The high-stakes matchup will be broadcast to millions of viewers on ESPN2 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The winner will face the victor of #3 South Dakota and North Dakota State. If you are going to the game, dress warmly. Go Dins!

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