STATESBORO, GA. (Furman University) -- Ray Early booted an 18-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter and Furman held on to beat Georgia Southern, 16-14, Saturday afternoon at Paulson Stadium in the final meeting between the two Southern Conference rivals.
The win, Furman’s third in its final four visits to Statesboro, improved the Paladins to 4-5 overall and 3-2 in SoCon play, besting last year’s overall and league win tallies with three games remaining. Georgia Southern fell to 4-4 overall and 2-4 in SoCon action.
Early’s decisive kick followed a 17-play, 74-yard drive that consumed 8:33 of clock. The Paladins secured first and goal at the GSU 4 on a Reese Hannon 15-yard pass to Jordan Snellings, but the next three snaps netted only three yards to the Eagle 1, setting up what proved to be Early’s game winning boot.
Georgia Southern took the ensuing kickoff and drove to the Furman 26, keyed in part by a Jerick McKinnon 32-yard pass to Johnathan Bryant on a 3rd-and-13 play from the Eagle 22, but Alex Hanks missed a 43-yard field goal with 9:08 to go.
Furman appeared set to take command, rushing five times for 51 before a Hank McCloud fumble was recovered by Rafael Hardee at the GSU 23 with 6:48 remaining.
The Eagles’ respite proved to be short-lived, however, when Irving Higgins fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Paladin defensive Ira McCune at the Eagle 45. From that point Furman put the head lock on the Eagles, converting a pair of third down plays and driving to the GSU 12 before running out the clock with three kneel plays.
Furman grabbed the early lead with a little trickery. On the Paladins’ first play from scrimmage Tanner Skogen took a toss from Hannon and lofted a pass behind the Georgia Southern secondary to a streaking Andre Suttles, who covered 75 yards to the end zone.
Georgia Southern reached into its bag of tricks on its first possession, converting a fake punt into a 26-yard pass completion to the Furman 17. Six plays later Nardo Govan bulled his way into the end zone from a yard out to help put the Eagles up, 7-6.
Furman’s defense snuffed out a pair of Georgia Southern scoring threats before intermission. Jairus Hollman’s interception at the Paladin 28 halted one drive, and McCune claimed his first of two fumble recoveries in the contest when he pounced on a loose ball at the Furman 27 midway through the second quarter.
From there the Paladins needed just four plays to reach the end zone, which came on a 54-yard Hannon completion to Ryan Culbreath, who made two moves at midfield and a used a key downfield block to outrun the Eagle secondary. Early’s PAT made it 13-7.
Georgia Southern went up 14-13 on its first possession of the second half, using 13 plays to move 75 yards for a Huggins 2-yard scoring plunge.
The Paladins finished with a narrow 354-352 advantage in total offense, led by Hannon, who completed 12-of-18 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. McCloud led all rushers with 17 carries for 102 yards — his fourth 100-yard performance of the season.
Suttles had six catches for 115 yards, with the 75-yarder marking the Paladins’ longest offensive play of the season.
Georgia Southern rushed for 283 yards but was held 120 yards under its season total offense average of 471 yards per game entering the contest.
Greg Worthy topped all defenders with 12 tackles, including a tackle for-loss, and Carl Rider had 11 stops. McCune registered six tackles to along with his two fumble recoveries.
Placekicker Ray Early’s 18-yard field goal made him 11 for his last 12. The senior from Darlington, S.C., has 208 career points, good for sixth all-time in school history.
In collecting two fumbles and an interception against Georgia Southern, Furman improved on its SoCon leading turnover margin, which is now (+0.89). The Paladins have gained 20 turnovers in 2013 and suffered 12 miscues.
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