A late interception ended the hopes of a fourth quarter comeback for the third-ranked Mocs as they fell at Mercer Saturday afternoon.
The 17-14 defeat drops UTC’s record to 7-2 on the year, and marks their first loss within the Southern Conference in almost two years. Saturday’s matchup also makes Chattanooga’s next game against The Citadel the most important of the year.
Too many turnovers
For the first time this season, the Mocs lost a game in which they outgained their opponent in total yards (417-335). But Mercer came out on top in a much more important stat: the turnover margin.
A season-high four turnovers were unquestionably the deciding outcome of the game. Two of which included a fumble by junior running back Derrick Craine, McDonough, Ga., and an interception by Jacob Huesman, Chattanooga, as the Mocs made a final push to steal the game.
“We have to take better care of the football. It doesn’t matter who you are who you are playing, but four turnovers will put you in a bad position,” Huesman said to gomocs.com. “We moved the ball pretty well when we were able to hold on to it, and you can see what we are able to do, but we turned the ball over in some bad spots and gave them the short field, as well as not being able to convert in the redzone one time. There were a bunch of plays that we could have executed that would have put us in a winning position.”
A 2-4 day from the red zone including a turnover-on-downs from Mercer’s one-yard line also added to UTC’s offensive aggravations for the day.
Lack of Pressure
Another first came on the defensive side of the ball, as the UTC defense failed to record a sack against a traditional offense for the first time this season.
The extra time allowed Mercer’s signal-caller John Russ time to make all the necessary plays to move the chains and keep their momentum going. The junior quarterback went on to tally 162 yards and a touchdown through the air while also running for 57 more yards.
Saturday also marked the third consecutive game in which junior defensive end Keionta Davis failed to record a sack. Davis lead the SoCon in that category going into the contest.
Mercer grabs first SoCon Win
Some can claim it to be inevitable, while some irrelevant, but there is no doubt the Bears were due for a conference win before the year’s end.
The scores of all four of Mercer’s conference losses have been within a touchdown, including three that were within a field goal. With that said, Mocs fans should not be as surprised by the upset as Mercer’s record would make it seem.
“Our guys knew they were good. They can watch the film and see that they are good. We understood that we were playing a good team, on the road, hostile environment. Our guys played hard. If they had come out and slopped around and not played hard, then that is different.”
Mocs were not alone
A stat to make all UTC supporters feel a little better is that four other top-ten teams in the FCS all fell on Saturday. Including then-number-two ranked Illinois State. The Mocs were also not the only team in the top-ten to lose to an unranked team as then-number-seven Richmond, and then-number-nine ranked Portland State and Sam Houston State also met similar fates as Chattanooga.
With the loss, the Mocs dropped to No. 9 in the new FCS polls released on Monday.
Huesman breaks another record
What is becoming a weekly occurrence happened again against Mercer as Jacob Huesman broke the school record for career rushing yards.
Surpassing Gwain Durden (1997-00), Huesman now has 3,686 rushing yards during his four-year career. He now holds school records for total offense, career passing yards and career rushing touchdowns,
All or nothing
Next Saturday’s game versus The Citadel could wind up making contenders or pretenders out of this year’s football team. With a win over the 7-2 Bulldogs, Chattanooga can claim their third-consecutive Southern Conference championship and an automatic bid into the FCS Playoffs at year’s end. However, a loss could take the Mocs from being ranked third in the nation, to watching the playoffs at home.
“We really have to put this game behind us and for me and the rest of the team,” Jacob Huesman said to gomocs.com. “I know we are going to prepare more than we ever have and give it our best shot next Saturday. This is a huge game next week as far as the conference goes and we can still make it happen. It’s all just going to take a great week of preparation and a great week of practice.”
Kickoff for Military Appreciation Day at Finley Stadium versus The Citadel is set for this Saturday at 2pm.
*Header photo by Chattanooga Athletics