Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 17, 2014, 8:57 a.m.
You win some. You lose some. Furman tore up Wofford. I tore up my knee.
I’m hobbling around in the “maybe it’ll get better” stage. My right knee has been bothering me for
several years. I had it x-rayed a couple months back. It had some damage, but I was getting around well enough to perform the not-too-demanding tasks of going to the grocery store and writing about ballgames. I didn’t have a fall or anything dramatic. My hand slipped when I got up out of a chair, and I guess the knee turned awkwardly. I noticed it starting to ache while I was picking up a gallon of milk and some crackers at the Dollar General. By the time I got home, it was much worse. Fortunately, I have ice packs and a chair that reclines. If another day of “putting ice on it,” the athletic trainer’s miracle drug, doesn’t show some results, I’ll make an appointment. Lack of mobility won’t slow my writing.
But enough of my piddling concerns.
The Paladins, losers of eight consecutive game, played host to rival Wofford on Saturday. The Terriers entered the game with a record of five and four. Furman didn’t play host very graciously, but that’s understandable where tackle football games are concerned.
A Furman freshman – truly a freshman, as is invariably stipulated – named P.J. Blazejowski let it fly fifteen times and every single one found an accommodating receiver. Fifteen for fifteen. A school record. Over three hundred passing yards for the second week in a row. First time for a Paladin quarterback since someone named Cleve Hightower in 1969 and Furman had a shield instead of a diamond on the side of its helmets.
Thirty-one to fourteen. Three and eight. One game to play. The Citadel won the previous week in overtime. One victory does not alone compensate for an otherwise miserable campaign, but it sure was nice to see my old friend, head coach Bruce Fowler, with his eyes twinkling again.
“You’ve got to get through that ‘what’s going to happen next’ mentality,” said Fowler, who was not talking about my knee (which was fine, or at least operable, at the time).
“We were making some progress, but it just comes down to we were executing well and playing with great effort. You could see some progress. We were executing better. We’ve had some guys hurt, and that’s been part of it, but we executed much better, and it feels good to see some results for all the work.
“In the locker room, I was really kind of emotional. I don’t know if it was relief or just that I love Furman so much, but when people started talking to me about streaks and stuff, I just kept saying, well, we just got to keep trying. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Blazejowski’s first pass would have been an incompletion, but by the grace of a holding penalty (how many times can you write that?) that Wofford accepted, it was negated, and he never erred again. Nor did his crack receivers.
Reese Hannon began the season at quarterback but didn’t last an entire game. Next was red-shirt freshman Dillon Woodruff. Blazejowski, from St. Augustine, Fla., didn’t lead the offense until the second half of the fifth game. It hasn’t all been sweetness and light.
“I got off to a hot start, but then (losses to Samford and VMI, in particular) were pretty rough for me,” Blazejowski said. “I just had to keep learning. Not everyone gets to start, or has to start, as a true freshman.
“If you keep learning and keep listening, ultimately, it’s going to go your way.”
Fowler called Blazejowski’s resurgence “a pretty normal progression,” though progressing through fifteen straight completions was a bit beyond that.
“For any quarterback in college, you come in first game, and nobody knows who you are,” he added. “You just kind of react, and you don’t know whether you’re doing things right or wrong sometimes. He has some ability, a quick release, he made some plays, and people start to see what he can do, and you have to reach that next level where you work on game plans and manage all the stuff that you do.
“He’s made progress in maturity, and now he’s starting to make some plays. He’s pretty poised. He just stayed there and got better as he went along.”
It was already a happy day. Going back to Furman invariably involved bumping into an old friend I haven’t seen in twenty years. We commiserated about the Paladins – I called the season “Football in the Age of Cholera” – but mainly we talked old times. Unfortunately, I was busy afterwards. I would have enjoyed the happy faces in the parking lot.
Meanwhile, about a ninety-minute drive away, the hometown school was finishing its season with a winning record for the first time since 2007. A six and five record is pretty impressive when one notes that three of the Blue Hose losses were to Ole Miss, Northern Illinois, and North Carolina State. Presbyterian prevailed at Gardner-Webb, 14-7. I watched the first half in the wee hours of Sunday morning, discovering it on an obscure satellite channel, before succumbing to fatigue and going to sleep.
In retrospect, I wish I’d slept in a little longer. As noted earlier, you win some, and you lose some.
Football plays a small role in my first novel, The Audacity of Dope, and a major role in the second, The Intangibles. Most all my books are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1#