Quarterback has thrown 59 TDs
SALEM, Va. -- Brett Elliott wanted to play football so much, he left Utah for Division III Linfield and a chance to spend his senior season on the field.
Elliott made his decision after being replaced as the starting quarterback at Utah by Alex Smith, and things couldn't have worked out better.
Already with an NCAA record 59 touchdown passes, Elliott will attempt to complete a perfect season by leading the Wildcats (12-0) to the Division III national championship. Linfield, of McMinnville, Ore., will play Mary Hardin-Baylor in the 32nd Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Saturday.
"This is probably the most fun I've ever had playing football," said Elliott, whose 59 TD passes beat the previous record set by Willie Totten of Mississippi Valley State in 1984.
Elliott started the final six games for Utah as a sophomore in 2002, then started the first two games the following season. In that second game, he broke his left wrist diving for the goal line and Smith took over. Elliott never got the job back as Smith capped a 10-2 season with a victory in the Liberty Bowl.
Elliott started looking elsewhere.
"I felt frustrated that I got hurt and the situation arose from it, but I didn't feel slighted," he was quoted as telling The Roanoke Times this week. "I just wanted to play again."
At Linfield, about 45 minutes from Elliott's hometown of Lake Oswego, Ore., he's managed to do just that. He has completed 270 of 403 passes for 4,313 yards and 59 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
This is the first appearance by both teams in the championship game.
The Wildcats advanced to the title game with a 52-0 victory over Rowan, lead Division III in passing offense with an average of almost 384 yards. The Crusaders (13-1), 38-35 winners against perennial power Mount Union, rank third in rushing in Division III, averaging 355 yards.
Two Crusaders have run for more than 1,000 yards -- Justin Bryson with 1,843 and Freddie Rollins with 1,028 -- and a third has gained 787.
"It's a blast because you know you're going to get the ball a lot," Bryson said. "It's fun. It's better than being in a passing offense."
With nearly 59 rushing attempts per game, there's plenty to go around, and with three offensive linemen weighing at least 275 pounds, there's almost sure to be holes to burst through, Bryson said.
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Bryson has run for 15 touchdowns behind his huge line, and the 235-pound Rollins has run for 12.
The Crusaders arrived in Virginia full of confidence after handing Mount Union its first home loss in five years. The loss was also just the third for the Purple Raiders in 124 games.
"Everybody doubted us but ourselves," Bryson said.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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