Sunday, September 10, 2017

Slow start, futile finish doom Paladins

Ten years ago, a freshman quarterback from Elon named Scott Riddle threw for a Paladin Stadium-record 534 yards. At times on Saturday, it felt as if he’d never left. Elon freshman quarterback Davis Cheek actually threw for only 301 yards, but unlike a decade ago - when Furman held on for a 52-49 win - it was the Phoenix who came away with a three-point victory Saturday afternoon.
Owen Johnson kicked a 36-yard field goal with five seconds left to give Elon a 34-31 win, handing the Paladins a heartbreaking close loss for the second week in a row.
Ultimately, all the many great things Furman (0-2) did in the middle portion of Saturday’s game could not overcome the poor things it did at the start and finish. Elon (1-1) outscored the Paladins 31-0 combined in the first and fourth quarters.
For the second week in a row, Furman’s defense could not get off the field in the fourth quarter and its offense couldn’t stay on it. The Phoenix had the ball for 9:02 of the final quarter.
“We just played really poorly and got ourselves in a huge hole,” Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. “I give our kids credit for fighting in there, coming back and giving us every chance to win the game. We just had trouble finishing again.”
A week after throwing for 22 yards on 2-of-10 passing in Elon’s blowout loss at Toledo. Cheek completed 5-of-6 passes for 64 yards on the opening drive Saturday. The lone incompletion was a dropped touchdown, but two plays later Cheek threw a 13-yard touchdown to Malcolm Summers.
Furman’s four first quarter possessions resulted in 14 yards of total offense, one first down and two lost fumbles. Elon turned each fumble into touchdown drives of 24 and 23 yards, respectively, to take a 21-0 lead after one quarter. The 21 points surpassed Elon’s point total in nine entire games of its 2-9 season a year ago.
“We’ve started slow on defense two weeks in a row,” Hendrix said. “Then we turn it over twice on our end (of the field). We’ve just got have them better prepared to play early.
“There’s just way too many times we’re not in the right place or don’t do the right thing. We aren’t talented enough to be able to do things (wrong) and be successful.”
Elon was looking to pad its lead early in the second quarter when Aaquil Annoor finally gave Furman fans something to cheer about with an interception near the goal line. Furman’s offense then drove 94 yards on 17 plays capped by Antonio Wilcox’s eight-yard touchdown run.
It was the start of five consecutive scoring drives by Furman over the second and third quarters, highlighted by P.J. Blazejowski’s 77-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Gordon. That score gave the Paladins their first lead of the day, 24-21, midway through the third quarter.
Elon responded with a game-tying field goal before Furman answered on its ensuing drive. After Blazejowski hit Logan McCarter for a 35-yard gain on 3rd-and-15, Ridge Gibson scored from three yards out as Furman went back ahead 31-24 with one minute left in the third quarter.
After that 14-yard first quarter, the Paladins piled up 348 yards combined in the second and third. Just when it appeared that Furman’s grinding ground game and home run passes had worn down Elon’s defense, the Paladins’ offense disappeared in the final quarter.
“We got off to a slow start, then we got rolling. We just can’t let that momentum stop,” Blazejowski said. “We’ve got to continue to go out there and execute.”
Furman followed up scoring drives of 94, 68, 65, 86 and 65 yards in the second and third quarters, with drives of 18, 9 and minus-8 yards in the fourth.
Still, the Paladins held the touchdown lead with 7:31 left when Elon began a drive at its 38-yard line. Cheek proceeded to pick apart Furman's defense hitting wide open receivers down the field. On 4th-and-5, Cheek found Tre Lennon for a 10-yard gain. On the next play, he threw a 15-yard touchdown to Lennon who was all alone in the end zone. Cheeks was 7-of-7 for 56 yards on the drive as Elon tied the game 31-31 with three minutes left.
“We couldn’t get to the quarterback," Hendrix said. "He just stood back there all day,”
On the ensuing kickoff, Devin Wynn gave Furman terrific field position with a 39-yard return to the Paladins’ 44. Darius Morehead then ran nine yards on first down, but an illegal block penalty backed Furman up and the Paladins punted three plays later.
Elon took over at its own 35 with 1:05 left. After a sack, Cheek threw a 23-yard pass to Corey Joyner to get the Phoenix on Furman’s side of the field. Two plays later, Elon got in field goal range after Furman was flagged for pass interference. Three plays later, Johnson’s game-winning kick sailed through the uprights.

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