It does not matter to junior linebacker John Silas how well he or the Elon University football team’s defense plays. His grading system for performance is simple.
“I would grade these games on a pass-fail scale,” Silas said. “And we failed. We lost.”
Elon fell 14-7 to North Carolina A&T State University Saturday night in a game that, according to head coach Rich Skrosky, was more about the big plays that weren’t executed than the ones that were.
“We had a couple of missed opportunities in the first half,” Skrosky said. “We've got to find a way to get that one more play.”
For Christiansen, the loss gave the locker room a somber atmosphere after the game.
“We've got guys crying in the locker room because they practice so hard and they work so hard in the game,” Christiansen said. “There are a lot of guys that invest a lot in this program. As [Skrosky] says, we work 365 days for these 11 Saturdays. When the games don’t turn out how you want, and it doesn’t come out your way, it hurts.”
It was a strong start for the Elon defense, as they held NC A&T’s star running back, junior Tarik Cohen, to 12 yards on nine carries in the first half. The offense had great field position throughout the first half but couldn’t capitalize on any of their opportunities, as junior kicker John Gallagher missed field goals from 48 and 50 yards away in the half.
The Aggies put together the only scoring drive of the first half off of the second missed kick, as senior quarterback Kwashaun Quick hit junior wide receiver Denzel Keyes on a post pass for a 12-yard touchdown. Quick ran for 31 of the 67 yards and threw for 37 more on the 12-play drive.
After trading punts for the majority of the third quarter, the Aggies missed a 34-yard field goal, which put the ball at the Elon 20. From there, Christiansen led the first strong drive for the Phoenix all season, going 80 yards on seven plays and scoring on a 16-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Christiansen was pleased with the mindset of the offense on that drive.
“Everything was just flowing. Things were working, everybody had confidence,” Christiansen said. “The linemen were very intense in that moment. Scoring the touchdown was great — my first collegiate touchdown, which is something I’ve dreamed about for a long time.
“But at the end of the day, it’s good and all, but it only matters how you finish it. It was nice to score but it doesn’t really matter."
Elon then forced a three-and-out defensively, as junior linebacker Corey Mitchell made a huge tackle on 3rd and 3 to stop Cohen for just one yard. On the third play of the next drive, Christiansen attempted to hand the ball to sophomore running back Brandon Gentry, but they botched the handoff, and NC A&T recovered.
“I just put it too low on him, and I because I put it in a bad spot, he thought I was attempting to keep it,” Christiansen said. “It comes back on me, I got to put it in his stomach. It’s not hard, but that’s just something that I messed up.
“It’s little things like that that will cause some trouble with sleeping tonight. That one was on me.”
Quick threw an interception on the third play of the following drive, as freshman cornerback Greg Liggs Jr. made the interception, but Skrosky noted the shift in momentum off of the fumble.
“The second one, around midfield, whether or not we would have scored to go ahead, it flipped the field position,” Skrosky said. "We had the advantage — the field was tilted in our favor. Greg made a heck of a play on the interception, but now you’re on your 5-yard line.”
The Phoenix went three-and-out, and junior punter David Petroni punted it 38 yards, giving the Aggies the ball at midfield. From there, Quick and Cohen combined to gain the 50 yards on just seven plays, with Cohen dancing into the end zone from 13 yards out with a little more than 5 minutes left.
Elon got one final chance, and had great field position again because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. But the offense sputtered, never gaining more than a single yard on a play on the drive. They did get a first down, thanks to a defensive holding penalty, but they couldn't convert the final chance, and NC A&T ran the clock out on the next drive.
For Elon, both Silas and Mitchell finished with 10 tackles on the night. The defense, as a whole, had five sacks on the night, with Silas leading the way with 1.5 sacks. NC A&T was led defensively by junior noseguard Marquis Ragland, who had nine tackles and one sack on the night.
The Phoenix returns to action 3.p.m. next Saturday, when Towson University comes to Rhodes Stadium.