ORANGEBURG, S.C. (Furman University) -- Jairus Hollman returned a punt a school record 91 yards for a touchdown and later scored on a 34-yard interception return to power Furman past South Carolina State, 30-20, in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) first round playoff action at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Furman (8-5), the Southern Conference’s champion, league’s automatic qualifier, and winner of five straight games, will travel to Fargo, North Dakota, to play top-ranked and two-time defending national champion North Dakota State next Saturday in a 3:30 ET game that will be televised by ESPN3.
Hollman, a sophomore nickel back and second team All-Southern Conference choice, got Furman on the board in the first quarter when he fielded a short punt at the Furman 9-yard line and sprinted up the field in front of the Paladin bench before cutting back to the middle of the field on the way to the end zone.
The return, which cut S.C. State’s lead to 7-6, marked the longest punt return in Furman history.
The Atlanta, Ga., product, who was credited with a game high 11 tackles, including three for-loss, polished off his outstanding defensive performance in the third quarter with a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Paladins a 27-13 lead.
His “pick-six” represented Furman’s fourth of the campaign.
The Paladins used a 50-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Reese Hannon to Ryan Culbreath midway through the second quarter to take a 13-10 advantage, but S.C. tied the game with a Nick Belcher 23-yard field goal on the first series of the second half.
Furman responded on the ensuing possession, using a 53-yard run by running back Tanner Skogen to help cover 77 yards to the end zone. Quarterback Reese Hannon’s 1-yard touchdown sneak on fourth down put the Paladins up, 20-13, following the conversion.
At that point Furman’s defense — and Hollman — turned in the game deciding play when he stepped in front of pass by Bulldog quarterback Richard Cue, collecting it at the S.C. State 34 and racing untouched into the end zone for a 27-13 lead.
S.C. State pulled to within a score following a 4-yard touchdown pass from Adrian Kollock to Austin Smith with 13:22 remaining in the game, but the Paladins had the last say on the scoreboard, moving 48 yards in nine plays to set up a 32-yard Ray Early field goal that increased the advantage to 30-20.
Furman’s defense forced punts on the Bulldogs’ final two possessions, and the Paladins ran the clock out, taking a knee at the S.C. State 3-yard line to end the contest.
Skogen, a sophomore running back who entered the game with only 56 career rushing yards, stepped in for banged up junior Hank McCloud to run 13 times for a career high 116 yards, nearly all of it coming in the second half. The Paladins registered 216 yards on the ground and finished with 283 total yards.
Furman’s rushing success helped take the pressure off its passing game, which faced a South Carolina State defensive unit that entered — and exited — the contest with a nation leading 62 sacks.
Carl Rider and Marcus McMorris joined Hollman in notching 11 tackles apiece, and Gary Wilkins finished with seven stops, including two for-loss, and a sack.
The victory was Furman’s first playoff triumph since 2005 and improved the Paladins’ all-time playoff record to 18-14.
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