By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
BOONE, N.C. — One of these days, Appalachian State will lose another Southern Conference football game. And sometime in the future Elon may even win another game against the Mountaineers.
There might even be a season where an ASU quarterback isn't among the leaders in the Football Championship Subdivision in passing efficiency and total offense.
But for now, the No. 1-ranked Mountaineers (5-0 overall, 3-0 in league) are still basking in the richest period of the school's colorful football history.
No. 19-ranked Elon (2-4, 1-2) the Mountaineers its best shot Saturday before a school-record homecoming crowd of 31,531 at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
But at the end of the day, it was Appalachian State still kneeling down in victory formation at the end of another hard-fought 34-31 win.
It was ASU's 15th straight win over Elon, dating back to 1964 as the Mountaineers won for the 51st time in their last 54 home games.
"I knew it was going to be tough," said ASU coach Jerry Moore. "I didn't know it was going to be that tough."
But with quarterback DeAndre Presley rushing for a career-high 170 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries and completing 14-of-19 passes for 204 yards and another score, the Mountaineers rolled to their 23rd consecutive SoCon victory.
Presley's touchdown throw came at a critical juncture of the game and was accented by a tremendous move from CoCo Hillary (three catches, 76 yards) and an equally good block at the goal line from receiver Matt Cline.
On third and goal from the 14, Presley hung in the pocket as he was about to be clobbered. Presley sent a laser to Hillary, who made a spin move at the three and picked up that huge block Cline to seal the corner, allowing Hillary to dive into the end zone.
That made the score 34-24 for ASU with 13:37 remaining after an eight-play, 87-yard drive that took almost five minutes off the clock.
Quarterback Scott Riddle (31-of-43 for 394 yards and four TDs) led the Phoenix back on a clutch 10-play, 68-yard drive and hit Sean Jeffcoat at the pylon for a score that cut the lead to 34-31 with 3:50 left.
"Both offenses are pretty talented," said Riddle. "We thought it was going to be a high-scoring game and it turned out that way."
But Elon's defense couldn't get the ball back as Presley directed his team back down the field. Presley picked up a final first down on a quarterback draw with 1:22 to go at the Elon 12, but was thumped in the head on a hit that ASU players questioned as being a cheap shot.
Presley left the field to be evaluation and backup Jamal Jackson finished things out by kneeling down twice.
"All in all, I think he is okay," said Jerry Moore. "He seemed to be all right in the locker room."
Presley didn't leave soon enough to save Elon, however.
This dynamic junior sprite dashed 53 yards near the end of the second quarter for a touchdown that gave ASU a 20-10 lead and he zipped through the defense for 44 yards and another score with five minutes left in the third period to make it 27-17.
"You’ve got the pocket closed and he’s shifty," said Elon defensive end Brandon Ward. "He’ll make you miss. he’ll make you think he’s going one way when he’s going the other. He’s elusive. He’s a very good player. He’s not really a large dropoff from Armanti (Edwards)."
Devon Moore and Cedric Baker also slashed the Phoenix run defense for scoring runs of four and 36 yards to offset three Riddle to Aaron Mellette strikes. Mellette was magnificent with nine catches for 127 yards and touchdowns of seven, six and 43 yards before leaving with an injury late in the fourth period.
"Two powerhouse teams going at it, of course you’re going to get each other’s best shot," said Mellette. "We just came up short the last few minutes of the game."
Elon also added a 29-yard Adam Shreiner field goal in the second period, giving the Phoenix its lone lead at 10-7.
But Shreiner missed from 48 yards in the fourth quarter and the Phoenix gambled and came up empty on a fourth down at the ASU six in the third quarter when a field goal would have tied the game.
"We have only made one field goal from the right hash all year," said Elon coach Pete Lembo. "There was no question in my mind to go for it."
Those plays helped Appalachian State overcome 12 penalties for 116 yards, including seven for 85 yards in the first half. Two Elon's scoring drives were aided by key penalties.
"The thing that was disappointing for me was in the first half were the penalties," Jerry Moore said. "We kept their drives alive with penalties. It is a two-headed dagger. It gives them momentum and it hurts us. Game-changing penalties."
The Phoenix were just 1-of-3 on fourth-down conversions during the game and only 3-of-11 on third-down plays, but Riddle kept the sticks moving on first and second down as Elon piled up 28 first downs.
But as good as the Phoenix offense was through the air, Elon managed just 109 rushing yards and the defense came up lacking at critical moments again.
"We played close to the kind of game you need to play to win," Lembo said.
"If we could’ve wrapped up a couple times and maybe gotten the ball out once … The only thing that I would’ve liked to have seen us do a little bit better job of was make some tackles on some of those big plays and make them a 20-yard gain instead of a 40- or 50-yard gain."
It was a devastating loss for Elon, which has lost in overtime to Richmond and dropped a hard-fought fourth-quarter decision to Georgia Southern earlier in the year. A playoff team last season for the first time, the Phoenix will need some cataclysmic results to slip into the field this year.
"It’s tough, it’s hard," said Lembo. "These losses wear on me, there’s no question about that. That’s a much more seasoned (Appalachian State) team right now than we are."
For a Elon senior class that has come up short against the Mountaineers repeatedly in big games, the truth has been hard.
"They’ve just got the juice," said Ward, who had 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. "This is the closest we’ve ever been. They just seem to find a way to win. They’re winners. They find a way to do it at the end of games."
And in a year where there doesn't seem to be too many dominant teams in FCS, ASU might be able to find their way back to the national championship game.
"Overall were pleased we are 5-0," Jerry Moore said. "We needed a game like this where we are pushed like that. You got a gauge of where we are."