Elon University football (3-1) got its third win in a row, outscoring the winless University of New Hampshire (0-4) team 30-9 on Saturday, Sept. 29, in front of the home fans and their parents.
Elon wasted no time getting on the board early in front of the families in the stands. After receiving the opening kickoff, Elon marched down and capped off the 75-yard drive with a play action fake to junior running back De’Sean McNair, allowing sophomore quarterback Davis Cheek to score the touchdown.
“We went down the field, and we were able to execute some throws. Cheek and Kortez kind of got it going; we kept our tempo up,” said head coach Curt Cignetti.
Sophomore wide receiver Kortez Weeks was one of the key players in the win, hauling in a career-high 14 pass completions for a total of 165 yards. With very little pressure being put on Cheek, the two were able to connect just like in practice.
“He scrambled out of the pocket a lot; we worked on that in practice. He executed on those plays, which made the game the way it was,” Weeks said.
Cheek called Weeks “a great player" and said, “He really opens things up for us. When you get him going, it gets a lot of other things going. You want it to be everyone, but this week, it was Kortez.”
After Jason Hughes of the Wildcats brought the score to 7-3 with a field goal, the two teams struggled to move the ball for the rest of the first quarter. Two punts a piece was how the quarter ended.
The Phoenix opened up the second quarter by marching 70 yards in six plays on the back of several big throws by Cheek. A 21-yard touchdown run by senior running back Malcolm Summers completed the drive.
The Wildcats answered right back with a solid drive of their own. The Wildcats used three plays of more than 15 yards on the drive to make their way into the end zone. The march was punctuated by a jet-sweep by redshirt-freshman Sean Coyne scampering across the goal line to make it 14-9. UNH missed on a two-point conversion attempt and left the deficit still at five.
New Hampshire tired to mount a scoring drive to bring the game within one score at the end of the first half. Instead of going for the field goal at the Elon 25, the Wildcats opted to go for it on fourth and four. But junior defensive lineman Kadrien Darity made a great defensive play, batting down the pass and forcing a turnover on downs.
Elon made use of the turnover by taking just five plays to go 75 yards in 38 seconds. The New Hampshire defense struggled, giving up 30 yards to face mask and pass interference penalties. This gave Elon great field position, and they were able to end the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jalen Greene. This put Elon up 24-9 at the half.
New Hampshire took the opening kickoff of the second half. With some big plays moving the ball downfield for the Wildcats, Elon used two sacks in a row to move New Hampshire out of field goal range. The Phoenix fielded a punt inside their own five-yard line to start their first drive of the second half.
Summers, who had been quiet in the first half, broke off a career-tying 54-yard run to move the Phoenix down into the red zone. This rush helped Summers eclipse the century mark for the game. Elon went 95 yards on their opening drive of the second half, but they were unable to get into the end zone. Elon had to settle for an 18-yard chip shot and an 18-point lead.
The teams traded turnovers at the end of the third quarter. Elon first got an interception from junior Greg Liggs Jr. off a trick play from the Wildcats. The initial handoff turned into a pass from New Hampshire wide receiver Neil O’Connor that was pulled down by the Elon cornerback.
On the ensuing Elon possession, Wildcats senior linebacker Jared Kuehl forced and recovered a fumble. However, the stout Elon defense held the Wildcats in check, forcing a punt.
Liggs Jr. wasn’t done yet, he got his second interception of the game, picking off UNH quarterback Christian Lupoli at the Elon 39. But try as they might, Elon couldn’t get the ball in the end zone, which forced them to settle for another field goal. This put the Phoenix up 30-9 with 7:02 left in the fourth quarter.
Elon compiled 451 yards of total offense on the day. The disciplined squad showed very few signs of breaking, committing just two penalties in the game. Elon was able to keep its defense well-rested, and the defense saw the field for less than 24 minutes.
“I don’t think we did anything special. We just lined up, and we played the best football we can,” Cheek said. Junior defensive end Marcus Willoughby was a terror on defense. He had eight total tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss.
“Last year they [were more physical than] us, and it showed on the scoreboard. So this year, this week in practice, we had the mindset to make sure we come out to play every down, every play," Willoughby said.
Cheek echoed just how vital a guy like him is to the team. “Glad to have him on this team, that’s for sure,” Cheek said.
Elon jumped up a spot in the national rankings to No. 9 and now faces the Goliath of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), the James Madison University Dukes in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Elon has never beaten the No. 2 Dukes in the team's five chances. The 1:30 p.m. kickoff will come as one of the biggest tests of the season. The game may very well decide the fate of who comes out on top of the CAA.
“It’s not about who we play; it’s about how we play. So that’s the mentality going into it,” Cheek said.
The Phoenix will play their next two games on the road, visiting the University of Delaware Blue Hens the weekend after their matchup with JMU, before welcoming the University of Richmond Spiders to Rhodes Stadium on Inauguration Weekend.