Oct. 26, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Richard Sigmon capped a wild Homecoming Day game as Western Carolina erased an 11-point second half deficit, tying the game with under 10 seconds to play in regulation to force overtime. In the extra session, Sigmon split the uprights on a 39-yard field goal to set off a mob-scene on the turf as the Catamounts upended the Elon Phoenix, 27-24, Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
WCU's Karnorris Benson hauled in his second touchdown pass of regulation on a six-yard strike from Troy Mitchell with Sigmon punching through the extra point to knot the scoreboard at 24 apiece with 9.6 seconds remaining, forcing WCU's first overtime excursion since 2008. In the extra session, the Catamount defense forced a stop with Elon misfiring on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
Three plays later, Sigmon's number was again called. Kicking towards the Ramsey Center, the Mount Holly, N.C., native split the uprights from 39 yards out sparking an on-field celebration that was three years in the making.
"What a night," began WCU's second-year head coach, Mark Speir, during the post-game press conference following his first Southern Conference victory. "I am so proud of these guys to finally get that win and taste that victory. This was a great way to give back to all our fans and former players who came back here for Homecoming, and how the Catamount Nation has hung with us. This is just a culmination of a lot of things."
Western Carolina scored both its first victory over a NCAA Division I team and SoCon victory since 2010 - snapping 33 and 26 game slides, respectively.
"The team had done their part getting the defensive stop, so I knew it was now up to me," said Sigmon on his game-winning kick. "I felt pretty good about the ball when I got it up in the air. It was the best feeling in the world to know I could do this for all the fans who came back for Homecoming and the seniors who had wanted this for so long."
Benson hauled in six passes for 129 yards including two touchdowns - an 80-yard strike from Eddie Sullivan to open the second quarter and the regulation-ending TD pass from Mitchell. Freshman Willie Police matched a career-high with seven receptions, finishing with 40 yards while tight end Michael Helms Jr., pulled down his first career touchdown reception on an eight-yard pitch-and-catch in the third quarter.
WCU used two quarterbacks on Saturday afternoon with Mitchell starting before being relieved by Sullivan late in the first quarter. Mitchell finished 18-of-31 with two touchdowns and an interception, throwing for 192 yards while Sullivan was 8-of-20 for 157 yards and the 80-yard scoring pass to Benson. Mitchell added 61 yards rushing.
Western Carolina overcame a sluggish first half offensively, trailing at the break, 21-10, after Elon scored on two Mike Quinn touchdown passes - a 47-yard hook-up with Rasaun Rorie and a two-yard strike to tight end Doug Warrick. Quinn finished 20-of-36 for a career-high 326 yards and three touchdowns.
"We just came out so lethargic. We didn't have that mojo on either side of the ball. There wasn't anything wrong, we just couldn't get into a flow or a rhythm," said Speir of his squad's first half performance.
Looking for a spark, the Catamount coaching staff turned to freshman tailback Garry Lewis. The Fayetteville, N.C., native responded with a career-best 72 yards rushing on 16 carries while also hauling in five passes for 58 yards - all coming on WCU's final drive of regulation.
Down 24-17, Mitchell guided the Catamounts 88 yards in 14 plays over the final three and half minutes, converting two third down plays along the way including a 22-yard completion to Lewis on a third and 10. On the drive, only two of Mitchell's passes went to wide receivers - the first, a four-yard pass to Police, and the last, a six-yard strike to Benson. Otherwise, the six completions went to Lewis and counterpart Darius Ramsey, who also had a crucial 15-yard reception to move the ball to the Elon five-yard line.
In overtime, the Catamount defense stuffed Phoenix tailback B.J. Bennett for a two-yard loss before forcing incompletions on Quinn's next two pass attempts. Quinn, who also serves as Elon's holder, handled a low snap on kicker John Gallagher's 44-yard attempt, but the ball sailed wide right.
On WCU's ensuing possession, after a penalty on first down moved the Catamounts back to the Elon 35 yard-line, Mitchell again hooked-up with Benson for a 13-yard gain to set-up a third down and seven situation. Lewis rushed for no gain, but managed to set the ball at mid-field for Sigmon. Following an Elon timeout, Sigmon booted the 39-yard 3-pointer to give the Catamounts the victory.
Junior linebacker Christon Gill matched a career-high with 13 tackles to lead all defenders, adding a forced fumble in the winning effort. Senior Courtland Carson tallied all nine of his stops in the first half with redshirt junior Ace Clark also securing nine tackles. Sertonuse Harris had five tackles and a fumble recovery while Jaleel Lorquet led six WCU defenders with two pass break-ups.
Western Carolina is idle next week before traveling to Statesboro, Ga., in SoCon play on Saturday, Nov. 9. Kickoff from Paulson Stadium is scheduled for 2:00 pm in the final conference meeting between the Catamounts and Eagles.