By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Elon heads into a new football season with another new quarterback and looking to break into new territory.
The Phoenix plays Thursday night against Wake Forest in a bid to topple a team from college football’s top tier.
“We’re a highly motivated team,” Elon coach Tony Trisciani said. “The theme around our building since January has been ‘pushing forward.’ We’ve been pushing our guys. Everybody in this building has been pushed. We’ve got guys that are hungry.”
Elon will have graduate transfer Matthew Downing as its starting quarterback for the matchup in Winston-Salem. He arrived with just a couple of months to become acclimated with the Phoenix.
Trisciani said this week that Downing, who has had stops at Georgia, Texas Christian and Louisiana Tech, made an impression in several ways during preseason camp. The coach called him a journeyman who has benefited from his experiences.
“He can handle the moments,” Trisciani said. “He has got arm talent. He can throw some different balls. In our two preseason scrimmages, Matt was able to use his legs and extend plays.”
Elon is coming off an 8-4 season and a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Wake Forest went 8-5 in 2022, winning the Gasparilla Bowl vs. Missouri.
Wake Forest will have Mitch Griffis as its starting quarterback. He started last year’s opener while record-setting Sam Hartman dealt with a medical issue. Hartman has transferred to Notre Dame, leaving Griffis as the clear first stringer.
Two seniors, a redshirt junior and two juniors are listed as defensive starters for Elon. That means that’s an influx of youth on the unit.
“Everybody around us is underclassmen,” senior defensive end Marvin Pearson said. “A lot of people don’t have experience in the games.”
Trisciani said the Elon roster is dotted with players familiar with the Demon Deacons.
“Many of our guys were involved with Wake in the recruiting process,” he said. “Many of them with chips on their shoulders, perhaps not being offered at Wake Forest. So that brings some fire to our locker room and energy.”
Elon is 0-11-1 all-time vs. Wake Forest, falling 49-7 in the most-recent meeting in 2019.
Elon has never reached a double-digit point total against the Demon Deacons.
To pull an upset, it will take a monumental effort.
“We want to hang around,” Trisciani said. “We want to be there at halftime. We want to be there in the third quarter and be there in the fourth quarter where a little bit more of the pressure is on Wake Forest.”