Oct. 20, 2012
Elon, N.C. - Thomas Wilson threw a career-best five touchdown passes including three to senior Aaron Mellette as Elon handed Western Carolina a 42-31 loss Saturday afternoon in Southern Conference play at Rhodes Stadium. WCU rallied in the second half, cutting the deficit to 35-23, but Wilson added his fifth TD pass of the day to seal the win.
The loss was the 20th-straight in league play for WCU, matching the program's longest such winless drought since joining the SoCon in 1977.
"I'm proud of the way we finished," said WCU first-year head coach Mark Speir during post-game comments on the Catamount Sports Network post-game report. "As awful and as bad as we played the first half, we still had a chance in the second half. To our players credit, to our coaches credit, we came out in the second half - still didn't play a great game - but they didn't quit and gave us an opportunity in the fourth quarter to be talking about going and winning."
Coming on as a back-up quarterback, true freshman quarterback Troy Mitchell threw for a career-best 175 yards and his first two collegiate passing touchdowns while rushing for a team-high 78 yards for the Catamounts. Mitchell found senior Jacoby Mitchell for one TD pass and classmate Spearman Robinson for his first career receiving score. Robinson matched his career-best with nine catches for a career-high 139 yards in the loss.
Freshman Darius Ramsey rushed for 45 yards while starting QB Eddie Sullivan had 33 yards on the ground in four carries. Senior running back Michael Johnson added 28 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns, his fourth career two-TD game.
"I'm awfully proud of Troy Mitchell," Speir said. "He didn't practice all week; he's got a strained ligament in his foot and was in a boot. He didn't take snaps (in practice) and Eddie (Sullivan) took the snaps all week. We still weren't sure if he could go even today. It finally got to where Troy said `I want to go.' We put him in there and boy did he spark our football team. He is the leader of our football team, I don't care if he is a true freshman. Our team rallies around him."
Elon (3-4, 1-3 SoCon) blitzed the Catamounts in the first quarter by scoring four touchdowns on its first five possessions. The first score came on a third-and-long situation on a 31-yards strike from Wilson to Mellette, with Wilson finding Chris Harris for a 75-yard quick strike coming directly on the heels of a three-and-out by the Catamount offense.
On the ensuing kickoff, WCU fumbled a shot pooch punt with the Phoenix falling on the ball and capitalizing one-play later on a 48-yard Tracey Coppedge rush for the 21-0 lead.
Western Carolina (1-7, 0-6 SoCon) got going late in the fourth quarter as Johnson capped a six-play, 50-yard drive with the first of two rushing scores on the day. Senior Jacoby Mitchell later hauled in a 13-yard scoring strike from Troy Mitchell just before intermission to provide the halftime tally, 35-13.
The Catamounts scored 10-straight points coming out of the halftime locker room, but ultimately missed a golden opportunity to pull even in the game. WCU drove 52 yards in 10 plays on the first drive of the second half with Richard Sigmon punching a field goal through from 27 yards out to make it 35-16.
On Elon's first possession of the second half, Trevor Taylor jarred the football loose from Phoenix receiver Jeremy Peterson with Elijer Martinez scooping the ball and racing 21 yards on the return to setup an acrobatic TD rush by Johnson to make it 35-23.
The Phoenix were forced to go three-and-out the next time they touched the football, giving WCU an opportunity to further cut into the Elon advantage. However, a costly fourth down holding call on a rush to the left that would have kept the drive alive forced WCU to attempt a long field goal which was missed to the right.
Momentum wasn't all lost, though as Pete Balthrop Jr., forced and recovered a fumble again giving the Catamounts life. The offense was unable to move the ball, though, punting four plays later. Wilson took advantage, finding Mellette for a third time in the game three plays later for the score that ultimately put the game out of reach, 42-23.
The Catamounts would add a fourth quarter touchdown as Mitchell found classmate Robinson all alone down the right sideline with Johnson scampering in for a two-point conversion to provide the final tally.
All told, WCU's defense forced three fumbles with two takeaways with freshman Jaleel Lorquet coming up with his first career interception, thwarting a would-be scoring drive for Elon. Senior Rock Williams finished with seven tackles while De'Von Richardson was credited with six including one for a loss. Senior defensive lineman Bevans Robbs and freshman DB Sertonuse Harris both had quarterback sacks.
Wilson finished 20-of-28 for 378 yards and five touchdowns, spreading the ball to seven different receivers. Mellette and Kierre Brown both had five catches apiece with Mellette going for 154 yards and three scores while Brown had 86 yards and one score.
After back-to-back road games, Western Carolina returns home to open consecutive home weeks next Saturday by welcoming arch-rival, Appalachian State, to Cullowhee for the annual "Battle for the Old Mountain Jug." Kickoff from E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field in Cullowhee is scheduled for 3:30 pm on Saturday, Oct. 27.