FOOTBALL: Toppers overcome first game obstacles, rout Union 51-3

Michael Casagrande

Western football coach David Elson wasted little time getting freshman quarterback Justin Haddix acquainted with the college game.

On the Topper’s first offensive play from scrimmage, Haddix threw the ball deep to a wide open Shannon Hayes.

The ball was in Hayes’ hands near the goal line when the scripted play took an unforeseen turn.

Hayes dropped the pass. Haddix’s first crowning moment as a Hilltopper had to wait.

“It was one of those first game, first play things, just trying to get the jitters out,” Hayes said.

The Toppers overcame a sluggish start to their season opener tonight to beat Union 51-3 before 9,325 fans at Smith Stadium.

The win was the fifth-ranked Topper’s 11th in a row and the first for Elson as the head coach.

The blow out victory was positive for Elson, but the former defensive coordinator is always looking to improve.

“The first game, I think we were pressing a little bit at times,” Elson said. “Our guys were trying to play too hard, but it will make for a great teaching tool.”

Senior running back Chris Miller stole the spotlight from Haddix in the first quarter, gaining 83 yards on eight rushes. Miller finished the game as the top rusher, racking up 160 yards on 16 carries.

Redemption came for Hayes in the third quarter when Haddix connected with the senior for a 29-yard touchdown reception.

Elson was excited about the crowd that turned out for the opener. He was excited after turning around and seeing the lower bowl almost completely full.

“I thought the crowd was awesome,” he said. “I just felt more energy from the crowd early on and I know we didn’t help it at the time with our play, but I felt the crowd wanting to be in the game.”

The victorious Haddix was happy to get the win, but was critical of the team’s performance on the field. As for his play, Haddix gave himself a “C.”

“We won, but we didn’t really play to our potential,” Haddix said. “I played all right, but not up to my ability.”

Haddix finished the game with eight completions on 16 attempts for 181 yards and one interception. The rookie threw for one touchdown and ran for another.

The defense put together another solid performance against the Bulldogs, allowing only 172 total yards. Elson praised the crew that he led last season as defensive coordinator.

“They came out there fast and they looked like the ‘red wave’ that we are used to seeing,” Elson said. “We slipped up here and there but like I said, Union, my hat is off to them, they did a good job and they called some things we were doing.”

Seniors Erik Dandy and Charles Thompson led Western (1-0) with seven tackles each and Thompson added a sack.

The only Union (0-1) highlight came with 24 seconds remaining in the first half when Brandon Cunningham connected on a 47-yard field goal making the half time score 31-3.

With one game in the books, Elson is ready to prepare for the rest of the season. Players and coaches will look over film on Friday before having Saturday and Sunday off.

But the Toppers will have no vacation come Monday.

“Labor Day, we will labor,” Elson said.

NOTES: Senior free safety Antonio Veals was not in uniform for the game because Elson said Veals broke an undisclosed team rule. Veals, one of four team captains and a starter, was replaced by Antonio Thomas. Elson said it was a one-game suspension and Veals will return to the team Friday.

Danny Schoenbaechler contributed to this story.

Reach Michael Casagrande and Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected].