Phoenix rising into showdown with UNH
(STATS) – Things are certainly looking up for Elon as it makes the northernmost trip in program history.
The Phoenix head to New Hampshire for Saturday’s clash with the 20th-ranked Wildcats off their first CAA win as a league member. Elon, 0-8 in conference play in its 2014 debut, used perseverance – and a little help from Mother Nature – to hold off visiting Towson for a 17-13 victory last week.
Elon (2-2, 1-0 CAA) rallied from a 13-0 first-quarter deficit and stopped the Tigers in the red zone as time expired when Towson quarterback Connor Frazier mishandled a center exchange on the final play.
The fumble was one of five committed by the Tigers in the soggy conditions on a gloomy afternoon at Rhodes Stadium. But for however unaesthetic the historic result may have been, the strides the Phoenix are making in coach Rich Skrosky’s second season still shined through.
"Any time you get a win, and particularly a conference win, it’s somewhat of a big day," Skrosky said. "I can’t tell you how happy I am for everybody, the players first and foremost. I keep saying we’re going to get better and better and (this) was a reflection of that."
Elon’s improvement from last year’s 1-11 finish has been most evident on defense. After surrendering 30.5 points per game in 2014, the Phoenix have held three straight opponents to 14 or less for the first time since their 2009 playoff season under current Ball State coach Pete Lembo.
The Phoenix’s 14 sacks through four games are only six shy of last year’s output.
Elon’s offense has received a spark from redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Christiansen, who has not been intercepted in 100 attempts and leads the team with 112 rushing yards.
"It’s a much improved football team from a year ago, and I think it all starts with the quarterback position for them," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. "I think Connor Christensen is a guy that they’ve found that they really like. He’s a kid that, his disposition, you watch the tape and watch him play, he looks like a winner out there and he’s got an edge to him."
Just how far Elon has come will be reflected in Saturday’s visit to Cowell Stadium, where the Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) have won eight straight CAA games and displayed a return to form with last Saturday’s 57-14 rout of Central Connecticut State. New Hampshire was dealt a 31-6 loss by upstart Stony Brook in its league opener the previous week.
Adam Riese threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns in the first half last week as he made his first career start in place of Sean Goldrich, who will miss a third straight game with an ankle injury.
"We know we’re going to have a great challenge going up to New Hampshire but we’re looking forward to it, looking forward to getting into a new environment with our kids and playing a hard-fought game," Skrosky said.
A capsule look at Saturday’s other CAA games can be found below (all times Eastern). No. 14 Villanova, licking its wounds from an upset loss to local rival Penn and 2014 FCS offensive player of the year John Robertson’s knee injury, is idle along with Towson.
Stony Brook (2-1, 1-1) at James Madison (4-0, 1-0), Noon
The sixth-ranked Dukes, coming off a thrilling 48-45 win at American Athletic Conference member SMU, will pit their prolific offense against an upstart Stony Brook team that ranks fourth in the FCS in scoring defense (12.0 ppg) and ninth in total defense (279.7 ypg). The Seawolves came through with a 41-38 win in Harrisonburg two years ago but enter this time without standout running back Stacy Bedell, injured in last week’s 21-0 loss at William & Mary. JMU tops the FCS in total offense (671.3 ypg) and rushing yards (356.3 ypg) and seeks its first-ever 5-0 start.
Maine (1-2, 1-0) at Richmond (2-1), 3:30 p.m.
A revenge opportunity awaits No. 19 Richmond, dealt a 33-20 loss in Orono while ranked eighth in the poll last season, in its league opener. The Spiders had five giveaways, with Maine scoring touchdowns on an interception and a blocked punt en route to the upset. Richmond forced five turnovers, including two INTs returned for TDs, in a 42-10 home win over VMI on Sept. 19 before having a bye last week. The Black Bears’ rugged defense held Rhode Island to minus-eight rushing yards in last Saturday’s 27-17 victory.
William & Mary (2-1, 1-0) at Delaware (1-3, 0-1), 7:30 p.m.
After entering the STATS FCS Top 25 with their shutout of Stony Brook, the 25th-ranked Tribe try to stay there with a third consecutive victory over the youthful Blue Hens. Delaware, which blew a fourth-quarter lead in a 28-21 loss at Villanova two weeks ago and fell 41-14 to North Carolina in last Saturday’s paycheck game, is 1-3 for the first time since 2001 and hasn’t started 0-2 in CAA play since 2009. William & Mary took an 11-10 lead in the all-time series with a 31-17 home win last year behind a career-high 198 rushing yards and two TDs from Mikal Abdul-Saboor, who already has two 100-yard games this season.
Albany (2-2) at Holy Cross (1-2), 1 p.m.
The Great Danes close their non-conference slate with their second all-time matchup with Holy Cross. Albany pulled out a 14-13 home win last season on linebacker Neil Morrison’s 79-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the final minute. DJ Crook threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns to help rally the Danes to a 17-14 victory over Duquesne last week, but won’t have Josh Gontarek at his disposal after the wide receiver was suspended indefinitely Monday for an arrest on marijuana possession.
Rhode Island (0-4) at Brown (0-2), 6 p.m.
The Rams hope to get untracked in the 100th edition of the Governor’s Cup, which Brown has held since 2011 with four straight wins including last year’s 20-13 verdict in Kingston. Rhode Island has lost 18 of 19 overall and 15 straight on the road since an overtime win at Albany on Sept. 14, 2013.