Not only has UNCP’s junior running back racked up a team-best 352 yards on just 47 attempts this season, Powell’s doing so with breakneck speed. Three of five touchdowns runs have been on bursts of 60 yards or more.
Most recently, Powell broke loose for a school record-breaking 97-yard scoring run to anchor the Braves’ fourth straight victory, a 27-20 win over Catawba last Saturday. His prior rushes that left defenses in the dust were a 69-yard scamper against Fayetteville State and a 63-yard gallop at Virginia Lynchburg.
“The keys for me are doing my job and doing what the coaches are asking of me and follow the gameplan,” Powell said.
The blueprint for Powell in the Braves’ win over Catawba was to shoulder the bulk of the ball-carrying load, which until then had been split between Powell and Damonte Terry. Terry, UNCP’s leading rusher through four games, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Week 4 win at Lynchburg. Terry produced 317 yards and six touchdowns.
“Damonte went down, that meant more reps for Elliott,” UNCP head coach Pete Shinnick said. “He stepped up and really handled it extremely well. I’m proud of him and excited for him because he’s playing so well.”
Added Powell: “With Damonte going down I just had to do my job. Just working hard and the big plays would come — and luckily they’re coming in the last couple games, and hopefully they keep coming every game.”
Powell’s 97-yard sprint to the paydirt last week was the biggest of the big plays in more than one way.
On top of setting a school record, the touchdown rush put wind back in the sails of the Braves who had given up a field goal before halftime and had just fumbled the second-half kickoff on their own 4-yard-line.
“We just wanted to sustain a long drive and hopefully get some points out of it,” Powell said. “Coaches called one of our bread-and-butter plays and the offensive line blocked real good. I read the hole, made the defenders miss … It shifted the momentum quick for us and we had control the rest of the game.”
Powell and the Braves hope to keep the pace Saturday when the Braves (4-1) travel to Tusculum (2-3) for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff in Greeneville, Tenn. The Pioneers are coming off a 49-39 shootout win over Brevard, led by wide receiver and kick returner Xzanvion Smith who had 311 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.
Last year, the Braves outgunned the Pioneers in the two school’s first outing with a 58-38 win in Pembroke. With UNCP averaging 32.2 points an outing this season and Tusculum putting up 30 a game, the stage is set for another high-flying affair.
“They’ve got the potential to do a lot on offense and I think their defense is better than it was a year ago,” Shinnick said. Moreover, Tusculum has its All-American quarterback Bo Cordell back under center this season after he missed nearly all of the 2011-12 campaign with a broken foot. Two season ago as a sophomore, Cordell led all football divisions in offensive yards, passing yards and completions.
Since coming back, Cordell hasn’t missed a beat. He sits with 1,791 yards and 14 touchdowns on 157-of-249 (63.1 percent) passing, with 38 catches and a whopping 695 yards going to the do-it-all playmaker Smith.
“The thing with them and their offense is, if you shut him (Smith) down, Bo’s going to find somebody else,” Shinnick said. “You got to cover the field well because if you don’t, they find the seams.”
Things aren’t as stable under center for the Braves, but it hasn’t hindered their hot start.
Second-year starter Luke Charles sat out last week with a hip pointer and back spasms. Shinnick said Charles, who has been practicing some this week, is day-to-day and will be the starter on Saturday if he’s healthy enough. Filling in for Charles in the win over Catawba was junior Jonathan Efrid who finished a solid 17-of-23 for 130 yards.
“I think the way John played everybody is confident that he can make it work,” Shinnick said.
Much like Powell taking the reigns for the injured Terry.
“Through out this entire year, if a guy goes down, somebody steps up,” Shinnick said. “This team finds a way to play well no matter who’s in. We have a family atmosphere. They believe in each other and support each other and show it in how they play.”