Elon coach Curt Cignetti's face was drenched in sweat Saturday — and he didn't even play.
It dripped everywhere — from the top of his head to his eyelashes — onto his white polo shirt. Much of it may have come from the humid September weather.
But some of it may have come from stress.
As seconds ticked off the clock in the fourth quarter, Cignetti watched his Phonenix team helplessly on the sideline as No.16 Charleston Southern quickly lined up for a 51-yard field goal. But Buccaneer kicker Tyler Tekac's attempt puttered left in the endzone as time expired.
The Phoenix won 19-17 in it's home opener. And in doing so,it beat a ranked Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent for the second time in its last 21 tries. It's the first time Elon (2-1) has had a winning record since 2012. But Ciginietti, in his first year as head coach, said this isn't the climax for the Phoenix.
To him, there's a lot more that he thinks his team can accomplish.
"I didn't come here to lose," Cignetti said. "Our guys are really excited for winning the game and they deserve every bit of that excitement. But by no means have we arrived."
Saturday's game was an example of the culture shift Cignetti started since his arrival last winter. Junior running Malcolm Summers said Cignietti, who coached under legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban, preaches "relentlessness."
And Summers embodied that.
After scores from both teams — a 28-yard touchdown pass from Elon quarterback Davis Cheek to receiver Kortez Weeks and a 10-yard rush from Bucanneer running back Noah Shuler, Summers made his presence known with a 30-yard touchdown.
On a third down early in the second quarter, Summers collected a handoff to the left side and found a hole. After stiff arming two defenders, he trucked another and spun off one more off a direct collision, rumbling into the endzone and enlarging the Phoenix's lead to 13-7.
Originally the third string running back in the beginning of training camp — starter Brelynd Cyphers was injured ahead of Saturday's game — he rushed for 178 yards, the most by any Elon running back since 2010. But Summers deflected any individual praise, saying his performance was a collective effort.
"That wasn't all me," Summers said. "I did what my coaches taught me and the offensive line was great."
Elon led 19-7 after the first drive of the second half when Cheek rushed for a 8-yard touchdown.
But momentum quickly changed.
An interception from Anthony Ellis off a reverse pass trick play from Weeks gifted the Buccaneers the ball, leading to a Shuler one-yard touchdown plunge, making the score 19-14. A muffed punt by Elon receiver Corey Joyner also gave Charleston Southern (0-2) possession in Phoenix territory. But the Phoenix's defense only relinquished a field goal, which led to the final tally. Cheek finished with 145 passing yards. Kicker Owen Johnson missed two field goals of 46 and 51-yards. An Elon extra point attempt was blocked.
This marks the second consecutive week late game theatrics affected Elon. Last week, a field goal with five seconds remaining against Furman gave the Phoenix a 34-31 win.
Cignetti said he's glad this team has poise in these close games. But in the future, he hopes they are more decisive.
It will certainly save him from sweating as often.
"This is a complely different program than it was in years before,"Cignetti said. "They have the resolve to finish these games and they responded."