Furman's Paladins overpower UTC on homecoming, 41-17 [photos]

Furman decided it was going to run on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team.

The Paladins succeeded time and time and time again Saturday.

They rushed for 290 yards on 61 carries, pounding the ball for nearly 5 yards per carry, and their defense intercepted four Cole Copeland passes in a 41-17 Southern Conference victory, spoiling UTC's homecoming at Finley Stadium.

The Mocs have three of their next four games on the road, starting this Saturday in Macon, Ga., against Mercer, which improved to 3-3 and 2-2 in the league with a 24-14 win at 17th-ranked The Citadel.

"Right now, every week has to be a great week of preparation," said UTC senior receiver Alphonso Stewart, who had a career-high 138 yards and a score on seven catches. "We've got to come out and get things done - practice with a lot of intensity, great execution, fight. We've got to continue to fight and not give up.

"I know the past week of practice was the best week we've had. We came out with a lot of intensity, fought hard and executed well, and I feel like we're showing improvement.

"All I ask for is that we work hard for a common goal. The goal's always to win the next game, because that's all we can control."

Copeland - the first true freshman quarterback to start a game for UTC since Brian Hampton had 281 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-23 win over The Citadel on Nov. 9, 1995 - threw for 317 yards and touchdown passes to Stewart and James Stovall. His completions (30) and passing yards were the most ever by a UTC freshman, but the Mocs' rushing attack continued its poor showing with 7 yards on 17 carries.

And Copeland had the four interceptions, including one with 3:56 remaining that Dillon Vann returned 33 yards for a score.

Furman quarterback P.J. Blazejowski had 138 yards passing and three touchdowns to go along with 51 yards rushing. Kealand Dirks had 104 yards on the ground for the Paladins (3-3, 2-1) while Antonio Wilcox had 64 yards and a score. Darius Morehead had 47 yards and a touchdown.

"We just have to continue to be positive," said Mocs defensive end Taylor Reynolds, who set a career high with 10 tackles. "I'm going to continue to be a leader for our team and keep everything up. Going into the locker room after the game, I'm trying to keep the guys up high, continue to move forward and keep pressing.

"I thought defensively we finished better. We got down and continued to fight, holding the offense to six points in the second half. I'm proud of our guys for continuing to fight and finishing the right way."

Copeland gave the crowd of 9,651 something to cheer about early, connecting on a pair of 40-yard completions to Stewart. The first of those, down the middle on the Mocs' first drive, led to a Victor Ulmo field goal that pulled them within 7-3. On the second, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior went up high over freshman cornerback Darius Kearse for a score and a 10-7 UTC lead with 13:35 to play in the second quarter.

It was the first lead the Mocs had held in three games at Finley, and it lasted less than four minutes as the Paladins made a nine-play, 78-yard drive, with all running plays for 63 yards and the other 15 on UTC penalties. The Mocs then turned the ball over, with Joseph Parker slipping on a pass route, leading to a Reynard Ellis interception. That gave the Paladins the ball at the UTC 32-yard line, and they needed five plays to score on a 15-yard pass from Blazejowski to a wide-open Andy Schumpert to make the score 20-10.

The Paladins continued a run of 27 consecutive points with Morehead's 12-yard run and a 57-yard completion from Blazejowski to a wide-open Logan McCarter, who had 68 yards on two catches - both scores.

Reynolds, defensive end Isaiah Mack and linebacker Tavon Lawson each had 10 tackles to lead the Mocs. T.J. Jenkins, who started in place of the injured Tae Davis, had nine tackles, including one for loss.

"I think adversity brings out the best in you," UTC coach Tom Arth said. "It's not easy. There are times in life when things are really hard and no matter what you do, you have a hard time getting on track. This isn't going to be the hardest thing any one of our players have to go through in their lives - it's not going to be the hardest thing I go through in my life - but this is an incredible opportunity for us to grow as far as our character and our leadership. It challenges you that way.

"The results haven't been good at all, but we're being challenged in ways we've never been challenged, and you're seeing people respond and it's making better people, better competitors and better football players."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.