On both sides of the ball, the running game has killed the Phoenix this season. So much so that Saturday’s 31-17 loss to Furman University has knocked the Phoenix from playoff contention.
“(Furman) knew they could run the ball on us and we got exposed,” Elon head coach Jason Swepson said following the game. “You have to be able to run the ball and you have to be able to stop the run and really, we haven’t done both all year.”
The Paladins finished the game with 186 yards on the ground. Senior Jerodis Williams led the way with 95 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns while redshirt freshman fullback Ernie Cain had six carries for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix totaled just 80 rushing yards in the game. They were paced by sophomore running back Karl Bostick, who finished with 10 carries for 44 yards. Freshman Tracey Coppedge ran nine times for 43 yards.
“It’s tough because we practice hard,” Bostick said. “As a team, we do a lot of the right things, but today was just a tough one.”
Midway through the second quarter, the Phoenix running game swayed the momentum of the entire game, but not in the right direction.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Phoenix had driven 70 yards in five plays down to the Furman 6-yard line. On first and goal, Bostick took a handoff for a yard before fumbling the ball. Sophomore safety Marcus McMorris picked up the loose ball and went 95 yards the other way to give the Paladins a 21-7 lead.
“That critical turnover really hurt our chances,” Swepson said. “It was a 14-7 game, we were ready to go and score and it went to 21-7 and we just couldn’t recover. They just had total control of the game.”
After the game, Bostick took the blame for a lot of the momentum struggles due to his turnover.
“We failed to convert in the red zone, and I shoulder the blame for a lot of that,” Bostick said. “My turnover definitely gave them a lot of momentum that we couldn’t get back. I’ll take all the blame for that one.”
Trying to regain momentum after the fumble return, sophomore receiver Kierre Brown took the ensuing kickoff 61 yards to the Furman 36 yard line, but the Phoenix could only produce a 24-yard field goal from senior kicker Adam Shreiner.
Furman retaliated with a two play, 75-yard scoring drive that took just 35 seconds off the clock and put the Phoenix down by 18.
“It was really disappointing that we gave up a touchdown in two plays,” Swepson said. “That’s just not acceptable.”
With each team only getting one possession in the third quarter thanks a long, methodical drive from each team, Elon needed points on it’s possession that spanned 8:33 with 17 plays and 72 yards, especially since Furman’s Ray Early connected on a 22-yard field goal on the Paladins drive.
The Phoenix had first and goal from the Furman 8-yard line, but after three running plays down to the 3-yard line, Wilson found Doug Warrick in the front right corner of the end zone. However, his foot came down out of bounds and the Phoenix turned the ball over on downs.
It was the second time in the game the Phoenix had come up empty in the red zone, the other being Bostick’s second quarter fumble.
“We’re not scoring in the red zone right now,” Swepson said. “To not come away with touchdowns when you’re inside the 5-yard line is not acceptable. That’s what’s really keeping our offense back from being explosive.”
With less then 10 minutes remaining in the game, senior quarterback Thomas Wilson hit senior receiver Aaron Mellette for his second touchdown of the game to pull the Phoenix within two scores.
After stopping the Paladins on the ensuing drive, Elon got the ball back with 5:17 to go and all three timeouts remaining. Though facing a four-man rush, Wilson was sacked on five of the eight plays, which gave the ball back to the Paladins with 2:36 remaining.
“Getting the ball back with five minutes to go felt good,” Swepson said. “I though we might have a chance to get a score, get the onside kick and get back in the game but the four man rush got to us. They just wanted it more than we did.”
Wilson finished completing 23 of 33 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns while Mellette caught both of those touchdowns on 14 receptions for 194 yards.
The game was the sixth straight game in which Mellette had at least two touchdowns. He now has 15 on the season.
“He’s playing lights out,” Swepson said. “He’s catching the ball and scoring touchdowns. He only had 12 touchdowns a year ago and we talked about doubling it. He’s doing his job.”
With three games left and playoff out of the picture, Elon’s focus turns to sending the seniors out the right way: by winning the last three games of the season, starting next week on the road against The Citadel.
“We’ve got 10 final year of eligibility guys that deserve to go out winners,” Swepson said. “Lets see if we can put three together. That’s going to take a lot of hard work.”
Wilson, one of those 10 seniors, said those 10 seniors will need to “take over” the last three games of the year in order to go out the way they hope.
“These 10 seniors are going to take control of these last three games and not let the younger guys fall over and kind of let this season go to waste,” Wilson said. “We’re going to take control of this team, turn it around and put three wins on the board for the last three games of the season and go out on a winning note.”