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BATON ROUGE, La. – Bursting through the line of scrimmage, Hank McCloud churned his legs violently while being pulled down, lunging forward and slamming the ball down at the 1-yard line.
That's how close he was to pulling Furman into a shocking halftime tie with No. 13 LSU in Death Valley on Saturday night.
Instead, the Paladins settled for a short field goal by Ray Early and all hopes of a shocking upset were put to rest in the second half, when LSU pulled away to win 48-16.
Furman (3-5) was seeking its first victory over a Southeastern Conference school in 50 years and got off to a promising start. Reggie Thomas's 74-yard interception return of Zach Mettenberger's pass gave the Paladins a 7-0 lead.
"I think the receiver fell and I jumped the route and was able to take the ball to the house," Thomas said.
Tied 7-7 after a 55-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill, the first of Early's three field goals gave Furman a brief 10-7 lead. However, only four plays later, Hill's second touchdown of the game, this time from 4 yards out would give LSU the lead for good at 13-10.
"We were able to get a couple of turnovers and we got the score off the interception," Paladins coach Bruce Fowler said. "The biggest thing was we were able to control the ball in the first half. That helped us because we had trouble stopping them because they were scoring quickly. We battled pretty hard. Offensively we were able to move the ball and keep the clock running. I just wish we were able to score that touchdown at the end of the first half to tie the game up."
Trailing 20-13 with four minutes in the first half, Furman's drive stalled near midfield, but a muffed punt return by Odell Beckham gave the Paladins the ball at the LSU 28-yard line. Reese Hannon found Andrej Suttles for 13 yards and McCloud's 14-yard rush gave Furman the ball at the 1-yard line, but with no timeouts and 1:19 left. After McCloud was stuffed at the 1-yard line, a Furman false start_requiring a 10-second runoff — left the Paladins time for one incomplete pass before settling for Early's field goal on third-and-goal.
"I don't know if the touchdown would have changed the game that much because we would have just been tied. We still had to manage the second half. Everybody knew that," Fowler said. "It would have been nice to execute in that hurry-up situation down there a little bit better."
Furman had trouble stopping several LSU stars, including receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who caught six passes for 204 yards and two scores. Terrence Magee added two second-half touchdowns, including one from 39 yards out. Hill finished with 143 yards rushing for LSU (7-2).
Finishing the game with 79 yards on 16 carries, McCloud said the momentum lost at the end of the first half played a big role in the Paladins' performance in the second half.
"I saw the cutback lane early and thought I was going to be able to take it in," he said. "I just got nicked before I was able to get it into the end zone. We didn't have any timeouts and were rushing on that last drive and we had to rush some things. We didn't get the touchdown we wanted and we just came out flat in the second half. That's not good."
Going up against a much bigger LSU squad on both sides of the line of scrimmage, Fowler said his squad had no answer for the LSU offense in the second half, giving up 28 unanswered points and 672 yards of total offense for the game.
"In the second half physically they were just able to take over the game with their offense," Fowler said. "We just had trouble stopping the run and when you mix in the pass that is an offense that is hard to stop. We just got kind of run down. LSU was also pushing the tempo and they got going quickly. We had trouble with that.
"They are big and have a very big and physical offensive line. They are just big everywhere and after a while it just wore us down."