Cullowhee, N.C. – Upset-minded Western Carolina went toe-to-toe with No. 14 Furman over the opening two quarters on a rain-soaked Homecoming Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. However, in the end, the nationally-ranked Paladins used a strong second half defensive effort and a ball-control offense to bounce back with a road win, fending off the Catamounts, 28-7.
Furman tailback Devin Wynn scored two rushing touchdowns and Grayson Atkins punched through a pair of field goals for the Paladins who rebounded after suffering their first league loss a weekend ago in similar conditions at home against The Citadel. Redshirt freshman QB Darren Grainger connected on just four passes for 96 yards, but did hit Thomas Gordon on a 39-yard strike in the third quarter.
Returning from a foot injury that limited him to just four total plays a week ago at Wofford, Catamount redshirt senior QB Tyrie Adams completed 18-of-22 passes (81.8-percent) for 108 yards while adding 22 rushing yards and WCU’s lone touchdown on a first-quarter, seven-yard rush. Redshirt sophomore Will Jones played the latter part of the fourth quarter after Adams was forced from the game, connecting on 8-of-9 passes for 79 yards including the longest play from scrimmage for the Catamounts on a 28-yard connection with WR Mahari Stribling who finished with 47 receiving yards on two catches.
WCU spread the football around to 11 different players on Saturday with tailback Donnavan Spencer catching a career single-game high six passes, adding 16 total receiving yards to his 26 yards rushing. D.J. Thorpe hauled in four passes for 39 yards just behind Stribling with Daquan Patten and Tyler Mitchell both recording three receptions for a combined 60 yards to rank among WCU’s leaders.
However, WCU was held to just 264 total yards of offense – its third lowest production of the season that included less than 100 total yards on the ground for a second-straight week.
Atkins opened scoring for the Paladins, connecting on his school-record 18th-consecutive successful field goal attempt to cap Furman’s opening drive with a 3-0 lead. On the ensuing possession, though, the Catamounts found points the first time they touched the football on offense for the fourth-straight week as Adams orchestrated a methodical 16-play, 75-yard drive, putting the finishing touches on the drive with a seven-yard scoring scamper to push WCU in front, 7-3, late in the first quarter.
Spurred by a game-long 52-yard rumbling rush by Devin Abrams, the Paladins responded with a seven-play, 72-yard march with Wynn slicing into the end zone from two yards out on a third-down and goal play from the 2-yard line early in the second quarter. WCU nearly thwarted the scoring drive, though, as sophomore LB Darrius Smith jarred the football loose from redshirt freshman QB Darren Grainger on the second down play, but Grainger was able to fall on his fumble to maintain possession and enabling the score.
Trailing 10-7, WCU’s defense forced a turnover on downs in plus territory on a pivotal drive midway through the second quarter as the Catamounts swarmed Wynn, stopping the back for no gain on the fourth and short. However, WCU was unable to answer on the ensuing offensive possession, likewise being turned back on a fourth and one at the Furman 31-yard line.
After trading the fourth-down turnovers, the two squads then traded missed field goals. Furman had trouble with a wet football and a poor snap that forced Atkins to miss for the first time in his last 19 attempts, while WCU’s Julian Pletz just missed wide right on a career-long 50-yard attempt.
Atkins got a bit of redemption on the ensuing possession, though, as Furman marched 45 yards into scoring position in just seven plays with the accurate placekicker connecting from 40 yards out to provide the six-point, 13-7, halftime deficit.
However, the third quarter was the turning point in Saturday’s affair as Furman chewed up 139 yards of total offense and scored 15 unanswered points while the Paladin defense limited the Catamounts to just 19 total yards on 11 offensive plays in what proved to be the decisive frame. WCU managed to outgain Furman, 91-to-34, offensively in the fourth, but was unable to light the scoreboard in suffering their 12th-consecutive defeat in league play.
Junior LB Ty Harris led the Catamount defense with nine tackles including one for loss while Michael Murphy and JerMichael White were both credited with seven stops apiece. Sophomore LB Jayden Pauling finished with six total hits including WCU’s lone sack – the first for the Catamounts in the past three games since tallying three against Gardner-Webb, forcing the first of two Paladin fumbles. For Furman, LB Braden Gilby matched Harris with nine tackles including one of Furman’s nine total tackles for loss that included three sacks by the Paladin defense.
Western Carolina (1-7, 0-5 SoCon) returns to the road next Saturday, traveling to Lexington, Va., to face the VMI Keydets in conference play. Kickoff from Alumni Memorial Stadium is set for 1:30 pm in a game that will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network and can be seen on ESPN+ (subscription required).