South Carolina State dropped a heartbreaking 30-20 loss to the Furman Paladins at Oliver C. Dawson Bulldog Stadium in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Bulldogs (9-4, 7-1 MEAC) fought valiantly, but costly turnovers and big plays by the Paladins special teams spelled doom for SCSU.
South Carolina State struck first, going on a 12 play, 80 yard drive that took 4:34 culminated by a 15 yard touchdown pass fromRichard Cue to Temmarick Hemmingway to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead with 7:16 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bulldog defense had early success against the Paladin offense, forcing the Paladins to punt on their first two possessions.
Then the big play bug hit as Furman responded with a 90 yard punt return by Jarius Hollman to cut the Bulldog lead to 7-6 with 3:21 remaining in the first quarter. Holloman appeared to fool the Bulldogs special teams by acting as if he was going to signal for a fair catch only to receive the ball and race untouched to the end zone.
"The punt return was kind of a strange play, Pough said. It seemed our guys thought the ball was going out of bounds and he was going to make a fair catch."
SCSU responded with a seven play 39 yard drive culminated by a 45 yard field by Nick Belcher to extend the Bulldog lead to 10-6 with 13:18 remaining in the first half.
Several minutes later, with 7:31 remaining, Paladin quarterback Reese Hannon found Ryan Culbreath on a 50 yard touchdown pass play to give the Paladins a 13-10 lead, their first of the game.
Furman would threaten on a late scoring drive to end the half but safety Kimario McFadden's interception of Hannon's pass stalled the Paladins drive and the score remained the same at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Bulldogs engineered a 12 play, 63 yard drive on their first possession out of the locker room that was capped by a 23 yard field goal by Belcher to even the score at 13 with 9:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Furman answered with a 77 yard drive on 7 plays and 3:54 later, Hannon snuck in on 4th down to give the Paladins a 20-13 lead.
57 seconds later, Cue was picked off by Holloman and he raced 34 yards untouched into the endzone to give Furman a commanding 27-13 lead with 5:05 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs cut the Paladin lead to 27-20 with 13:22 remaining in the fourth quarter with a 13 play drive after Austin Smith caught a four yard TD pass from reserve quarterback Adrian Kollock.
Furman then ended the scoring with a Ray Early 32 yard field goal with 8:28 remaining to extend their lead to 30-20 and the Bulldogs wouldn't get any closer.
Leading the Bulldogs offensively was senior quarterback Richard Cue, who finished 17-28 for 154 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his last game as a Bulldog. Runningback Justin Taylor rushed 18 times for 58 yards and Hemmingway led all receivers with four receptions for 57 yards.
Defensively, safety Kimario McFadden led all Bulldogs with eight total tackles (one for loss) and an interception.
The loss ends a remarkable bounce back 2013 season for the Bulldogs, where they improved their win total by four games from the previous season (5-6) and earned a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.
"I think we had good success coming from where we were last year. Success is not always about wins and losses, but I'll tell you one thing, I'm very proud of our young men. We didn't win as many games as we should but we shared our conference championship. I'm hurt that we lost, but I'm proud of our young men."