Who: The Citadel (3-6, 3-4) at Elon (2-7, 1-4)
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rhodes Stadium, Elon, N.C.
Compared with the on-going soap operas that have been the final seasons in the Southern Conference of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, Elon’s farewell tour has been subdued.
Of course, the Phoenix, which heads to the Colonial Athletic Association next year, doesn’t have quite the history in the SoCon of GSU and App State, which won 15 FCS national championships between them.
Elon hosts The Citadel today for the Bulldogs’ final SoCon game of the season, and for perhaps the final meeting between the schools (The Citadel leads the series, 7-5).
The Phoenix has been in the league only since 2003, with no SoCon titles and one FCS playoff appearance (in 2009) in those 11 seasons.
But despite the fact they’ve met only 10 times as SoCon foes, The Citadel (3-6, 3-4 this season) and Elon (2-7, 1-4) have managed to work up a bit of friction as rivals.
Some of that is due to former Elon quarterback Scott Riddle, a record-setting passer best known in Citadel circles for his part in a brawl during the 2010 SoCon baseball tournament that left Bulldogs coach Fred Jordan with his arm in a sling.
Then there was the shared history of Citadel coach Kevin Higgins and ex-Elon mentor Pete Lembo, who worked together at Lehigh. Lembo ended up succeeding Higgins as Lehigh’s head coach, though his five-year record (44-14, two Patriot League titles) could not quite match Higgins’ final three seasons there (44-4, three titles).
At Elon, though, Lembo went 3-2 against Higgins and compiled a superior 35-22 record (.614) before moving on to Ball State in 2011. Citadel fans still recall Elon’s 27-23 win over the Bulldogs in 2008 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, when Elon officials and players had to separate Lembo and Phoenix player Brandon Ward during a sideline scuffle.
Lembo’s five-year tenure has proven to be a high point of Elon football, however. The Phoenix were 14-42 in the five years before his arrival, and are 10-21 since Jason Swepson took over in 2011.
Things aren’t likely to get easier in the CAA, either – five of Elon’s eight league opponents next year are in the FCS Top 25.
This season, the Bulldogs and Phoenix have found themselves in similar straits – good enough to stay close most of the time, not always good enough to win. The Citadel is 3-5 in games decided by seven points or less, and Elon has lost four games by 13 points or less.
Elon’s lone conference win is by 28-25 over Furman, a team that beat The Citadel by 24-17.
“This is a team that has been in most every game, somewhat like ourselves,” Higgins said. “They do a lot of things very well. Their offensive line protects the quarterback very well, and they might have the best group of receivers in the league.”
Elon quarterback Mike Quinn has attempted the most passes in the league (328), completing 64.3 percent for 2,055 yards and 14 touchdowns against four interceptions. But he has been sacked just six times, tied for second-fewest in the league. Getting pressure on the QB was key to The Citadel’s 28-26 win over Samford and QB Andy Summerlin last week.
Elon receivers Rasaun Rorie, Kierre Brown and Andre Davis all rank in the SoCon’s top 10. But Elon’s run game is averaging just 124.8 yards per game in SoCon play, worst in the league.
Elon has lost three straight, blowing a 24-7 lead in a 31-27 loss to Wofford and testing Chattanooga in a 20-9 defeat. But the Phoenix bottomed out in a 27-24 overtime loss to Western Carolina on Oct. 26, allowing the Catamounts to snap a 33-game losing streak against Division I teams.
“This is going to be a 60-minute game,” Swepson said of today’s fray. “Probably go into overtime.”
• Elon will be without junior cornerback Akeem Langham (concussion) and defensive end Jordan Jones against The Citadel.
• Citadel center Ryan Bednar, who banged up his shoulder against Samford, will be able to play against Elon, Higgins said.