ELON, N.C. – Despite three rushing touchdowns by De’Sean McNair, the Elon University football team came up just short as the Phoenix saw its season come to a close in a 28-27 contest against the Furman Paladins in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Rhodes Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 25. Elon’s run in the 2017 NCAA FCS Playoffs is presented by Courtyard by Marriott Burlington.
Elon, which was hosting its first FCS Playoff game in program history, ended its 2017 season with an 8-4 overall record, a six-win improvement over the previous year.
Quotable: “It was a good football game for the fans to watch, that’s for sure. I did think we came out in the second half with a lot of energy, we made some plays, and I thought there was a point there where we had a chance to kind of take the game over maybe. But to their (Furman’s) credit, they responded to our scores and did a nice job offensively. It’s not very often that you win a turnover ratio three-to-one and lose a football game… and at the end of the day Furman made one more play than we did. It was a great year to get back on track… We won eight in a row, we were 8-1 at one point, but we didn’t finish the season like we wanted to, I think that will be a message for next year’s team. But I’m proud of everybody in the organization and what we accomplished this year and I think this team has set the foundation for good years to come.” – Curt Cignetti, Elon head coach
How it happened: In a back-and-forth affair, Elon was the first to get on the scoreboard. The Phoenix was forced to punt on its second series of the game, but the kick was muffed by the Furman return man and recovered at the 26-yard line by Elon’s Tyler Campbell. On the first play following the fumble, McNair rumbled 26 yards for the game’s first score as Elon grabbed a 7-0 lead.
During a drive that began late in the first quarter, Furman went 58 yards in 12 plays to tie the game when PJ Blazejowski hit Andy Schumpert for a six-yard touchdown pass. The Paladins twice converted on third down on the drive, the last coming on a third-and-three at the Elon 39 when Kealand Dirks gained just enough yardage to move the chains.
After Elon went three-and-out, the Paladins took over at their own nine. Darius Morehead darted 21 yards on second-and-10 before Blazejowski hit Schumpert again, this one for a 70-yard score that put Furman in front by a 14-7 margin.
It remained a seven-point game until Elon’s first drive of the second half. The Phoenix put together a 12-play, 79-yard drive that used less than four minutes to tie the game again. Elon converted three third downs, all of five yards or more to gain, to move to the Furman 16. From there, Cheek found Corey Joyner in the middle of the end zone for the score. On the drive, Cheek completed six passes for 66 yards.
On the ensuing kickoff, Chris Blair stripped the returner of the ball and recovered the fumble at the Furman 25-yard line as the Phoenix looked to seize momentum. After a six-yard pass to Weeks gave Elon a first-and-goal at the three, McNair toted the ball in for his second score of the day and a 21-14 lead for the maroon and gold.
Furman immediately answered, marching 75 yards on nine plays to tie it back up on a 14-yard Antonio Wilcox run. After stopping Elon, Furman got the ball back with just over two minutes to go in the third quarter. On second down, Wilcox broke free for a 62-yard run that took the ball to the Elon 11. The drive moved to the one before the quarter came to a close. On the first play of the final period, Blazejowski pushed forward for the go-ahead score.
Elon, which rallied to defeat Furman in the fourth quarter in week two of the season, would move across midfield after Cheek ran for 14 yards. Facing a third-and-four at the Furman 28, McNair ran in space vacated by a blitzing Paladin defender and found the end zone again to pull the Phoenix within a point. Donavan Perryman was able to get a hand on the PAT to deny Elon the tying point with just over 11 minutes to play.
The Paladins looked to put the game away and drove 70 yards before Elon’s Daniel Reid-Bennett intercepted a Blazejowski pass in the end zone with 4:20 showing on the clock. The Phoenix quickly gained 20 yards thanks to a pair of passes to Joyner and then crossed midfield to the Furman 48 on a 10-yard toss to McNair. It was there that the Elon drive stalled as Cheek was unable to connect with a receiver downfield to move the chains. Furman would pick up one first down and was able to run out the clock to secure the win.
Elon – De’Sean McNair (15 carries, 101 yards, 3 TDs)
Furman – Antonio Wilcox (7 carries, 92 yards, 1 TD)
Elon – Davis Cheek (24-43, 201 yards, 1 TD)
Furman – PJ Blazejowski (12-22, 176 yards, 2 TDs)
Elon – Corey Joyner (7 receptions, 81 yards, 1 TD)
Furman – Andy Schumpert (4 receptions, 89 yards, 2 TDs)
Elon – Warren Messer (10 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 QBH)
Furman – Darius Kearse (9 tackles)
Noteworthy: McNair’s three rushing touchdowns were the most by an Elon player since A.J. Harris had four at Chattanooga in 2010… McNair posted his third 100-yard rushing game of the season… Blair wrapped up his career ranked sixth in program history with 355 total tackles… Furman ended the day with 15 total turnovers on the season; of those, five came in the two meetings with the Phoenix… The Phoenix went 8-1 in nine games this season that were decided by eight points or less… Elon was making just its second playoff appearance at the FCS level, the other came in 2009.