Catamounts break Elon to cap off 2013 Homecoming


That is the only word to describe Western Carolina’s wild 27-24 overtime victory over the Elon Phoenix on Homecoming Saturday at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.

Down 24-17 with just over three minutes to play, sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell and the offense stood a long 88 yards away from the field house end zone.  Catamount fans have seen games like this before.  It is a story written time and time again.

But for one chilly night in Cullowhee, Western Carolina had a different ending in mind.

Freshman tailback Garry Lewis stepped up in a big way as he hauled in five passes for 58 yards on the final drive – he also rushed for a career-high 73 yards on 16 carries on the day.  Backfield complement Darius Ramsey hauled in a pivotal 15-yard reception with less then 30 seconds remaining to give Western a first and goal at the Elon five-yard line.

A team that has been the epitome of letdowns was in position to snap a 26-game Southern Conference losing streak.  Troy Mitchell pulled a Houdini a number of times and extended the play for his receivers to get open.  This team was making plays.

On the next play after Ramsey’s catch, freshman wide receiver Willie Police dropped a touchdown pass that let the air right out of the stadium.  On the following play, Elon defensive back David Wood was called for a pass interference penalty on wide receiver Karnorris Benson to put the Catamounts at the one-yard line.

Here.  We.  Go.

Western Carolina's Karnorris Benson hauls in game tying touchdown reception with 9.6 seconds in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Photo by Mark Haskett, WCU Public Relations.

Mitchell fumbled the snap on the following play and pushed the Catamounts back to the six-yard line and Western had to use its final timeout with 12 seconds left.  After the time out, the absurdity continued as Mitchell found Benson for his second touchdown of the game and sent the stadium into a frenzy.

The fans were about to get free football, otherwise known as overtime.

In overtime, the Catamount defense, which held the opposition to only three second-half points, put out the Phoenix fire and forced them into a 44-yard field goal attempt.  It went wide right.

Cue Richard Sigmon.

The Catamount kicker nailed a 39-yard field goal on Western’s overtime possession that capped off the absurdity of Homecoming and sent the crowd rushing onto the field.  Western did end its losing streak and it was a game to remember.

“What a night,” head coach Mark Speir said in the post-game press conference.  “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.  I love this place and this university.”

Mitchell, who finished 18-of-31 for 192 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, couldn’t downplay such an emotional win.

Western Carolina defensive end Kelvin Ume (90) is overwhelmed by emotions after the Catamounts defeated Elon at home on Saturday. Photo by Ashley Evans, WCU Public Relations.

“It was the best feeling in the world.  I started crying when the kick went through the up rights.  Probably one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time.

“First thing I did was find Brian Johnson and hugged him. He wanted this win so much.  It meant a lot for our seniors.”

Benson continued his dominant season and finished the game with 129 yards on six catches for his fourth 100-yard game of the season and his career.  He now has 1,069 receiving yards in only his second season and is currently tied for fourth in the single-season record books for touchdowns in a season (9) with former Catamount Eddy Cohen, who had nine touchdowns in 2007.

Redshirt junior Eddy Sullivan completed 8-of-20 passes for 157 yards for the Catamounts, which included an 80-yard strike to Benson in the second quarter.

Western (2-7, 1-4 SoCon) also snapped its 33-game Division I losing streak dating back to the 2010 season.  It was their first overtime game since October 25, 2008 – a 38-31 loss to Georgia Southern in Cullowhee – and first overtime victory since September 25, 1998 over East Tennessee State.

The after-game sight was glorious, and for once, Catamount pride shown thick and through.  Bob Waters Field finally saw a victory over an opponent not named Mars Hill and was a true testament to the dedication of the players and coaches.

“You could feel it on the sidelines,” coach Speir said.  “I told [Troy Mitchell] in the huddle, before the game-tying touchdown, let’s not let this moment define us; lets define the moment. Let’s go break their will right now.”

And that they did.

Information from the Catamount Sports website was used in this report.  You can see highlights and the game-winning kick on the site here.

Check out more photos from the Homecoming game produced by Anna Sorrentino below.