Courtesy of Elon Athletics
ELON, N.C. -- Scott Riddle passed for 416 yards and three touchdowns as the Elon Phoenix offense racked up 495 total yards on its way to a thrilling 24-19 Southern Conference football victory over the visiting Samford Bulldogs on Family Weekend at Rhodes Stadium.
"Today was one of those days that ages you quickly," said head coach Pete Lembo. "There were a lot of highs and lows in this game, but Iâ€™m proud of our kids and how they persevered. There were a lot of momentum swings, especially in the second half. Samford is a good team, and a persistent team and a well-coached team and it was going to come down to who could find a way at the end. I thought we came out very strong and it was probably our best start of the year."
After forcing a Samford punt to start the game, No. 21 Elon (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) marched 80 yards in six plays to take an early 7-0 advantage. The drive began with two A.J. Harris runs sandwiched around a Bulldog offside penalty to set up a second-and-two. The Phoenix converted the first down when Riddle found #Aaron Mellette# for an eight-yard gain. After Jeremy Peterson picked up eight more yards on a catch, Riddle hit Mellette again for another nine yards to the Samford 47. A pass to Harris was followed by two rushes by the back to move the ball down to the Bulldogsâ€™ 36 before Riddle thew to Kierre Brown in the middle of the field who raced to the pylon for the score with 9:22 left in the first quarter.
Facing a third-and-five from its own 25, Riddle dropped back and, despite solid coverage from the Bulldog defender, found a streaking Sean Jeffcoat at the numbers on the right side of the field for a 48-yard completion down to the Samford 27. A screen pass to Brandon Newsome moved the Phoenix into the red zone at the 15 and the Phoenix made it a first-and-goal from the five-yard line after a Riddle dive on a third-and-inches. Elon would have to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Adam Shreiner with 2:27 remaining in the first period to take a 10-0 lead.
Elon took possession with 12:16 on the clock in the second quarter and methodically marched 89 yards over 11 plays to add another touchdown to its total. Newsome got the drive started with a four-yard rush before Riddle teamed up with Mellette on third-and-one for an 11-yard gain out to the Elon 31. Brown snared a pass for another 10 yards on the next play and two plays later the Phoenix moved into Samford territory as a Peterson reception went for 14 yards to the 45-yard line. Newsome would gain 19 yards on two rushes to get the ball to the 26 before Riddle found Andre Labinowicz along the sideline to the two for a first-and-goal. On the next play, Riddle found Jeffcoat in the right side of the end zone for the short TD completion and a 17-0 Elon lead with 8:33 to play in the first half.
Samford (2-3, 0-2) had put together its best drive of the game and had marched to the Elon 17-yard line before Blake Thompson picked off a Dustin Taliaferro pass at the two to put an end to the Bulldog scoring threat.
The Bulldogs got on the board with 20 seconds left in the first half when Cameron Yaw drilled a career-long 48-yard field goal to make it a 17-3 game.
Samford took advantage of two Elon turnovers early in the second half to pull within four points at 17-13. The Bulldogs kicked a 22-yard field goal after taking over at the Elon 44 and driving to the eight. After a second Phoenix fumble, Samford started at midfield. Chris Evans rumbled for 49 yards on the first play before Kelsey Pope rushed in for the one-yard touchdown with 7:27 on the clock.
Elon responded to the Samford push by going 80 yards in eight plays for a touchdown that gave the Phoenix a 24-13 lead. Riddle completed three passes for 15 or more yards on the drive before finding Labinowicz for a nine-yard TD strike with 3:47 to play in the third quarter.
Following an Elon punt, Samford took possession at its own 25 and proceeded to drive 75 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown. Evans had rushes of 15 and eight yards on the drive that was capped by another one-yard run by Pope. The Bulldogs went for the two-point conversion to try to make it a three-point game, but was unsuccessful and the Phoenix lead sat at five points â€“ 24-19 with 10:34 to play.
The Phoenix made the lead stand, stopping the Bulldogs on their final two possessions â€“ the first drive ending with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-six and the second being halted by a Ronnie Hardison interception, the first of his career.
The 416 passing yards were the second-highest total ever for Riddle and the 16th-most passing yards ever for a SoCon quarterback. Harris accounted for a total of 95 yards between 16 rushes and a career-high seven receptions. Jeffcoat made kept Elonâ€™s streak of having a receiver eclipse the 100-yard receiving mark this season going by snaring seven balls for 109 yards and a score.
For Samford, Connor Lowery passed for 105 yards while Evans carried 12 times for 115 yards. Pope finished with seven carries for 10 yards and two both Bulldog touchdowns.
Elonâ€™s defense was led by #Brandon Wiggins# who tallied 12 total tackles.
Bryce Smith made a game-high 17 tackles to lead the Samford defense. Andy Davis added 10 total tackles and forced a fumble.
Elon will return to the road to face top-ranked Appalachian State next Saturday at 3 p.m. in a game televised on SportSouth. Samford will visit Western Carolina for a 2 p.m. tilt the same day.