By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Sensing the need for just a few clutch plays on offense, that’s exactly what Elon got Saturday afternoon.
And then a huge final stop on defense.
The Phoenix scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns on Matthew Downing passes to knock off fourth-ranked William & Mary 14-6 in a Coastal Athletic Association showdown at Rhodes Stadium.
“We played to win that football game,” Elon coach Tony Trisciani said. “It takes courage and it takes belief in each other. The game was not an accident. They prepared for it. … Standing tall in the fourth quarter, digging our heels in.”
Cornerback Jaidyn Denis made a couple of huge plays in the final 17 minutes, thrilling the announced turnout of 12,705 – third-largest crowd in stadium history.
William & Mary (4-1 overall, 2-1 CAA) had a final chance by moving into scoring position. On fourth-and-3 at Elon 12, Denis burst in to flip scrambling Tribe quarterback Darius Wilson, who was fleeing from defensive end Cazeem Moore, for the game-clinching stop.
“I tried to stay between him and the receiver,” Denis said. “But he continued to run so I just went to try to go make the tackle.”
Elon (3-2, 3-0) hasn’t allowed a touchdown in two home games.
For a long time, it looked like the Phoenix might be without a touchdown of its own Saturday.
“Let’s keep our head down and keep going,” Downing said. “Stuck to the plan. … We just put positive plays on top of positive plays and that (touchdown) play will happen when it happens.”
Denis’ interception and 21-yard return to the William & Mary 30 put the Phoenix in good shape late in the third quarter. And receiver Chandler Brayboy, as it turned out, was just getting warmed up.
Downing connected with Brayboy on a fourth-and-3 play for 6 yards to maintain possession. Brayboy was on the receiving end of Downing’s 16-yard third-down pass for the game’s first touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Then on its next possession, Elon covered 94. Downing threw 8 yards to Jamarien Dalton with 5:54 left for a touchdown that was set up by Brayboy’s 76-yard reception on a third-and-2 play.
“The courage to stand tall on third-and-2 back in your own end,” Trisciani said of the gutsy call and pinpoint execution.
William & Mary had field goals from Caden Bonoffski from 32 and 45 yards in the second quarter.
Elon didn’t totally get untracked in the third quarter. A fake punt went awry at the end of the first possession of the second half.
Later the Phoenix reached the William & Mary 6 for a potential third-and-1, but a taunting penalty on offensive lineman Caleb Krings pushed Elon back. The result was Jack Berkowitz’s 39-yard field goal attempt drifting wide right.
“There wasn’t a lot going our way and our guys just kept playing and overcoming it.”
Downing churned out 103 of his 187 passing yards in the fourth quarter. Running back Jalen Hampton gained 74 yards on 13 carries.
Elon’s stingy defense showed up early. The Phoenix had a first-quarter goal-line stand.
“You have to fight to keep them out of the end zone,” Denis said.
The Phoenix has toppled eight ranked opponents in Trisciani’s five seasons.
Several player and game photos courtesy of Elon Athletics.