Biggest win ever?
On Sunday, sports editor Travis Durkee bragged on his alma mater. Now it’s my turn.
The Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs pulled off one of the biggest upsets in school history Saturday with a 28-21 win over Furman. In my not so humble opinion, I say it is the biggest, even though the Bulldogs did beat FBS member Akron in 2010.
Why is the Furman win so big? After all, it was a nonconference game featuring two teams with a combined six wins in 2012.
The answer is name recognition. Casual fans in this area don’t care about MAC football and probably know zip about Akron. But GWU fans know Furman and some even have strong ties to the Paladin program.
You won’t find many Akron alums hanging around water coolers in Cleveland or Rutherford County to gloat over, but Furman grads are everywhere. As any sports fan knows, half the fun of winning are the bragging rights that come with the victory.
Furman also has a strong conference affiliation, at least on the FCS level. Former Bulldog coach Ron Dickerson Jr. once said that the SoCon is the SEC of FCS football. I agree.
It’s no surprise to see three SoCon teams in the FCS Top 25 poll and another receiving votes. The SEC has four teams in the Associated Press poll and one receiving votes. MAC football and Akron just can’t claim that.
For college football fans that don’t follow the FCS, let me extend the comparison. If Furman was a SEC team, they would be the Auburn Tigers.
The two team teams are eerily similar. Both were national title contenders that have fallen on hard times. Both posted 3-9 records and had trouble competing in their conference. The only difference is Auburn opened 2013 with a win. Furman didn’t. GWU upset the Auburn Tigers of the FCS.
How GWU sprang the upset is even more remarkable. Down 21-7 in the third quarter, the defense limited Furman to just 41 yards on 22 second half snaps. That comes out to 1.86 yards per play. The 1985 Chicago Bears would be proud.
The defense allowed the offense to catch up and surge ahead for the 28-21 win. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, a roar went up from the crowd that is usually reserved for basketball season. I was silently roaring from the press box while fighting the impulse to do my best Jimmy V impersonation and find somebody to hug.
That game meant a lot to me as an alumni and I’m sure it meant even more to the players. To see the heartache of the past wiped away in just 60 minutes of game action was priceless.
It’s tough to top the biggest win in program history, but GWU has that chance when they face Marshall Saturday.
The Bulldogs are 42-point underdogs against the Thundering Herd, but don’t tell that to the players. They are going to Huntington for more than a guarantee check. They want a win.
So while the Furman win is the biggest in program history right now, it may not top the list for long.