The 11th-ranked Chattanooga Mocs kept their Southern Conference ledger perfect with a 20-18 win at No. 13 Furman Saturday afternoon. It was a resilient effort in a hard-fought matchup of highly-ranked teams.
The Mocs dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. A season-high 390 yards of total offense was buoyed by 172 on the ground. The defense held the Paladins to just 170 yards, which was more than 250 yards below their average and the fewest ever allowed by Chattanooga in the series.
Tyrell Price (20-111 TD) and Gino Appleberry (17-85 TD) combined for 196 yards and two scores behind a strong offensive line performance. That included a freshman injury sub at center when Reid Williams entered for senior starter Kyle Miskelley.
“They were great up front,” Price said. “My prayers go up for Kyle Miskelley and his injury situation. They came out and did their job consistently. The other team scouts trying to find our weak spots and plan, but our line still went out and played their tails off.
“I give them the credit for our production.”
The Mocs set the tone early with a methodical drive that ended with a 22-yard Skyler Wilson field goal. The defense immediately got the ball back with Jay Person getting to the quarterback forcing a popup throw resulting in a diving interception by Ty Boeck. Six plays later Price cashed in from a yard out for a quick 10-0 lead.
The Paladins scored 12 straight points early in the second half. Hamp Sisson connected with Jake Walker from the three after two Timmy Bleekrode field goals from 40 and 37 yards. Bleekrode’s point after was blocked by Devonnsha Maxwell which proved to be a pivotal point later in the contest.
Chattanooga responded with its final TD drive of the day coming in six plays aided by a huge third-down conversion. After Drayton Arnold’s screen pass to Price was called back for holding, Arnold went deep down the left sideline to Reginald Henderson for a 50-yard gain on third-and-16. Appleberry ran for 14, 14 and finally three yards for his first career score and 17-12 lead.
The game turned early in the fourth quarter. A low snap led to Wilson, punting for the first time in his career, picking up the bobbled ball with his knee ever so slightly on the turf. It gave the Paladins the ball on the Mocs 11 and took just one play, an 11-yard Sisson shovel pass to Kendall Thomas to make it 18-17. The Paladins went for two but were stopped well short of paydirt. The blocked PAT and missed conversion made it a 1-point deficit instead of three.
Wilson would be the hero, or at least one of many on the day. The Mocs drove into field goal range and he powered one through a swirling wind from 42 yards out for the winning points.
The Paladins twice tried to mount decisive drives only to be thwarted by big defensive plays. Jerrell Lawson intercepted one Sisson effort while Maxwell’s strip sack resulted in the Paladins final play of the game around midfield in the final minute with Ben Brewton collecting the loose ball.
“That’s a long time coming,” junior offensive tackle McClendon Curtis smiled with pride talking about the resilience built in this group. “All of us, the defensive leaders like Devonnsha Maxwell and offensive leaders like Drayton, TP, Harrison (Moon), Cole (Strange)…all of us take pride in what we do. Coach Wright brings together, and we have to go out and execute.
“That shows how long we’ve worked for this moment. Furman played us hard, but we came ready to play.”
The defensive effort cannot be stressed enough allowing just 49 rushing yards. The Paladins came into the contest averaging nearly 217 per game on the ground with 320, 126, 248 and 173 yards in first four.