By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Elon passed another stress test Saturday afternoon.
The Phoenix, sensing the need for a strong finishing stretch, churned out a stellar performance by defeating Albany 27-3 on homecoming in the final home game of the regular season.
“Every game is a playoff game,” safety Marcus Hillman said in terms of reaching the Football Championship Subdivsion. “We lose one, we’re done. We want to make the season special. We want to go to the playoffs.”
Elon (7-3, 5-2 Colonial Athletic Association), which is ranked No. 19 in the FCS, has won two games in a row. Only a road trip next Saturday to Hampton remains prior to the November 20 selections for the 24-team playoffs.
Safety Bo Sanders put it plainly for the Phoenix.
“Bo said, it last week, ‘Every game is a Game 7,’” Hillman said. “It has you locked in that much more. We want to keep going so we have no choice. We have some seniors here, and we don’t want this to be our last three games (prior to beating Delaware last week). We’ve got to lock in. This is playoff football. We’ve put so much work into this. Our team has put so much into this. We can’t let each other down.”
“A great accomplishment to go undefeated at home and send our seniors out with a win,. And not just a win, but a big win. These seniors said they just didn’t want to be another Elon football team and that was two weeks ago. And now we’re not.” – Elon head coach Tony Trisciani
The Phoenix is unbeaten at home for the first time at Rhodes Stadium, which opened in 2001. That 5-0 record could be expanded or spoiled if the Phoenix makes the FCS playoffs and is assigned a home game.
“A great accomplishment to go undefeated at home and send our seniors out with a win,” coach Tony Trisciani said. “And not just a win, but a big win. These seniors said they just didn’t want to be another Elon football team and that was two weeks ago. And now we’re not.”
The last time Elon went unbeaten for a season at home came in 1997, when the team’s nickname was Fightin’ Christians and the home field was at Burlington Memorial Stadium.
Seventeen players were honored as part of pregame Senior Day activities.
“I’m so proud of them for wanting to stick together and be here,” Trisciani said afterward. “They wanted to do something special together, and now they’re doing it.”
That unfolded in a variety of ways Saturday.
Elon’s defense recorded 10 sacks, pulling the plug on several Albany possessions.
This was the fifth game that Elon’s defense allowed one or no touchdowns in a game. The Great Danes (2-7, 1-5) scored 59 points a week earlier in defeating Stony Brook.
“It is very hard to do,” Hillman said of limiting touchdowns. “That’s our standard.”
Elon racked up 21 points in 10 minutes of first-half game time beginning with running back Jalen Hampton’s 16-yard touchdown run. Backup running back Malik Griffin scooted 36 yards for the next touchdown. Less than four minutes later, Hampton scored on a 5-yard run as part of his 81-yard, 15-carry day.
To cap the first-half scoring, Skyler Davis drilled a 52-yard field goal. It was his fifth field goal of 51 yards or longer this year. His 23-yarder in the fourth quarter accounted for the only second-half points.
The lone points allowed by the Phoenix came on John Opalko’s 26-yard field goal after Albany took over at the Elon 12-yard line following a first-quarter fumble.
A perk for Elon was the return of receiver Jackson Parham, who led the team with seven catches and accounted for 82 of the team’s 132 receiving yards. He missed the past two games because of a concussion.
“I felt like I got into a rhythm,” Parham said.
This was unusual territory for the Great Danes. Albany’s previous five losses to FCS opposition came by a combined 18 points, including one in overtime.