Jeff Kolpack, Published December 03 2013
Rally thrust Paladins into the playoffsFargo - The season at one point was heading south when Furman was 2-4 with injuries mounting. Once October rolled around, the Paladins started heading north.
And they haven’t stopped. It’s to the point this week that they are traveling way north – the team from Greenville, S.C., will play at North Dakota State on Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
It’s been quite the trip.
“Once we got down to 2-4, obviously every game was sort of a playoff game for us,” said Furman head coach Bruce Fowler. “We were just worried about getting a win and improving each game.”
There was no magic or secret formula to the turnaround, Fowler said. Perhaps a lot of little steps began turning into a few leaps. A 27-10 win over Appalachian State in mid-October started a run of six wins in the last seven games, with the only defeat 48-16 at LSU.
That game even showed strides with the Paladins
only trailing the
Southeastern Conference opponent 20-16 at halftime.
It’s probably not a coincidence that starting quarterback Reese Hannon shed the injury bug, also.
He started the final nine games of 2012 as a true freshman. He missed the season opener this year and then left the third game with knee and ankle injuries. In all, Hannon missed almost four games and the Paladins felt his absence.
“He leads their offense,” said NDSU defensive end Cole Jirik. “He reads the defense pretty well and gets them in the right checks when he needs to. He’s a good leader in their offense like most quarterbacks.”
Hannon returned for the Appalachian game and was 13 of 19 passing for 164 yards and one touchdown. He threw for 326 yards in a playoff-clinching win over Wofford in the last regular-season game.
“We just started playing better,” Fowler said. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot of tricks to football. Sometimes it’s a matter of executing. There’s not one thing; we’re not spectacular in our statistics or anything but we have a good team right now that plays well together.”
True freshman Dillon Woodruff started the opener. Another true freshman, Duncan Fletcher, took over when Hannon went down. But the emergence of a healthy Hannon has the Paladins heading north – way north.
“We’ve played a lot of quarterbacks,” Fowler said. “Reese has been very consistent and makes good decisions and has the ability to run our offense very well.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found