Mocs Fold Against Mercer

Photo by Stephanie Swart

By Parris Clarke, Assistant Sports Editor-

UTC’s undefeated record, and unexpectedly season as a whole, has come to an end. Saturday, the Mocs lost to the Mercer Bears by a score of 35-28, in a game where the most interesting subplots didn’t reside in the final score. 

For the Mocs, the loss answered more philosophical questions than it did evaluate where they stand as a football team. Head coach Rusty Wright made the call to bench his starters on Saturday, opting for a more developmental approach — essentially putting an end to UTC’s competitive aspirations this spring. 

When nine freshmen trotted out on the field during the Mocs’ first offensive possession no one should have been surprised. Wright has been consistent, repeatedly echoing that his main concern is the upcoming fall season and that the spring will be used to get less experienced players more reps. However, after starting 3-0 and being ranked No. 9 in the FCS the question of whether Wright would change course and go for the gold loomed.

The hot start wasn’t enough to tempt a stoic Wright who stuck to his guns, playing his players that were more green.

On paper, the loss looks more lopsided than it actually was. Even with inexperience across the field, UTC held its own, proving that Wright’s decision to fold has merit. The Mocs kept pace with Mercer all game. In the first half, they earned more yards than Mercer, 158-95, but just couldn’t seem to finish drives as they found themselves trailing 14-7. 

It took a slow, methodical drive by Mercer, and a touchdown with 1:34 left (and two lightning delays) to finally put the Mocs away. If not for two muffed punts by the Mocs inside their own 20-yard line during the first half, resulting in two Mercer touchdowns, UTC probably would have won.

Probably. 

Despite the lack of experience, the Mocs put up a fight and discovered they have players in their ranks that they can now trust to perform.

“Seventeen guys starting for the first time that ain’t never started in a college football game before. That’s what I take away from it. Guys we can be able to count on – some time or another,” Wright said.

Offensively, freshman running back Lance Jackson came into the game having never recorded a carry. He finished the game with 19 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns. On the defensive side of things, freshmen linebacker Justin Sanders had a career-best 11 tackles.

From a developmental standpoint, the Mocs may have struck oil. But the question still persists: Was this the correct decision in the short term? 

Wright will have to answer that question by proving that he has a talented football team ready to win in the fall. Choosing to punt on a season brimming with potential brings risk. Come the fall, UTC might be the freshest, deepest team in the Southern Conference. Or, they might be a team full of players lamenting a missed opportunity.

On Monday, UTC football announced that they have opted-out of the last three games of the spring season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *