Paladins chew up Bucs, 31-6

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   GREENVILLE, S.C. -- There may have been a buffet served in the press box at Paladin Stadium Saturday afternoon, but the Furman defense decided to have the East Tennessee State offense for lunch instead.
   The third-ranked Paladins held ETSU to 199 yards of total offense en route to a 31-6 spanking of the Buccaneers in Southern Conference football action.
   "They're a good defensive football team," ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton said. "But we've had trouble moving the football against everybody."
   ETSU's offensive woes did continue on this afternoon. The Bucs could only produce 92 yards rushing, and quarterback Matt Wilhjelm went a dismal 10-of-27 for only 88 yards.
   On the flip side, Furman netted 364 yards of total offense. 198 of those came on the ground, but inexperienced quarterback Billy Napier managed to go a very respectable 15-of-23 for 166 yards.
   The Buccaneer defense couldn't catch a break with field position, so Hamilton was pleased with how the defense performed.
   "I'm proud of our defense," Hamilton said. "I commend our defense a great deal. I really felt like there were some areas today that as a young football team we actually progressed against a very good football team, and one of them was defensively. We just can't keep the defense out there as much as we're doing."
   Early in the game, it was the special teams that kept costing the Bucs.
   After the Bucs first possession went nowhere, Aaron Bass' punt was blocked by Furman's Hindley Brigham, giving the Paladins first and goal at the seven.
   Two plays later, 2000 Walter Payton Award winner Louis Ivory hit paydirt from seven yards out to give the Paladins an early 7-0 advantage. Ivory finished the game with 146 yards rushing.
   Bass then had his next punt blocked, giving Furman the football at ETSU's 26. Napier fumbled a few plays later as ETSU's Travis Williams recovered it, but Hamilton wasn't pleased with those two blocks.
   "We have not had problems in our punt protection the last several years, so obviously there is a flaw in there that they saw," Hamilton said. "I think we got it corrected as the game went on, but it sure hurt us to begin with."
   The Bucs capitalized on the fumble recovery as Scott Salmons, who was filling in for the injured Con Chellis, booted a 37-yard field goal to cut Furman's lead to 7-3.
   Furman rallied right back as the Paladins closed an 11-play drive when Eric Emerson scored from 1-yard out to increase the Paladins lead to 14-3 with 12:58 to go in the first half.
   Furman kept the points coming on its next possession as Danny Marshall connected on a 20-yard field goal to increase the home team's advantage to 17-3. The kick was set up by several solid completions by Napier, and a 17-yard run by Ivory.
   It looked like the Paladins were going to take that edge into the locker room, but the Bucs found new life when Napier threw a pass right into the arms of ETSU defensive back Tony Tiller. The ball was returned to the Furman 25 with less than a second to go in the half.
   The interception set up a 42-yard field goal attempt by Salmons, which he made to cut Furman's lead to 17-6 at the break.
   That was all the scoring ETSU could muster. The Furman defense held the Bucs in check during the second half, as ETSU just couldn't get anything going.
   Furman pretty much put the game out of reach with 5:14 to go in the third when Emerson scored his second touchdown of the game. This 5-yard scoring run gave the Paladins a very comfortable 24-6 cushion.
   The Bucs tried everything to get the offense going, including putting in N.C. State transfer Jatavis Sanders at quarterback. Sanders moved the ball somewhat on his first possession, but was thrown into the fire at his own 1-yard line.
   "I was ready to get out there and play," Sanders said. "I've been wanting to help the team all year, so if that was the situation I had to be in I was happy to do it."
   Hamilton defended his decision to stick with Wilhjelm for so long.
   "You look at a guy that the last ball game completed over 50 percent of his passes, and took a team down the field with 2:24 left in the game to win the football game against The Citadel," Hamilton said. "Then you have another kid that has played 15 snaps in three years at quarterback, and the scoreboard says 17-6. So you're thinking right there that you need to stay with the guy that won for us the week before, and hope he can find a way to make it work for us."
   Furman's last touchdown came with the Paladin starters already out of the game. Al Means took advantage of some playing time with a 5-yard touchdown run to bring the game to its final score of 31-6.
   Furman improves to 5-0 in Southern Conference play and 6-1 overall with the win, while the Bucs drop to 1-3 in league play and 2-4 overall.
   The road doesn't get any easier for the Bucs next week with top-ranked Georgia Southern coming into Memorial Center.
   "They're the best team in America until anybody beats them," Hamilton said. "We have not played Georgia Southern very well, so we've got to go back to work to see if we can go play a great Georgia Southern football team and be competitive Saturday night."