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Furman Stymies McKay, Elon in First Round of FCS Playoffs

Tight end Ryan Miller lit up the Phoenix on Saturday afternoon.

Furman v Clemson Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Going into this season, not many folks saw Furman doing much of anything in the SoCon this year. The Paladins, though, are under the radar no longer after a 9-2 season that put them in the playoffs. On Saturday, Furman showed just how much of a force they are by knocking off Elon and advancing to the second round, a place Clay Hendrix’s team hasn’t been since 2017.

Right out of the gates, however, it was Elon that tried to send a message. After being held to a 4th and 1 on their opening drive, the Phoenix rolled the dice and executed a fake punt deep in their own territory to keep the drive. Kicker Skyler Davis booted a 51-yard field goal give Elon an early 3-0 lead.

Whether it was Elon’s initial aggressiveness or just playoff nerves, Furman looked sloppy to start. Quarterback Tyler Huff missed a wide open pass in the flat on third down and the ensuing punt from Ryan Leavy was shanked, giving the Phoenix the ball in excellent field position.

Elon signal-caller Matthew McKay, though, was seeing his own early struggles as he started the game just 1-for-6 passing. He took an ill-timed sack on Elon’s second drive and the Paladins defense got off the field quickly, giving Huff and the offense another chance.

This time Furman set the tone thanks to running back Dominic Roberto and tight end Ryan Miller. After a big run by Roberto to get into Elon territory, Miller hauled in his 12th touchdown pass of the year. Huff hit Miller over the middle for a 30-yard catch and run that put the Paladins on top 7-3.

With the momentum against them, the Phoenix were in desperate need of offensive production. Once again, though, the Furman defense rose up. Elon opted to send it on a fourth down that was within field goal range and this time the big boys up front buried McKay to kill the possession.

Huff continued to target Miller on the other side and by the end of the first quarter the duo already had four connections for 55 yards. It was running back Devin Abrams, though, that extended the lead with a 10-yard scoring scamper early in the second quarter. It was Abrams’ third touchdown of the year had the Paladins up by 11.

With an 11-point advantage, the Furman defense... which is aggressive anyways... really pinned their ears. The defensive line continued to puncture the Elon offensive line and stuff McKay and Hampton.

It wasn’t until midway through the second quarter that the Phoenix got a little spark when receiver Bryson Daughtry made a great snag above his head to get Elon into the red zone for the first time. Once again, though, they couldn’t do anything on third down and had to try a field goal. The special teams decided to gamble again but this time it didn’t go nearly as well. Davis took a pitch on the fake but got leveled by Furman’s Travis Blackshear behind the line where he fumbled; a microcosm of the day Elon was having.

At halftime the Phoenix trailed 14-3, McKay had been sacked three times and the team had only rushed for 60 yards. The only real highlight had come from punter Jeff Yurk who downed a punt at the one-yard line right before the break. Outside of that it was all Furman.

The Paladins extended their lead in the third quarter with a 43-yard Axel Lepvreau field goal to make it 17-3.

Things went from bad to worse for Elon when Hampton coughed up the ball after the field goal. Furman’s Seth Johnson promptly picked it up. Although Furman was unable to score with their opportunity they retained all the momentum going into the fourth quarter.

The Phoenix finally ended their scoring drought early in the final frame but it was only with a field goal. On the other side, Huff and Roberto started to bleed the clock. The Paladins strung together a long nine-minute drive. The dagger was Huff’s sixth rushing touchdown of the year; a nine-yard run over the chalk.

Redshirt freshman Grant Robinson would get in on the scoring fun for Furman late to make the final 31-6.

Elon had no answers as they surrendered nearly 400 yards of offense and failed to find the end zone. McKay ended his day with 288 pass yards on 20-of-39 pass completions. Hampton rushed for 30 yards on ten carries.

Furman’s defensive front was sharp all afternoon, sacking McKay four times and making six stops behind the line. Huff threw for 140 yards and ran for 93 more while registering two touchdowns. Miller led the receivers with nine catches for 74 yards and a score.

The Paladins will take on 7-seed Incarnate Word next weekend in San Antonio.