The Western Carolina University Catamounts defeated the Elon Phoenixes 27-24 on Saturday afternoon.
The crisp, fall air made WCU’s Homecoming Day a perfect day for football. The excitement of the game was capped off with a 39-yard field goal by kicker Richard Sigmon in overtime, followed by a storming of the field by Catamount fans.
The win ended the Catamounts 26-game losing streak in the SoCon and improved their record to 2-7. With the loss, Elon falls to 2-7.
Catamount nation had high hopes for a stellar performance following the near upset of defeating Wofford the previous week.
WCU got on the board quickly with an early field goal from Sigmon, but Elon quickly answered with a 64-yard pass from Mike Quinn to Andre Davis.
Sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell started the game but was benched in the first quarter and did not play the next six series. Filling in for Mitchell, junior quarterback Eddie Sullivan opened the second quarter with a deep 80-yard pass to Karnorris Benson to put the Catamounts ahead, 10-7.
Elon got the ball back and went to work, with Quinn finding Rasuan Rorie for a 47-yard touchdown pass. Quinn would find the end zone again before the half ended with a 2-yard pass to Doug Warrick. Elon led the Catamounts 21-10 at halftime.
The sloppy play in the first half was “lethargic,” as head coach Mark Speir described.
“We just came out so lethargic,” said Speir. “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. I got on them at halftime. We haven’t quit since we have been here, and we were going to come out in the second half with great energy. We believed in them. We just picked up that energy in the second half.”
Mitchell returned to the game in the third quarter and led the team down the field 76 yards and found Michael Helms Jr. for an 8-yard touchdown pass. The touchdown narrowed Elon’s lead to 21-17.
Elon extended their lead in the fourth quarter to 24-17 with a 48-yard field goal and gave the ball back to WCU with 3:37 left to play in the game.
Starting from their own 12-yard line, Mitchell drove the ball down the field with a Doug Flutie-like fashion. On third and 10 from their own 25, Mitchell scrambled to avoid pressure and threw a 22-yard bullet to the freshman running back Gary Lewis, who got drilled as he caught the ball but held on.
The key matchup in the final drive was Mitchell to Lewis, who ended up with five catches for 58 yards on the final drive.
Mitchell drove the ball down the field and with nine seconds left, found Karnorris Benson in the end zone for his second touchdown reception of the day. Speir decided to kick the extra point to tie the game at 24-24 and play in overtime.
WCU won the toss and elected to defer the ball. Elon opened overtime with the ball and on fourth and 12, kicked a 40-yard field goal and missed it.
WCU took over and drove the ball down to the 22-yard line to set up Sigmon for the game-winning field goal.
“I was slightly nervous,” said Sigmon. “The team had done their part getting the defensive stop, so I knew it was now up to me.”
The kick was a straight shot through the middle and WCU won the game. The players stormed the field followed by the stands.
“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,” said Sigmon.
The win was a combined effort on all three phases of the game; offense, defense and special teams.
The win for Speir was his first win against an NCAA Division I opponent and his first victory against a SoCon rival team.
“I am so proud of these guys to finally get that win and taste that victory,” said Speir. “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.”
The Catamounts, now at 2-7, have improved their record from last year and will look to improve their record next week as they travel to Georgia to take on Georgia Southern.