CHARLOTTE — A near-perfect first quarter was followed by three quarters of underwhelming play for the Elon University football team as the Phoenix lost to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 47-14 Saturday night in Charlotte.
Elon led 7-0 after a quarter thanks to four three-and-outs and a 12-play, 99-yard drive. But Charlotte scored 20 points in the second quarter to take the lead into halftime. The 49ers added two more touchdowns in the third and four quarters before Elon finished the game with a final touchdown.
“It was a pretty good start to the game. It was a good first quarter and a pretty good first half,” said Elon head coach Rich Skrosky. “As the game wore on, they wore on us. I think their depth stood out. I think we probably did better things this week than we did last week, regardless of the score.”
Charlotte went three-and-out to start the game, but a rolling punt was downed at the one. Elon then drove 99 yards in just 12 plays, picking apart the 49er defense bit-by-bit until sophomore quarterback Daniel Thompson hit freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Bridges for a 42-yard gain to the two.
Junior running back Brandon Gentry punched it in on the next play to give Elon its first touchdown of the season and its first lead. The full-field drive took 5:54. Skrosky was pleased with the offense’s opening series but wasn’t surprised.
“Honestly, that’s what I expect,” Skrosky said. “I know it hasn’t happened much in three years. But I’ll guarantee that, when I will put on the game tape tomorrow and watch with them, nobody had an ‘S’ on their chest, nobody was Superman. Everybody just executed and did their job, and that’s ultimately what you expect.”
The defense continued its stellar play throughout the first frame, forcing Charlotte into a three-and-out on all four first-quarter drives. In total, the 49ers only gained 24 yards on 12 plays in the first.
“We came out with really good energy and we executed well,” Skrosky said. “We had a good gameplan, and we put everything together and worked as a unit.”
Charlotte responded soundly in the second, scoring three touchdowns through the air. Junior quarterback Kevin Olsen threw scoring passes of 12, one and eight yards.
Elon had multiple gaffes in the second quarter, with the worst being a botched screen pass from Thompson to sophomore running back Malcolm Summers that set Elon back 24 yards. Thompson said he felt that Elon “didn’t play nearly as well as we should have.”
“That’s not how you plan it to happen, but we all learn from it. It’s a learning process,” Thompson said. “There were a lot of mistakes I made where you can’t have that and win a football game. I let my teammates down, and my coaches down. It hurts.”
After taking over as starter for injured sophomore quarterback Connor Christiansen, Thompson completed 29-of-50 passes for 322 yards, a career-high. He also added a six-yard touchdown run in the fourth.
Thompson connected with Elon’s freshmen skill players all night, as the top three receivers were all freshmen. Wide receiver Cole Taylor ended with a team-high six catches for 67 yards, and running back De'Sean McNair tallied five catches for 69 yards.
But the standout of the group was freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Bridges, who led Elon with 86 yards on five catches. Bridges felt encouraged by Elon’s early performance.
“We were excited — we knew we’re a good team, and we went out and executed as such,” Bridges said. “It felt good going out there and putting drives together and getting stops. We’ve just got to put it together for a whole game, but we’ll get there.”
Elon drops to 0-2 on the season, and the loss at Charlotte makes Elon 0-9 against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. The Phoenix will host Fayetteville State University next Saturday, with kickoff set for 6 p.m.