WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Behind a stout defense, strong special teams play and a solid second half from the offense, the Elon University football team sent a message to the rest of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) by coming to the College of William & Mary and defeating the eighth-ranked Tribe 27-10 Saturday night.
“I’m extremely proud of the kids,” said head coach Rich Skrosky. “It really was all three phases, and really at different times. Through the first half, the offense struggled, but the special teams and defense really stepped up.
“Then, in the second half, they hit the long pass to cut it. But on the next two drives, the offense had two really substantial drives. I thought all three phases in their moments did really well.”
The win is the second in Division I history over a top-10 opponent, with the previous such instance coming on Oct. 20, 2007, when the 24th-ranked Phoenix won at #6 Wofford College 24-13.
“You can’t ask for anything else,” said sophomore running back Malcolm Summers, who set or tied career-highs with 26 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns. “To come into CAA play and shock people? I think that’s what we did tonight — we shocked a lot of people in the CAA. It gives us a lot of momentum going to the next game.”
It’s also Elon’s highest-ranked win over a ranked opponent when Elon was not ranked. In the five previous upsets, the highest-ranked opponent Elon beat was #13 North Carolina A&T State University on Sept. 23, 2000, when the Phoenix shut out the Aggies 13-0.
“[This game] sends an alarm — an alert that Elon’s here to play,” said freshman defensive back Khalil Moore. “It’s a new season, and Elon’s here to play. Don’t overlook us, stay woke and we’ll see you when we see you.”
The Elon defense and special teams gave the offense incredible field position in the first half, as the Phoenix started five of its first seven drives in William & Mary territory and scored on three of them.
After William & Mary went three-and-out, junior wide receiver Demetrius Oliver blocked the punt with one hand, and the ball trickled out of bounds at the Tribe 22-yard line. Elon couldn’t muster anything offensively, but senior kicker John Gallagher nailed a 35-yard field goal.
After three straight drives of punts, Elon started at William & Mary’s 36 and moved the ball well for the only drive of the first half. After a short run to open the drive, sophomore quarterback Daniel Thompson found freshman wide receiver Cole Taylor for 15 yards and a first down.
On the next play, Summers went around the left corner and burst up the field, diving to get the ball across the goal line for a 21-yard touchdown. Gallagher’s point-after kick gave Elon a 10-0 lead.
The Phoenix defense forced another three-and-out, and William & Mary senior punter Hunter Windmuller fumbled the snap on the punt. He attempted to scramble away, but Oliver and Taylor tackled him at the Tribe six-yard line. Three plays later, Thompson threw a jump ball up for Taylor, who came down with it to give Elon a 17-0 lead. Elon went into halftime with a 17-3 lead after a field goal put the Tribe on the board with 15 seconds left.
William & Mary scored on its first play of the second half, when senior quarterback Steve Cluley hit junior wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon on a short slant and Dedmon avoided a tackler and ran the rest of the way for a 77-yard touchdown.
Elon responded two drives later with its best drive of the night, a nearly six-minute, 12-play, 80-yard drive that had multiple big plays and was capped off by Summers’ two-yard touchdown run. Summers ran for 76 of his 120 yards in the second half, something he credits the offensive line and his coaching for.
“I don’t think I got stronger, I think my line started moving everybody as the game progressed,” Summers said. “As far as me running, coach told me to run a little more aggressive, so I just went and ran.”
Elon had another long drive to open the fourth quarter, going 70 yards on 14 plays and taking five-and-a-half minutes off the clock before stalling at the 10. Gallagher hit the 27-yard field goal to give Elon a 27-10 lead, making it a three-score game.
The Phoenix then sat back in its zone, making Cluley take the open short passes or try and force the ball into coverage. He tried to force it a few too many times, and the Phoenix picked him off twice, giving them three on the night.
“When you get behind like that, and we did a good job against the run. You make them one-dimensional, and they have to dink-and-dunk because we’re playing zone coverage,” Skrosky said. “[Senior linebacker] John Silas said, ‘Coach, we played deep-to-short tonight.’ That’s what you want to play in zone coverage. I thought we did a good job of executing that.”
Elon is now 2-2 on the season and 1-1 in CAA play. The Phoenix returns home for the first of three straight at Rhodes Stadium, starting at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday against Villanova University. Skrosky hopes that the team won’t put too much weight into a single victory.
“We have to keep it in perspective,” Skrosky said. “It’s a game — a game that I think can help us and build confidence and do what these things do — but we’ve got to make sure we come in tomorrow and go to work. It’ll be interesting to see how the kids respond to a moment like this.”