Cullowhee, N.C. - Furman's Antonio Wilcox rushed for a career-high 202 yards and a score while backfield teammate Kealand Dirks added a pair of scores and 119 yards on the ground as the Paladins rushed past No. 18/20 Western Carolina, 28-6, on a rain-soaked Homecoming Saturday at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
The win was the sixth-straight for the Paladins after starting the season at 0-3, while WCU saw its four game home win streak snapped. Furman moved into a tie for first-place in the SoCon with Upstate rival, Wofford, while WCU slipped into a tie with Samford for third overall.
Not only did the Paladins spoil the Catamounts annual Homecoming, the two-headed Furman rushing attack also overshadowed the return of two-time All-America tailback, Detrez Newsome. The Raeford, N.C., native rushed for 110 yards in his first game since early October. Newsome added three receptions for 20 yards to give him 130 all-purpose yards in the loss.
Junior Corey Holloway rushed for 42 yards on 10 carries, tallying WCU's lone score of the game on a two-yard plunge inside the game's final two minutes. Redshirt senior Steffon Hill paced the Catamount receivers with five catches for 40 yards as the elements hindered the potent passing attack.
But perhaps the biggest loss on Saturday centered on starting, dual-threat quarterback Tyrie Adams, who suffered a lower body injury in the second quarter and did not return. Adams, who entered the weekend atop the SoCon in rushing average per game, was held to just 17 yards on six total carries. He completed 7-of-11 passes for just 36 yards, giving the second-year signal caller a career-low 53 yards of total offense. Adams status will be reevaluated on Sunday.
Adams' back-up, Ray Smith, completed 7-of-15 passes for 71 yards with a fourth quarter interception. The Cherokee, N.C., native added 33 rushing yards on four carries including WCU's longest play from scrimmage in the loss -- a 23-yard scramble.
Scoreless after a see-saw opening quarter that saw WCU dominate possession, Furman (6-3, 5-1 SoCon) broke open the scoreless stalemate early in the second stanza off its play-action. Senior QB P.J. Blazejowski found a wide-open Andy Shumpert for a 44-yard score, hydroplaning his way through the right pylon for the game's first and only first half score.
Blazejowski only needed to complete two passes in the win, finishing 2-for-4 for 60 yards including the 44-yard strike. He also tossed a second half interception.
The Paladins wasted little time in building upon their lead in the second half, though, utilizing the big play to set-up their second score. Wilcox broke free up the middle for a 68-yard romp before being dragged down by Tra Hardy at the six-yard line to prevent the touchdown. Dirks finished the drive on the ensuing play with a six-yard rush for the 14-0 lead.
Midway through the third quarter -- and the Catamounts looking for life -- it was the defense that came-up with a takeaway to provide a spark. Marvin Tillman slid under a Blazejowski pass for his third interception of the season. However, on the rain-soaked afternoon, the spark was short-lived because the Catamounts coughed up the football on the very next play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Dirks rumbled 53 yards for his second rushing touchdown to make the exchange of turnovers sting more for WCU.
Early in the fourth quarter, defensive lineman Nate Link stripped Blazejowski for another Catamount takeaway, thwarting a Paladin drive. Unfortunately, the offense was unable to capitalize as a third-down pass to Jordan Mathis was ruled incomplete. After the Ian Berryman punt, the Paladins ground attack struck for a third time as Wilcox made it a four-score game with a 48-yard touchdown rush.
Holloway's late fourth quarter touchdown put the Catamounts on the scoreboard and provided the final tally.
Tillman paced the Catamount defense with 11 tackles while Tahjai Watt finished with double-digit tackles with 10 stops. In addition to his forced and recovered fumble, Link finished with a career-high eight tackles that included 2.5 tackles for loss.
After holding the football for over 10 minutes of the opening quarter, the Catamounts narrowly lost the time of possession battle as Furman returned the favor by chewing up 10:27 off the game clock in a decisive third quarter. WCU was also hindered by 10 penalties for 75 yards in the losing effort.
Western Carolina (6-3, 4-2 SoCon) travels to Charleston, S.C., to face The Citadel Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3 SoCon) this Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium with kickoff scheduled for 2:00 pm.