Elon wants to write winning ending on Senior Day
ELON — Marcus Willoughby hasn’t been sure how to feel about the impending arrival of Elon’s final home game Saturday, the all-conference defensive end and team captain figuring that it’s impossible to predict the emotions of such an experience with any certainty until it happens.
“When it actually comes to that moment, I’m going to be soaking it in, like, ‘Man, this is my last time ever playing on this field,’ ” he said this week. “But right now, I don’t know how to feel. I just want to win the game. That’s all that matters, really, right now. We’ve just got to come through and win.”
That’s what’s concrete for Willoughby and the Phoenix.
Elon’s motivation against visiting Maine in Saturday’s Colonial Athletic Association football matchup is clearly defined — finish on a winning note in this last ride at Rhodes Stadium, and set up the chance to secure a winning record for the third straight season.
“We want to win at home and we want to send our seniors out the right way,” Elon coach Tony Trisciani said. “And we have the opportunity to finish the season with six wins. That’s important to us.”
Particularly to Elon’s seniors, who have played under three coaching staffs — led by Rich Skrosky, Curt Cignetti and now Trisciani — during their time with the Phoenix. After practice one night this week, Willoughby thought back to his freshman year in 2016, when the Phoenix went 2-9 and claimed only one victory in the CAA.
The rise since then has taken Elon to consecutive winning seasons and back-to-back Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearances, its stretch-run games during the month of November becoming meaningful events and carrying considerable weight.
“That’s our legacy now,” Willoughby said. “That’s where we’ve taken this program.”
Elon’s hopes of reaching the FCS playoffs for a third year in a row suffered a damaging, or perhaps derailing, blow with last week’s upset loss in five overtimes to William & Mary, a team that previously had been winless in the league.
The Phoenix (4-5 overall, 3-3 CAA) must defeat Maine and Towson to close the regular season, and pick up substantial help from other teams in the conference and across the FCS national landscape to have a shot at gaining a return trip to the playoffs, comprised of a 24-team field.
Things unraveled from surprising to surreal last weekend on homecoming at Rhodes Stadium.
Elon seemingly had turned a corner and unlocked a greater confidence while delivering convincing beatdowns of Delaware and Rhode Island during the preceding weeks, but then became upended 31-29 by William & Mary in the marathon game that contained a mess of nine missed field goals — six of them by William & Mary.
Elon led at halftime, and could’ve won the game in walk-off fashion with any points at the end of the first overtime or a successful two-point conversion at the end of the third overtime. But those went awry, like the uneven course of the afternoon in general.
“That game definitely left a mark,” Trisciani said. “But as bad as we felt on Saturday and Sunday, a win against Maine will feel really good.”
As a group, Elon closes the book on its previous opponent and begins working toward its next one during the Monday team meetings that start each week.
The proverbial turning of the page might’ve felt like a cinderblock to Trisciani. The first-year coach said he studied the video from the William & Mary loss more than any other game this season, watching and rewatching, digging in and trying to uncover answers to the following questions: What could we have done different? What should we have done better? What are we doing well? What did they see?
Saturday makes for another matchup between Elon and Maine, CAA teams separated by some 970 miles, that could help determine the fate of a season.
Last November, the Black Bears edged Elon 27-26 in snowy Maine to separate from the tightly packed conference race and capture the outright league title, while the Phoenix had been on the hunt to fully lock up its place in the FCS playoffs.
“We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us,” Elon quarterback Davis Cheek said. “William & Mary, it’s one of those games that you want back and you sit there and say, ‘We had so many chances just to be better and execute and win the game.’ It’s a heartbreaker, definitely a tough pill to swallow, but at the same time, it’s football. And we can’t let William & Mary beat us again this Saturday.”
Maine (4-5, 2-3) at Elon (4-5, 3-3)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rhodes Stadium, Elon (capacity 11,250)
Coaches: Nick Charlton (first season at Maine). Tony Trisciani (first season at Elon).
Series: Maine leads 2-1 after winning 27-26 last November
Extra points: Elon is 0-5 in regular-season home finals since joining the Colonial Athletic Association in 2014. … Maine is aiming for its third straight victory today, after defeating William & Mary and Albany during the last two weeks. … Joey Baughman, Elon’s backup to quarterback Davis Cheek and short-yardage specialist, has supplied four rushing touchdowns during the last three games. … Maine quarterback Joe Fagnano, a freshman, has thrown for 951 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first three starts since taking over for the injured Chris Ferguson. … Elon’s Cole Taylor has 21 catches for 264 yards across the last four games. … Maine’s explosive Earnest Edwards has scored a touchdown in 14 of his last 15 games, including a pair of kickoff returns for scores last season against Elon. He ranks first nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision in kickoff returns and fourth nationally in all-purpose yards. … Maine’s Andre Miller hauled in a school-record touchdown that covered 90 yards last week, breaking his own mark of an 87-yard score set last month at Liberty. … Elon senior Greg Liggs Jr., who leads the FCS with seven interceptions on the season, collected a career-high 12 tackles during last week’s loss to William & Mary. … Elon’s Devonte Chandler, a sophomore linebacker, tallied a career-best 11 tackles last week. He entered that game with a total of 16 tackles on the season.