Furman takes early lead, but fall to Florida 54-32
Furman wanted more than just a lucrative payout from Florida.
What the Paladins got was a dose of big-time playmakers with speed from a BCS powerhouse program.
Furman, a Football Championship Subdivision team, battled Florida on fairly even terms for three quarters before the Gators pulled away with a 17-point outburst in a 54-32 win on Saturday.
It marked the second disappointing loss in as many weeks for the Paladins. A week earlier, they endured a 41-34 loss to Southern Conference member Elon. That cost Furman a shot at second-place in the league standings and dashed their hopes of qualifying for the FCS playoffs.
What Furman did receive Saturday was a big payday. The Paladins received a check for $450,000 for playing in Gainesville for the ninth time in the 10-game series with the Gators. And as they had done in the previous six contests, the Paladins went down to defeat.
Not without stirring some uncomfortable moments for the nearly 85,000 fans in the stadium, not to mention Florida's players and coaches.
Furman (6-5) gained 17, 23, 2 and 22 yards on its first four plays. That put the ball on the 3-yard line and paved the way for a Jerodis Williams' 1-yard scoring run two plays later. Even with a missed extra point, it was a surprising start on the heavily favored Gators.
''We wanted to get a couple quick passes and try to open it up,'' said wide receiver Sederrik Cunningham who took a handoff and gained 17 yards on the first play, his own rushing attempt of the game.
The surprising start turned into shock when on Florida's first play following the ensuing kickoff, the center snap sailed over quarterback John Brantley's head and out of the end zone for a safety for an 8-0 lead.
And when Furman scored on long pass plays on its next two possessions, sandwiched around a Florida touchdown, the Paladins had a 22-7 first quarter lead and visions of one of college football's all-time big upsets.
Furman's third TD of that quarter may have been the biggest surprise to the Gators defense. It came when Paladins quarterback Chris Forcier threw backwards to tight end Colin Anderson, who in turn hit a streaking Cunningham in stride inside the 10-yard line. With several Gator defenders giving chase, Cunningham scored easily to complete the 47-yard scoring play.
''It took me back to my high school days,'' the 6-4, 231-pound Dallas native said. ''It's something we've been working into the game plan for a while, but it wasn't until this week that we actually were able to bring it out.''
Added Cunningham, ''It was a trick play - a short pass and double pass. They all bit up on it and I out-ran everybody.''
Florida responded with three, second-quarter touchdowns however, to take a 27-22 lead at the intermission.
After the teams traded field goals in the third quarter and Florida (6-5) scored on a long pass play, Furman responded with its own big-play score.
Williams took a handoff and after breaking two would-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage broke into the secondary. From there it was a foot race to the end zone with Williams winning by diving into the pylon to complete the 77-yard play, the longest in his career.
''It was just a little power play to the left side,'' he said. ''Somebody actually knocked me to the right side, but when they hit me, I just darted to the right, stumbled a bit. One of our guys had seal. I looked up and it was just green grass.''
That came with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter and cut Florida's lead back to 37-32. That was as close as the visitors would come however. Florida's Caleb Sturgis converted on a 55-yard field goal attempt and the Gators secondary picked off two of Forcier's passes and returned them both for touchdowns in the final quarter to squash any thoughts of an epic upset.
''I thought we played really hard,'' Furman coach Bruce Fowler said. ''I don't think the score is really indicative of how the game went. We had those two picks that they ran back there late that stretched the score out a bit.
''We were able to run the ball pretty well which is something we need to do that we've been talking about doing to be successful as a program. We're making some progress that way.''
Furman held a 196-72 advantage in total offense after the first quarter. But Florida's dominance the rest of the way resulted in the Gators posting a 453-446 advantage in total yards.