It was only a matter of time.
Undefeated Carson-Newman rolled into town and buried Elon under a ton of points as the NAIA's top-ranked powerhouse virtualy scored at will when it needed to in crushing the Fightin' Christians 47-24 at Cummings High School.It was the third straight win for the SAC-8 favorites, who showed off a multitude of offensive weapons that ended in an afternoon of frustration for the relatively inexperienced Elon defensive unit.
But the Christians battled back from a 34-3 deficit midway of the third quarter, and this left Elon coach Leon Hart feeling somethat better even though he knew he'd lost to a far superior team Saturday.
Quarterbacks Pat Rinard and Tony Cayson, operating behind a massive offensive front line, directed the Eagles to 552 yards rushing and passing. Elon had 399 but was never in the game after an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
``It was fun to see our regular group perform so well for 2 1/2 quarters,' said C-N coach Ken Sparks. ``Most gratifying, but we're not there yet.'
About the only area that didn't please him was four lost fumbles.
``When you don't have to punt the ball, you know some guys in the line are opening some holes,' said Sparks, who relished his first win ever over Elon in Burlington. It's the first win for the Eagles here since 1970.
After Clayton Holms had fumbled the opening kickoff, which was recovered by Terrill Thomas for Elon at the Eagles' 17, Troy Ford kicked a 27-yard field goal to put the Christians ahead 3-0 with less than three minutes having elasped.
``I think the way our defense dug in and forced them to kick was the catalyst that woke us up,' said Sparks. ``It was the first time we'd been behind all season but it really didn't bother me because we stopped them short of a touchdown.'
Carson-Newman also fumbled on its next possession, losing the ball at its 38. Again the defense held, and the Eagles' offense moved into high gear with Rinard at quarterback. He directed an 82-yard, 14-play scoring drive that deceptive running back Robert Hardy climaxed with a nifty six-yard run through the middle of Elon's defense. C-N led 7-3 with 3:21 left in the quarter.
Elon barely slowed the Eagles afterwards. Wide receiver Darren Hughes, an All-America quarterback in high school, crossed up Elon by taking the ball on a fake reverse and passing 49 yards to a wide-open Damon Wright for the Eagles' second TD with 14 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Soon it was 20-3 after Elon had bogged down at C-N's eight, then missed a field goal attempt. Rinard set up the TD with a 68-yard pass to Hughes, who slipped behind the defense. Hardy scored the TD over tackle.
Robert Thomas ripped off a 62-yard TD run up the middle for 27-3 at halftime, and the avalanche of touchdowns continued in the third quarter when Holms redeemed himself for his opening fumble with a 79-yard return of an interception for a score. The Eagles led 34-3 and most of their regulars retired for the day.
It was then that Elon quarterback Heath Hewett, who had generated some yardage but no TDs, cranked up the Christians' short passing game that resulted in 329 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the scoring strikes went to split end Robbie Burnette, the other to Kelly Holder.
Hewett completed 27 of 44 and had two intercepted.
``He was outstanding,' said Hart, ``and it's the best game yet for our receivers. During the week, Hewett couldn't take a snap from the shotgun because of a sore thumb and we didn't know how he would perform today.'
Hart had nothing but praise for the Eagles.
``They can hurt you in so many ways. They spread you out with passes, something they did not do well last season, and that opens up gaps for them to run.
``But I also like the way we kept plugging away when everyone could have quit.'