Cullowhee, N.C. - Troy Mitchell recorded 360 yards of total offense and accounted for five touchdowns as Western Carolina used a total team effort to close the home portion of its regular season with a 48-10 victory over the Furman Paladins on Saturday afternoon in Southern Conference action at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
Mitchell threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, adding two scores on the ground and 55 yards as WCU put an exclamation point on an unbeaten home regular season - its first since 1986 and only the second in Division I history. The senior quarterback was impressive, completing 25-of-37 passes to five different receivers before exiting the game in the fourth quarter to a standing ovation and boisterous cheer from the home crowd.
Western Carolina (6-3, 4-2 SoCon) capitalized on a pair of Paladin first quarter fumbles on consecutive possessions to grab an early lead it would never relinquish. Mitchell handed WCU a 14-0 lead with two rushing scores as the Catamounts raced out to a 28-0 lead before carrying a 31-3 mark into the halftime locker room. The Catamounts never looked back, capturing their sixth-straight home win dating back to last season.
WCU's win halted a four-game slide to the Paladins in games played in Cullowhee - its first since 2005.
Mitchell's favorite target was junior wide receiver Steffon Hill who recorded a career-high 10 receptions for a career-best 130 yards. The Hendersonville, N.C., native scored twice in Saturday's win. Hill hauled in a 36-yard scoring strike from Mitchell in the second quarter to finish off an 82-yard drive. Later, he was on the receiving end of an option pitch in the third quarter for a rushing score, capping an impressive 15-play, 99-yard drive for the Catamount offense.
Tight end Tyler Sexton streaked over the middle for a 29 receiving touchdown during WCU's first half scoring barrage, with freshman kicker Logan Howard twice splitting the uprights from 38 and 25 yards out. Redshirt senior wide receiver Karnorris Benson closed the scoring with a 21-yard TD reception as a part of a four catch, 62-yard performance.
Sophomore tailback Detrez Newsome accounted for 210 all-purpose yards including 180 rushing yards as the Catamount offense amassed 581 total yards - the team's fourth, 500-plus yard performance and just two yards shy of the season-high (583 vs. Mars Hill). Newsome was held out of the end zone for the first time this season, halting an eight-game streak.
After a three-and-out on the game's first possession by its offense, the Catamount defense got the ball back quickly early in Furman's opening possession. Fred Payne punched the football loose on the second-straight carry by Antonio Wilcox with Sertonuse Harris pouncing on the loose football for the turnover. Mitchell turned it into points with a three-yard rush and the early 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, freshman Mikey White flashed through and delivered a hit that separated return man Issac Garcia from the football with Zachary Greene recovering the special teams takeaway. Mitchell would again find pay dirt on the short field for the two-score advantage as the Catamounts were off and running.
Four Catamount defenders each recorded a team-high six tackles apiece led by Harris, A.J. Newman, Caleb Hawkins and Daniel Riddle. Hawkins tallied one of WCU's five sacks, joined by Avery Worsham and Hassan Belton with a sack apiece. The Catamounts forced three fumbles, two leading to takeaways and a third coming on the fourth down play of a goal line stand. On the ensuing possession, WCU's offense went the length of the field for a back-breaking 99-yard scoring drive.
Western Carolina limited Furman to 75 total yards rushing in the win, a number aided by the five sacks and a failed punt attempt.
For Furman (4-5, 2-3 SoCon), P.J. Blazejowski took over for Reese Hannon at quarterback in the second half and completed 7-of-12 passes for 132 yards while rushing for 24 yards despite being sacked four times. Hannon finished 8-for-14 for 108 yards. Receiver Andrej Suttles caught six passes for 116 yards to lead the Paladins.
Furman's lone touchdown came on the final play of the third quarter as fullback Kealand Dirks' scored his first career TD from a yard out. The Paladins also got a J.C. Hollingsworth 32-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
Western Carolina plays its final two regular season games on the road, stepping out of conference next Saturday, Nov. 14, as it travels to College Station, Texas, to face Texas A&M. The Aggies are coming off a 26-10 home loss to the Auburn Tigers. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET / 6:00 pm CT in a game that will be broadcast live on ESPNU.