Chattanooga has witnessed its fair share of fourth-quarter losses; agonizing, soul-crushing setbacks that, to some, have defined head coach Russ Huesman’s tenure at UTC.
The Mocs almost always make a game out of it, and when they do, they always seem to come up a bit short. That looked to be the case on Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium, too, until late in the final quarter.
Facing what felt like a never-ending deficit, Chattanooga’s defense delivered a critical third-down stop, forcing a Citadel punt before taking over at its own 21-yard line.
The 3:47 that followed was a sign of a middle-of-the-road football program possibly turning the corner. The Mocs not only drove down field, scoring a touchdown to take their first lead, but their defense forced a three-and-out on the Bulldogs‘ final series — one of just three on the afternoon — and quarterback Jacob Huesman was able to take a couple of knees to run out the remaining clock, sealing the team’s 28-24 victory.
“It says something about our football team,” said Huesman, who scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:02 remaining. “We got down early. Could have shut it down in the second half, and we say no we’re going to come together and make the most of what we’ve got here and we did.”
“I think this is what we needed,” added defensive end Keionta Davis, who recorded back-to-back sacks on the defense’s game-sealing stand. “We’ve fallen short a lot in the fourth quarter or just given the game away like at Georgia Southern. I think at that point we just denied falling short; feeling like that again.”
Chattanooga (6-2, 4-1 SoCon), which was outgained 268-83 in the first half, played a forgettable first two quarters. The offense managed just six first downs compared to The Citadel’s 16, and the defense didn’t have an answer for the Bulldogs’ backfield — mainly quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller, along with fullback Darien Robinson.
The trio accounted for 178 first-half yards. Dupree found the end zone from 13 yards out with 9:14 remaining, spotting The Citadel a 7-0 advantage, while Miller hooked up with teammate Jake Stenson on a 41-yard touchdown pass to spot the Bulldogs a 17-7 halftime advantage.
“To come back like that in a game that we needed,” UTC head coach Russ Huesman said. “We played so poorly in the first half. But our defensive and offensive coaches adjusted and our players adjusted, reacted and played way better in the second half, obviously.”
Jacob Huesman, who began the game 4-of-13 passing for just 28 yards, led the way, too.
“I was screaming and yelling at Jacob in the first half and got after him pretty good,” Russ Huesman said. “[Offensive coordinator] Jeff Durden doesn’t coach him like that. I’m his dad and I’ve coached him like that since he was in little league. All [Jacob] kept saying was ‘I’ll get it right, I’ll get it right.’
“He came back and had a great second half. I’m awful proud of him, too. He’s a gutsy player and he’s a winner.”
The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder finished 13-for-23 through the air for 144 yards, including third-quarter touchdown passes to tight end Faysal Shafaat and true freshman wide receiver Xavier Borishade. He also showcased his running ability, racking up 95 yards and the game-winning score on 13 carries.
Others stepped up offensively, too, like junior Marquis Green. The 5-foot-7, 175-pound speedster filled in admirably for the team’s leading rusher, Keon Williams, who left the game with an ankle injury on the opening kickoff.
It wasn’t the running style that Chattanooga fans have grown accustomed to seeing — less lowering the shoulder and more heading for the sidelines — but Green did just enough out of the backfield for UTC.
“It hurts you mentally, but you’ve got to stay focused; you can’t lose your composure,” Green said of William’s early injury. “You just have to calm down and somebody has to step up. You have to step up and play no matter what, with or without Keon.
Green ran for 85 yards on 16 carries. Redshirt freshman receiver C.J. Board had a nice afternoon as well, hauling in a team-high five receptions for 59 yards, including a critical 28-yard catch of UTC’s game-winning drive.
• With the win, the Mocs are now tied for second in the SoCon with Wofford. The Terriers (5-3, 4-1), who were defeated by Samford on Saturday, visit Finley Stadium in two weeks.
• Chattanooga notched its 500th win in program history Saturday. UTC is now 500-505-35 in 106 seasons of college football.
• Bulldogs running back Dalton Trevino’s 61-yard, third-quarter touchdown run was the longest run against the Mocs this season.
• Senior cornerback Chaz Moore and junior wide receiver Tommy Hudson both left the game with concussion symptoms, while senior linebacker Gunner Miller played hurt for much of the second half.
• Russ Huesman didn’t know the extent of Keon Williams’ injury, but didn’t sound too optimistic about a quick return. Williams injured his ankle on the game’s opening kickoff, went to the locker room and returned with crutches and a walking boot. When asked about the backup running backs Marquis Green and Kendrix Huitt, Huesman noted, “we’re probably going to have to use those guys for a while now.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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