BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. –— The mental and physical exhaustion was palpable for two-time captain and senior defensive back Miles Williams after the Elon University football team’s game against Gardner-Webb University.
And yet, even as his shoulders slumped under the weight of the equipment and the exhaustion, Williams couldn’t contain his joy after his team’s 21-13 victory in three overtimes.
“We grinded for that one,” he said. “We worked to prepare this week, and to see that work pay off on both sides of the ball and on special teams…that’s big, man. That’s huge to see. I can’t stop smiling right now, to be honest with you.”
Head coach Rich Skrosky agreed with his captain, even as he focused on areas of improvement.
“I can’t be any happier for the 64 guys here and the guys who didn’t make the trip,” Skrosky said. “Because we know how much time and effort they give. They keep grinding at it, and that’s what they did tonight.”
A play away from a shutout
After 59 minutes, 57 seconds of shutout football, Elon needed one fourth down stop to end a 10-game losing streak and get a win against Gardner-Webb.
The Phoenix didn’t get the stop, as Runnin’ Bulldogs sophomore quarterback Tyrell Maxwell found junior tight end Mike Estes for a 3-yard touchdown, sending the game to overtime.
“It was a letdown – we really wanted the shutout to begin with,” Williams said. “We feel like, when it’s that time of the game, we should focus a little bit more. But we knew we had overtime. We had stopped them all game, and we were confident that we would go in there and make a stop in overtime.”
After the teams traded field goals in each of the first two overtimes, redshirt freshman Connor Christiansen found true freshman Corey Joyner for 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the third overtime. Elon took the lead, 21-13.
With three straight stops, including one that knocked Maxwell out of the game, the defense had another chance to end the game with a fourth down stop.
This time, senior defensive back Julius Moore intercepted Gardner-Webb redshirt sophomore backup quarterback Chase Arrington’s first throw of the night to end Elon’s 10-game losing streak and 10-game road losing streak.
Williams drew a connection between the game against Gardner-Webb and Elon’s last road victory, a 28-25 victory on Oct. 5, 2013, at Furman University.
“The last win was against Furman, right?” Williams asked. “We stayed in the same hotel against Furman. I was kind of joking about it, saying, ‘Maybe we should stay in the Crowne Plaza every week and stay there every weekend, even on home games.’”
The defense stood firm for the Phoenix, as the Runnin’ Bulldogs could only gain 305 yards on 95 yards. For Skrosky, another unit shined.
“The nice thing to see tonight is that each phase played a pivotal role,” Skrosky said. “Like [junior punter] David Petroni and a few punts he had were massive. [Senior kicker] John [Gallagher] in overtime [even after he] missed a pretty easy kick early on.”
Where’s the power?
There was one element about the game that was unusual. The electronic scoreboard and the play clock both flickered in and out of power throughout the night with varying degrees of usability.
According to Marc Rabb, Gardner-Webb’s assistant athletic director for athletic media relations, a lightning strike hit the transformer that controls the scoreboard and play clock while the Runnin’ Bulldogs played their first game of the season. The athletic department at Gardner-Webb thought it had fixed the transformer, but the power started flashing in and out in the middle of the second quarter.
Eventually, the referees decided to take matters into their own hands, with one official in charge of the game clock and another in charge of the play clock. After the game, Skrosky went out of his way to praise their efforts.
“You won’t hear this much from coaches, but I’ll compliment the officials tonight,” Skrosky said. “I think they really did a good job of trying to manage the game. You talk about extra stress — now one guy is keeping the game clock and another is keeping the play clock — they did the best job they could.”
Good when it mattered
The offense struggled throughout the night for the Phoenix, only mustering 209 yards on 73 plays. Skrosky, previously an offensive coordinator, didn’t harp on the negatives too long.
“Offensively, we didn’t play great,” Skrosky said. “But then you get into overtime, and you’re able to score a touchdown on the first play of the third overtime, it’s pretty good.”
And it was that score in the third overtime that gave the defensive unit the opportunity to secure the win. After shutting down Gardner-Webb all night, the defense controlled the outcome of the game.
“[The defense] wouldn’t have it any other way,” Williams said. “We want the game to be on us. It was on us from the first snap, and I feel like we couldn’t ask for a better ending.”
By the time Moore caught the interception and took a knee to down the ball in one motion, the defense had propelled Elon over all obstacles – three overtimes, clock errors, even a small amount of rain – and rolled out of Boiling Springs with a victory.