ELON, N.C. — The Chattanooga Mocs escaped with a win Saturday, but just like the weather gray clouds and wet weather hovering above Elon’s Rhodes Stadium, it wasn’t the prettiest of victories.
“A win is a win,” UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman said of the team’s 20-9 road triumph. “It doesn’t have to be real pretty. Our goal when we came here was to leave 5-2, and that was what we accomplished. It was kind of a grind ‘em out, ground-and-pound kind of game; real physical. If that’s what it takes to get the job done then that’s what we’ll do.”
Running back Keon Williams churned out his third straight 100-yard rushing performance for UTC (5-2, 3-1 Southern Conference), defensive end Davis Tull notched his record-breaking 24th career sack and the Mocs’ defense kept its opponent out of the end zone for the second straight week.
“It was a big win,” UTC head coach Russ Huesman added. “Elon played really, really hard, especially defensively. I don’t think we moved the ball real well today, but we made some key plays when we had to. That’s important.”
One of those key plays, and arguably the biggest of the contest, came in the game’s opening quarter.
Trailing 3-0 midway through the first, Chattanooga faced a fourth-and-1 situation at its own 34-yard line. The Mocs elected not to punt — a fairly risky call — instead opting for a direct snap to fullback Taharin Tyson.
“That’s scary stuff now,” Huesman said of the fake punt. “That takes years off my life every time I call something like that. If it works then everybody is patting you on the back, and if it doesn’t you’re the dumbest person in the world.”
Fortunately for the fifth-year head coach, it worked.
Not only did Tyson’s 24-yard run keep the drive alive, though. It also provided a huge boost for a UTC offense that was way out of sync at the time.
“I felt I was the one that was going to have to provide a spark on that play,” Tyson said. “We had some rough spots in the game, but sometimes you just need a spark.”
That’s exactly what the 5-foot-11, 240-pound junior gave them, too.
“It got me going,” Jacob Huesman said. “I had no idea it was coming. I was just like ‘shoot, another three-and-out.' I turn around, about ready to sit down on the bench and think about what we can scheme the next time. All the sudden I see Taharin running down field.
“It gave us kind of a vote of confidence.”
Five plays later, Williams, who racked up 118 yards and a pair of rushing scores on a career-high 24 carries, barreled into the end zone from four yards out, spotting UTC a 7-3 advantage with 14:55 to play in the second quarter.
Elon kicker John Gallagher connected on his second field goal of the afternoon just minutes later, but Chattanooga’s 12-play, 65-yard scoring drive — capped by another short touchdown run by Williams — put the Mocs ahead 14-6 with 3:59 left in the half.
Thanks to another dynamite performance from the defense, that’s all the points they’d need.
The Phoenix (2-6, 1-3), which finished with 15 first downs and 293 yards of total offense, had ample scoring opportunities, but Chattanooga’s defense held Elon to field goals on each of its three chances inside the red zone.
“We know when we get down there in the red zone we’ve got to dig in; get down and get tough,” said senior linebacker Wes Dothard, who finished with a team-high 13 tackles. “That’s every defense, though. Every team prides themselves on stopping teams in the red zone.”
“I think that’s been an area we’ve needed to improve the last couple of years,” added Tull. “We put an emphasis on it. No touchdowns last week and this week no touchdowns. The ultimate goal is no points, but no touchdowns certainly helps.”
Tull, coming off a career-high 3.5-sack performance against Elon, didn’t experience the same level of success Saturday, but the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder’s determination payed off in the form of a fourth-quarter sack for the record books.
“He got held almost every time,” Russ Huesman said. “Davis doesn’t complain, but our coaches complain and they see it more than I see it. He’s such a good player and we’ve got to continue to find ways to not let people take him out of the game.”
• Nick Pollard connected on a pair of field goals Saturday — a 32-yarder followed by a make from 19 yards out — to increase his season total to three. The junior from Nashville also had a pretty good day punting the football, averaging 40.2 yards on his four attempts, including a crucial 48-yarder in the game’s closing minutes.
• Junior Toyvian Brand left the game late in the third quarter with what Russ Huesman presumed was a stinger. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end suffered a similar injury in last week’s 31-9 win over Furman
• The Mocs offense eclipsed the 200-yard mark on the ground for the sixth straight game Saturday, piling up 223 yards on 51 carries. Jacob Huesman accounted for 168 yards of total offense. He completed 14-of-17 pass opportunities, finishing with 99 yards through the air.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.