FCS team of the week: Phoenix rise

(STATS) – To say first-year coach Curt Cignetti has brought renewed enthusiasm to Elon’s struggling program is an understatement.

As the Phoenix have risen this month, he’s helped provide the vision to win games.

Elon ended last season on a seven-game losing streak, but after falling to an FBS opponent (Toledo) to open the new campaign, the Phoenix have won three straight games for its longest streak since 2011, which includes two in a row over Top 25 opponents after they stunned No. 8 Richmond 36-33 on the road Saturday.

Before Cignetti’s arrival from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Elon was a mere 7-27 (4-20 conference) in its first three seasons after moving from the Southern Conference to the tougher CAA Football.

Last week, the Phoenix knocked two-time defending Big South champ Charleston Southern from the Top 25. In beating Richmond in the CAA opener for both teams, junior Malcolm Summers carried the ball 40 times for 294 yards and true freshman quarterback Davis Cheek passed for three touchdowns.

“Great team victory,” Cignetti said. “Our guys would not be denied in the fourth quarter. That’s what we talked about at halftime, our relentlessness and resiliency, our mental toughness and fortitude. We lost the lead. We were down seven and our guys stepped it up a notch and we made the plays at the end of the game we had to make. It’s a great win for the guys. I feel really great for them, and I’m proud of them and the coaches, too.”

Cheek’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Matt Foster tied the score at 33 with 9:29 left to play. Warren Messer intercepted a pass on Richmond’s ensuing drive, and the STATS FCS Team of the Week turned it into Owen Johnson’s go-ahead 32-yard field goal at the 6:14 mark.

Messer finished with 15 tackles, including 1 1/2 for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one pass break-up and the big interception.