GREENVILLE, S.C. (Furman University) -- Andrej Suttles scored on an 85-yard touchdown reception just before the half, and Marcus McMorris finished off a big play afternoon for Furman with an 89-yard fourth quarter interception return to propel the Paladins to a 35-17 Southern Conference homecoming win over 20th-ranked Samford Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.
The victory, the third straight league triumph for Furman (5-5, 4-2 SoCon), kept the Paladins in the conference title hunt, tied with Samford (6-3, 4-2 SoCon) and Wofford (5-4, 4-2 SoCon) for second place, one game behind Chattanooga, which plays at Samford next Saturday. Furman has two games remaining, at Western Carolina (Nov. 16) and a home clash against Wofford (Nov. 23).
Suttles’ score came with 1:46 remaining in the first half with Furman holding a 14-9 lead. The redshirt freshman from Dallas, Ga., collected a pass from quarterback Reese Hannon, shook off a defender, and outsprinted the Samford secondary to the end zone to help give the Paladins a 21-9 lead at intermission.
The 85-yard scoring play marked the seventh longest touchdown reception in Furman history.
Furman grabbed command on its first play of the second half after Paladin defensive end Gary Wilkins stuffed the Bulldogs’ D’Morrise Bledsoe on a fourth-and-one play at the Samford 46. After the change of possession, Tanner Skogen took a pitch from Hannon, rolled right, and connected with Jordan Snellings behind the Samford secondary for a 46-yard touchdown strike to stretch the lead to 28-9 just two minutes into the third period.
From that point the Paladin defense managed to keep the Bulldogs mostly in check, beginning with safety Trey Robinson’s interception in the end zone that halted one threat midway through the third quarter, and ending on McMorris’ interception at the 11, which he returned 89 yards for the score with 1:15 remaining in the game.
McMorris’ pick-six, the sixth-longest ever by a Paladin, was the second of his career, which also includes a school record 95-yard fumble return for a score in a 31-17 win over Elon last year.
The Bulldogs doubled up Furman in snaps, 102-51, and compiled 531 yards to the Paladins’ 336, but Furman’s big strikes more than countered the advantage. In addition, of Samford’s 102 plays, only five went for 20 yards or more.
Furman grabbed the lead early, taking the opening kickoff and covering 79 yards in 15 minutes to go up 7-0 on a Marcus Anderson 3-yard run and Ray Early PAT.
Warren Handrahan made it a 7-6 game with a pair of field goals covering 26 and 41 yards before Furman’s defense set up the Paladins’ next score, which followed a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery by McMorris at the Bulldog 11. Two plays later wildcat quarterback Richard Hayes III rolled around left end on a 6-yard keeper into the end zone to stretch Furman’s lead to 14-6.
Handrahan booted his third field goal of the half, a 36-yard effort with 4:43 on the clock to make it 14-9.
It appeared it would remain a five-point game heading into halftime, but Suttles’ turned his reception and pivot at the Paladin 25 into a sprint to the end zone, which he won with assistance from a down field block by teammate David Dingess at the Samford 30.
Hannon completed 10-of-14 pass attempts for 159 yards and one touchdown, and Suttles, Furman’s leading receiver, finished with three catches for 115 yards.
Skogen’s third quarter, 46-yard touchdown pass to Snellings was his second in two weeks and followed a 75-yard hook-up with Suttles in last Saturday’s 16-14 win over Georgia Southern.
Hank McCloud paced Furman’s ground game with 15 rushes for 70 yards.
Samford’s Fabian Truss ran 18 times for a game high 117 yards and a touchdown and also netted 133 yards on three kickoff returns, including a 76-yard bolt that set up the Bulldogs’ second field goal of the game.
Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin connected on 44-of-69 passes for 372 yards but did not throw a touchdown pass. He was picked off twice and sacked three times.
Furman strong safety Greg Worthy topped all tacklers with 14 stops and two pass deflections, and Jairus Hollman finished with 13 tackles, two tackles for-loss, and a pass breakup. McMorris, however, delivered the most production defensively for the Paladins after moving from regular slot as starting free safety to weak side linebacker, where the junior from Newberry, S.C., totaled 11 tackles, including a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery that set up a touchdown, and interception return for a score.
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