Saturday, November 15, 2014

Wofford looks to clinch winning season, bragging rights in rivalry game with Furman

It's always a mighty occurrence.

When the leaves of fall that drape upstate South Carolina begin to clash with the cool weather hearkened by the oncoming advent of winter, that means that college football season is winding down. With that comes the ever-important Wofford-Furman rivalry game.

It's been a long while -- 125 years, to be exact -- since the two respective colleges first met on the field way back in 1889. Although the game, which was taken by the Terriers 5-1 (they scored on goals that were kicked), served as the first intercollegiate football game in the state of South Carolina, it meant something more.

Instead of ending up like so many other once-upon-a-time rivalries, like contests with Presbyterian and Newberry, traditions that have fallen by the wayside, the Terriers have encountered the Paladins eighty-six times since that first meeting in 1889. This rivalry has an added factor: the two teams, while participating in the same league, often are fighting for a conference title or playoff spot.

That's not the case this year.

Instead, both teams are having a subpar campaign. The Terriers, who, against many odds, stuck with the SoCon title race, are coming off a demoralizing 31-13 setback to UT-Chattanooga, who is undefeated in conference play and has only one more opponent -- Furman -- in the way of a perfect league finish.

Wofford has a lot to look back on, be proud of, and learn from, though. After staging a gritty last-second defensive stand to beat The Citadel 17-13, the Terriers were served their first league blow, a loss to Western Carolina in the mountains that took a lot out of Wofford. In the game, starting quarterback Evan Jacks sustained a foot injury.

It was a new look on the road against Samford, with Michael Weimer behind center for the Terriers, who ended up taking a rejuvenating 24-20 triumph. On homecoming Saturday, Wofford disposed of VMI, and the injury-plagued Terriers enjoyed an off week to help prepare for the big matchup against UT-Chattanooga.

The rest is history, as they say, and the Terriers find themselves in a spot they were in last year at Paladin Stadium -- with no hope for a postseason. That won't undermine the Terriers' drive to win today, however. Instead, Wofford, led by rushing powers Lorenzo Long and Ray Smith, the latter of which led the team's ground game against the Mocs with 102 yards on six carries, will be looking to clinch their fourth winning season in the last five years.

Today's battle between the Terriers and Paladins, who have dropped eight consecutive contests, their longest losing streak since 1969, will see the league's second-overall rushing offense (Wofford) against the fourth-overall rush defense (Furman). The Terriers are averaging about 290 rushing yards a game, while Furman averages 133 on the ground and 188 through the air.

Wofford's time-of-possession last Saturday against the Mocs was the lowest all season. That being said, if the Terriers can hold the ball for an extended amount of time, grind it out, show wisdom in both play calling and execution, and get ahead early on, they have a very good shot at winning this football game.

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