“Rent-a-win.” “Cupcake game.” Whatever you want to call it, massive FBS schools will schedule matchups early in the season under the assumption that a “small school” such as Furman would be a rollover match just to get freshmen more playing time. But last Saturday, Furman was no rollover for South Carolina. The Paladins came ready to play and put the Gamecocks on watch.
Some of the biggest goals going into Furman’s matchup last Saturday with the South Carolina Gamecocks were to make their presence known, limit mistakes, and be a thorn in the back of Shane Beamer’s stout football team. What made this game different? How did they achieve their goals? The answer is simple: the Paladins’ strong mental fortitude.
Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams are more robust in many ways than Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams. An FBS team, like South Carolina and their SEC counterparts like Georgia, LSU, and Alabama, are massive schools. They have enormous talent pools to choose from, paired with spectacular funding from the administration, making them quasi-professional franchises. These teams can give out dozens more scholarships to talent worldwide than an FCS school.
Most FCS versus FBS games do not go to plan for the smaller school. Some teams will enter the game and practice a week before knowing they are set to be dismantled in every facet of the game. Grambling State, an FCS squad, was one of these teams last week, who went into Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to face the #14 LSU Tigers. They were obliterated, 72-10.
But not Furman. Furman came ready to play. The environment for Clay Hendrix and the entire team was likely highly intimidating, but they held their spirits high. Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia was filled with 70,000 screaming fans, eager to make it as hard as possible for Furman quarterback Tyler Huff and others to hear themselves speak.
After a missed field goal from South Carolina, Furman stormed down the field to the disgust of the Gamecock faithful and Dominic Roberto punched the ball into the endzone with extreme physicality, silencing the almighty crowd. Huff would toss a quick touchdown pass early in the second quarter to graduate student wide receiver Luke Shiflett.
Afterward, the Paladins would go scoreless until the fourth quarter when backup redshirt quarterback Carson Jones ‘27 threw a touchdown pass to tight end Brock Chapell ‘27. Huff finished the game with 129 yards, one touchdown pass, and an interception. The Paladin rushing attack was held to only 80 yards rushing. WR Joshua Harris led the way in receiving yards with 73 and even racked one 50 yard bomb downfield in the first quarter off a trick play. In the end, the Paladins were soundly defeated.
It was just one of those days for the Paladins, but they kept their heads high and did what they could. On Monday, head coach Clay Hendrix said on Furman Football Weekly, “For the better part of 30 minutes, we did the things I thought we could do: hang in there and compete, be physical, and execute. I thought we were in a great position, and that’s why games are 60 minutes, not 30 minutes.”
As last week's article mentioned, Gamecocks quarterback, Spencer Rattler, would be one to look out for. In the previous week's game against UNC, Rattler threw for over 300 yards. The principal strategy Furman needed to execute to hang in the game against South Carolina was to pressure Rattler and force him into compromising situations. The Paladins, for the most part, were able to do this sparingly in the first half, but responses from the offense barely kept them in the game. However, Rattler would finish the game with three touchdown passes and 345 passing yards, averaging 12.8 yards per pass. He would throw only two incompletions off of 27 passing attempts.
It was a moral victory for the Paladins in Columbia, but it should not be taken for granted. The Paladins, come October, will face off against the Samford Bulldogs. Their team features a star quarterback, Michael Hiers, who is one of the nation's best. He is known, just like Rattler, to be able to make very accurate downfield throws. The Paladins will need to figure out a remedy before then, going into next week's game against the Kennesaw State Owls.
Next week’s game at Kennesaw State will be a test for the Paladins, especially on defense. KSU’s offense features a dynamic, dual-threat quarterback, Jonathan Murphy. In KSU’s past two games against Tusculum and Chattanooga, Murphy was able to scurry out of the pocket or on designed QB runs over 15 times each game. He also completed over 70 percent of his passes in both games. He will undoubtedly be one to watch. The Paladins will be back in Paladin Stadium on Sept. 23 against Mercer. Go Dins, and beat Kennesaw State!