Gardner-Webb storms back with big second half to down No. 24 Elon

Gardner-Webb storms back with big second half to down No. 24 Elon
Devron Harper with a punt return for a TD as Gardner-Webb upsets #24 Elon (Source: Jeff Sochko/

Press release provided by Gardner-Webb Athletics

BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb stormed back from a 17-0 deficit to beat No. 24 Elon, 42-20, and win head coach Tre Lamb’s collegiate debut on Saturday afternoon in Spangler Stadium.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs (1-0) technically played in front of a sellout crowd of 2,700 – with capacity in Spangler Stadium limited to 30 percent in its spring opener. The home crowd enjoyed a spirited rally by the home team, which outscored the Phoenix (1-1) 35-0 after halftime and pulled away.

“This was a program building win,” Lamb said “I think we were too hyped up to start the game. I had to calm them down a little bit. They are a good team and jumped on us in the first quarter, but our defense kept us in the game . In the second half, we stayed together and I think, once we cut it to one score, the momentum just kept building in our favor.”

Quarterback Carlton Aiken showed poise and toughness, overcoming three first-half interceptions – two on tipped balls – to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 23-yard run with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

Devron Harper then followed with another electric play, taking a short punt back 41 yards for a touchdown – his second special teams score in two seasons. Narii Gaither then closed the door with touchdown runs of two and 18 yards in the fourth quarter – as Gardner-Webb went to the ground to put the game away.

Gaither carried 19 times for 111 yards and two scores in his first career start and got Gardner-Webb’s offense in gear with some tough running late in the first half. Aiken ran for 59 yards on 11 carries – also scoring twice on the ground. The transfer from Pace (N.Y.) University completed 21-of-30 passes for 167 yards as well.

Izaiah Gathings picked up where he left off in 2019, catching 10 passes for 126 yards – his fifth game in a row with double figures catches and at least 100 yards through the air.

Gardner-Webb finished the day with 369 yards of total offense – despite the slow start – and pounded out 202 yards rushing on 41 carries. The Runnin’ Bulldogs were 8-of-14 on third down and scored four touchdowns in four red zone trips.

Gardner-Webb was also penalized just once for five yards.

As impressive as the ‘Dogs were on offense – coordinator Josh Reardon’s defense kept the home team in the game early – and pushed the Phoenix around in the second half for the win.

Gardner-Webb allowed just 99 yards on the ground on 34 attempts, sacked two different Elon quarterbacks four times and forced a pair of turnovers – in addition to pitching a second-half shutout. The GWU defense also had 10 tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries.

Most impressive was highly-touted freshman end Ty French, who stormed his way to 12 total tackles (five solo), 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries. Janathian Turner added seven hits, Dameon Williams and freshman William McRainey each had six stops and Shai Thomas had five hits, a half sack and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Honus Wagner and Kendall Bailey were also in on sacks Saturday afternoon. With Elon driving late and less than a minute to play, Cam McCutcheon picked off a pass in the end zone to preserve the second-half shutout. Ga’Marcus Freeman had a fumble recovery for the Runnin’ Bulldogs from his end spot.

Harper, a preseason All-Big South selection this past fall at four different positions, finished Saturday with 138 all-purpose yards – 124 coming in the kick return game. He also caught six passes for 14 yards.

Elon came out hot early, driving 67 yards on 10 plays to go up 7-0 on its second possession. A 25-yard field goal from Skyler Davis capped a scoring drive after Gardner-Webb’s first interception and Bryson Daughtry scored from 12 yards out after the second pick for a 17-0 lead.

Aiken willed the Runnin’ Bulldogs back into contention, scrambling and bulling his way in from one yard away to cap a 57-yard scoring drive that cut the Elon lead to 17-7 and gave Gardner-Webb life.

Davis connected on another field goal with 16 seconds to play before halftime for a 20-7 lead at the break.

Quarterback Joey Baughman led the Phoenix ground game with 47 yards on 10 carries, but was sacked once. He completed 13-of-21 passes for 130 yards before leaving the game with an injury. True freshman J.R. Martin came on, but was sacked for a 10-yard loss on his first drop back and went down twice more in the fourth quarter.

Tight end Donovan Williams hauled in six passes for 65 yards to lead the receiving corps.

Omar Rogers led the Elon defense with 10 tackles. Torrence Williams and McAllister Ingram teamed up on a sack and the Phoenix managed eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Rogers added a 56-yard interception return. Jalen Green and Dylan Tucker had the other two interceptions.

Gardner-Webb will be back in action next Saturday at home vs. Presbyterian in another non-conference game. Kickoff is set for 1:00 pm in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium.

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