BOONE, N.C. — All of the would-be excuses and explanations — ifs, ands, buts, could haves and should haves were in place. In years past, they’d have probably been used, too. They weren’t required Saturday at Appalachian State’s Kidd Brewer Stadium, though.
For the second week in a row, Chattanooga was caught playing catch up against a seemingly inferior opponent — those two-win teams sure can be deceiving, though, as UTC has learned firsthand in its last two outings.
The Mocs had every right to doubt themselves. For whatever reason — perhaps some carryover confidence from last week’s come-from-behind win over The Citadel — they simply didn’t.
“This is the best team win; we had so many people step up,” junior defensive end Davis Tull said. “Keionta [Davis] stepped up as a freshman, Nakevion Leslie, player of the game as a freshman. To have those guys step up, that’s exactly what we needed to happen. Everybody came together. It’s the most energy-filled, goal-oriented team win we’ve had in four years.”
Even when starting linebacker Gunner Miller went down with an injury late in the first half, and when his replacements Muhasibi Wakeel and A.J. Hampton left with ailments of their own. By the end of it, former safety and former walk-on C.J. Murrell was playing linebacker along Leslie and veteran fifth-year senior Wes Dothard.
“Still never doubted them,” quarterback Jacob Huesman said of his team’s depleted defense. “Anybody that got put in the game, no matter who came off, who went in, I never doubted them for a second.”
That resiliency is becoming a trend for the 2013 Mocs (7-2, 5-1 SoCon), who’ve dealt with a series a critical injuries this season, especially to their defense, and still somehow find themselves atop the Southern Conference standings nine games into the season.
“The best win I’ve ever been involved in in my life,” UTC head coach Russ Huesman said of his team’s 35-28 victory. “Our guys have some guts about them. They’re special, and half of them they do it without coaching. They’re winners and they know how to win.”
Chattanooga faced a one-touchdown deficit for much of the first three quarters before rallying in the fourth, outscoring the hosting Mountaineers 21-7 in the final 15 minutes. Junior quarterback Jacob Huesman fired fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Terrell Robinson and Xavier Borishade, but it was the Mocs’ short-handed D that really came through in the crucial moments.
It was a pair of redshirt freshmen that really flipped the script, too.
With things knotted up at 28-28 late in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers (2-7, 2-4), who’d already picked up a first down on the drive, faced a third-an-9 situation at their own 21-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Kameron Bryant, who finished with 257 yards through the air, dropped back to throw, and UTC defensive end Keionta Davis provided plenty of pressure on the play.
In fact, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Red Bank HS product, hit Bryant as he released the football, and linebacker Nakevion Leslie scooted under the wobbly throw and picked it off before returning it 28 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:52 to play.
“I’m thinking I have the sack,” Davis said of the game-changing play. “Then I hear the crowd go wild so I think he must have gotten it off and they caught it. Next thing I know, I get up, I see Nakevion running and watch him run into the end zone.”
And while the Mountaineers drove right down the field on the ensuing possession, their 10-play, 77-yard drive stalled deep inside their opponent’s territory, and UTC’s injury-riddled D held firm, forcing an overthrow through the back on the end zone on Bryant’s potential game-tying toss on fourth down.
From there, quarterback Jacob Huesman was allowed to take a couple of kneel downs to secure the win.
He finished with 259 yards of total offense while accounting for three of the team’s four offensive scores. True freshman Derrick Craine was responsible for the other — a 1-yard, third-quarter score that knotted things up at 14-14.
Led by Jacob Huesman’s team-high 132 yards rushing, the Mocs’ ground game, without the services of standout running back Keon Williams for the second straight week, racked up 228 yards Saturday. Sophomore Kendrix Huitt (10 carries, 36 yards) and Craine (eight carries, 29 yards, TD) carried the load, but the duo averaged less than four yards per carry in the contest.
Meanwhile, Appalachian State’s Marcus Cox was busy running for a career-high 166 yards and three touchdowns. The three-time SoCon Freshman of the Week, scored on runs of 4, 1 and 1 yards, and caught a couple of short passes.
Cornerback Kadeem Wise both posted double-digit tackle totals, recording 14 and 10, respectively, while Tull recorded a sack and two TFLs. Defensive tackles Josh Freeman and Danny Ring also contributed sacks in the win.
With UTC’s win on Saturday, which included a successful fake field goal — a 7-yard, first-quarter touchdown run from Jacob Huesman — as well as a successful fake punt — a 17-yard run by punter Nick Pollard — Chattanooga, in the midst of its first-ever five-game SoCon win streak, moved into sole possession of first place in the conference standings along No. 15 Samford’s 28-26 loss at The Citadel on Saturday.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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