Oct. 8, 2011
Cullowhee, N.C. - Taylor Spangler hauled in a five-yard scoring strike from sophomore quarterback Brandon Pechloff to cap a 14-point fourth quarter comeback for Western Carolina, tying Saturday's Southern Conference game with Elon at 31 with four minutes to play.
However, the Phoenix drove 64 yards in four plays including a 59-yard completion to the one-yard line by Aaron Mellette and two-plays later a one-yard TD reception to hand Elon the 38-31 victory at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
WCU had one-last possession, but a third interception for the Catamounts sealed the victory for Elon. All told, the Catamounts tossed three interceptions and lost the only fumble it had on the afternoon - all in the second half - with the Phoenix converting two of the picks into 14 points.
"It's really disappointing," said WCU head coach Dennis Wagner during post-game comments with the media. "We've worked hard all week. I thought the defense played much, much better overall than they have all season. The problem is that when we needed plays, we didn't get it."
He added, "They gave us plenty of opportunities in the first half on offense that we didn't capitalize on. We turned the ball over four times on offense. You can't win games and turn the ball over like that."
Redshirt senior Josh Cockrell scored every time he touched the ball on Saturday, opening the game's scoring with a 10-yard reverse for a touchdown and hauling in two passes for a career-high 127 yards and a pair of receiving scores. The Canton, N.C., scampered in untouched on the reverse to give the Catamounts the 7-0 lead midway through the opening half with his first career rushing touchdown.
Following the first of two blocked punts by Elon freshman Gary Coates, Elon answered with a seven-yard scamper by quarterback Thomas Wilson on a third-and-goal play.
On the second play of the second quarter, Cockrell struck again with a 61-yard pitch-and-catch with Pechloff to again put WCU on top, 14-7. The Phoenix would tack on a 39-yard Adam Shreiner field goal to provide the halftime tally of 14-10 in favor of the Catamounts.
Elon (4-2, 2-1 SoCon) claimed its first lead of the afternoon with back-to-back scores in the second half to take a 24-14 edge midway through the third quarter. Dontay Taylor rushed in from three yards out for the first score to cap an eight-play, 67-yard drive while A.J. Harris helped Elon cash in on a WCU interception with a nine yard run for a score.
Harris finished with 98 yards on 23 carries while Taylor rushed 12 times for 45 yards and a pair of scores. Wilson finished 24-of-33 with two picks for Elon.
Catamount kicker Clark Sechrest banged through a 38-yard field goal to trim the margin back to seven, 24-17, only to see the Phoenix again take advantage of a short field following an interception and 47-yard return by Blake Thompson. Taylor notched his second rushing score of the day, scurrying in from four yards away to lead, 31-17.
The ensuing possession got off to an ominous start as Pechloff was dropped for a five-yard loss on the only sack allowed by WCU on the afternoon. On the next play, he found Cockrell who made the catch amidst traffic and was seemingly bottled up by the Phoenix defenders. However, he managed to bounce off two would-be tacklers, maintained his feet and churned to the left sideline, out running Elon defenders for the 66-yard score.
With new life, the Catamount defense forced a three-and-out, making a crucial stop on a third-down play, holding Elon one-yard shy of the sticks to force a punt. Pechloff then orchestrated a 14-play, 72-yard scoring drive, twice converting on fourth-down plays including one defensive penalty on fourth-and-10 to keep the drive alive.
Pechloff capped the scoring drive with the five-yard toss to Spangler, tying the game and setting-up the final push for Elon, spurred by the long reception by Mellette.
Pechloff finished 12-of-29 for 231 yards and a career-best three touchdown passes, but also tossed three interceptions. Deja Alexander, who limped off the field late in the fourth quarter, led the six WCU receivers with four catches for 43 yards. Michael Johnson carried the ball 21 times for 64 yards to pace the Catamount rushing attack.
Defensively for WCU, junior Rock Williams finished with a career-high 19 tackles including eight solo stops and one for loss. Eric Banford mauled Elon QB Wilson for an eight-yard sack, while linebackers Marcus Stokes and Courtland Carson both tallied interceptions - the first two for the Catamounts this season. Stokes snared the first pick of the season after Brian Johnson deflected the pass at the line of scrimmage. More pressure from the back side forced an errant throw that Carson was able to pick off, both in the first half.
Freshman Christon Gill scooped up a fumble that was forced by Stokes for the Catamounts third takeaway of the afternoon. However, WCU was only able to turn one of the turnovers into points.
Western Carolina travels to Chattanooga next Saturday night to face the nationally-ranked Mocs, who fell by just one-point, 28-27, at No. 1 Georgia Southern. Kickoff from Finley Stadium is set for 6:00 pm.