Truth be told this game should not have come down to this last second field goal. Chattanooga special teams – specifically Ulmo were a liability Thursday night. His redeeming kick came after three missed field goal attempts and a missed extra point that would have left that last field goal a moot point.
Defense picked up their game in the second half keeping ETSU at bay, only allowing one score – the direct result of a special teams blunder. The Mocs started off strong holding ETSU to a three-and-out on the opening possession and then driving 63 yards in 4:39 with Ailym Ford taking the ball in from six yards out to give Chattanooga an early 7-0 lead. Ford had another great day running the ball as he gained 200 yards on 31 carried and two touchdowns.
Leading 7-0 to start the second quarter the Chattanooga defense pinned ETSU deep in their territory forcing them to punt out of their end zone. Chattanooga’s Brandon Dowdell fielded the punt on ETSU’s 43 but fumbled. After a mad scramble the ball was recovered by ETSU on the Mocs’ 41. Three plays later Trey Mitchell hit Will Huzzle from 32 yards out to even the score at 7-7. For the rest of the half the Mocs played as if they had not recovered from the special teams blunder.
The Mocs went three and out and that was followed by a long drive by the Buccaneers highlighted by Quay Holmes’ 63-yard run. The Bucs drove down to the Chattanooga 12 before the defense stiffened up and ETSU settled for a 29-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead.
The Mocs looked to recover as they drove down deep into ETSU territory. Mixing passes fro Nick Tiano and Ford runs Chattanooga drove to the Bucs’ 24 where the drive stalled. Ulmo came out and missed his first kick of 41 yards.
Capitalizing on the missed kick ETSU drove the ball again with two consecutive completions from Mitchell to Huzzle. Mitchell saw a lot of pressure from the Mocs front line and on a quarterback sneak on third and one barely made the first down but the Mocs were flagged for a personal foul on Aaron King. The drive stalled on the Chattanooga 26 with the Bucs settling for a 43-yard field goal and a 13-7 lead with only a few seconds to go in the half.
The second half was indeed a lot different from the first as the Mocs’ defense shut down ETSU. The offense moved the ball at will at times but you wouldn’t know it looking at the scoreboard because of penalties and special teams.
Taking the opening kickoff Tiano completed his first three passes and ran for 18 on another play as Chattanooga drove to ETSU’s 9. Facing a third and goal at the Bucs’ 14 Ford went over right guard to tie the score at 13-13. The extra point gives UTC the lead, right? Wrong. Ulmo missed the extra point to keep the score tied.
After swapping three-and-outs ETSU sustained a long drive to the Chattanooga 12. With fourth and two from the 12 the Buccaneers went for it and Mitchell’s pass to Jacob Saylors resulted in a three-yard loss and the Mocs took over on their own 15.
Two big plays for Chattanooga got called back on this drive that ended as you might expect the way things were going for the Mocs. Tiano lifted a pass down the left sideline that Bryce Nunnelly out jumped the defender for, spun around and ran into the end zone for the score. Penalty, as the Mocs were flagged for holding to negate the score. On the following play Ford broke loose for 43 yards but another penalty brought the ball back to the ETSU 31. With the drive stalled on the 25 Ulmo missed the field goal leaving the score tied with 11:59 to play.
After holding the Bucs in check the Mocs took over on their own 16 and mounted another drive with runs by Ford and Jonathan Stovall along with a nice 23-yard completion from Tiano to Reginald Henderson as the Mocs drove down to the Bucs’ 18. Ulmo lined up for the 35 yard try and missed again with 2:31 to play and all things pointing to overtime.
Using all their timeouts the Mocs held ETSU to a three-and-out forcing them to punt with 2:09 to play.
After a Tiano completion over the middle for seven, Ford broke another run, this one for 23 yards to the ETSU 31.
Ford then went over right guard for 11 more yards. After a short pass by Tiano and a short run by Stovall the Mocs were at the Bucs’ 14. Ulmo once again entered the game with 14 second remaining. This time he nailed to 30-yarder as he was swamped by his teammates as he redeemed himself with the kick as Chattanooga held on for the 16-13 win.
Penalties and special teams made what should have been a blowout win for Chattanooga a nail-biter. One touchdown was called back because of a penalty as well as a Ford run being cut short by another, along with Ulmo’s misses – not only field goals but one extra point. Add to that two kickoffs that were kicked out of bounds that gave ETSU nice field possession. Tiano looked good under center yet only threw for 184 yards. The touchdown pass to Nunnelly was negated and that would have put him well over 200 for the game. I realize these are only stats and the final score more important, it just shows how dominant the Mocs actually were and if they would have lost it would have been a travesty.
With the win the Mocs improve to 4-3 and most importantly 3-0 in the Southern Conference where they sit atop the division. It might be a little soon to jump on the Rusty Wright bandwagon but it’s ever so close. The Mocs have now won three in a row with their three losses coming to two ranked teams and a FBS school (Tennessee). I wonder how Tom Arth, who left Chattanooga after last year is doing this season? Last time I checked (which was just a second ago) they are winless. I know this is getting off track but I didn’t buy into the Arth hype when he was hired to replace Russ Huesman after he resigned (something I’m still not happy about). If only the word would get out how well the Mocs are doing this year and maybe get more people in the seats. If the Mocs win next Saturday against Wofford, second in the conference hopefully more people will come out November 2 for the Furman game. Furman is ranked 8th in the FBS polls and a win against them would give Chattanooga some attention by pollsters.
– Dave Weinthal