BIRMINGHAM, Ala.---The 10th-ranked Chattanooga Mocs used a team effort to capture a 31-21 road win at Samford in both team’s Southern Conference opener. A defense that struggled giving up big plays in its first two games, made the big plays today.
“That’s defense right there,” coach Russ Huesman said. “Our guys got after it, they played hard. We didn’t blitz one time for our defensive line. Great job by our defensive line.
“Incredible and I thought we also played good coverage.”
The Mocs scored 24 unanswered points to build a 31-14 advantage on Alejandro Bennifield’s 18-yard run to start the fourth quarter. While the offense controlled the ball, the defense was in shutdown mode.
Samford scored on its opening possession with a 63-yard strike to Emmanuel Obajimi from Michael Eubank. The defense stymied their hosts through two-plus quarters as the high-powered Bulldogs offense managed just 94 yards on 33 plays after the initial scoring drive.
“Our guys up front made life so much easier for us,” junior linebacker Nakevion Leslie stated. “Even when they did get a chance to throw the ball, our DBs were out there making plays and doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Samford answered Bennifield’s score with an eight-play, 80-yard drive, culminating with a 37-yard Kelvin McKnight run around the left end. That ended scoring as the Mocs focused on running out the clock.
While the offense ate up clock time, the defense made the play of the game. Down 31-21, Samford faced a third-and-long at the UTC 22 with just over five minutes to play.
Senior Toyvian Brand came strong around right end and hit Eubank as he threw. The ball fluttered in the air and was snatched by junior defensive end Vantrel McMillian for the pivotal turnover.
“On that play, I was real tired (before the snap),” Brand smiled. “I just had to put in an effort. When I saw him drop back, I just swiped at it. I saw Vantrel get it, and I was too hype. I love that stuff.”
Keionta Davis added, ““It was definitely a big play. They were driving on us, and he got in there and made the play. I feel like everybody on our d-line can come in there and make plays like that.”
The offense posted 452 total yards with an impressive 271 on the ground led by Jacob Huesman’s 150 (23 carries). Huesman became the third player in Southern Conference history to record 4,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in a career during the contest.
Richardre Bagley (47) and Bennifield (40) supported the effort as the rushing attack ground clock time. The Mocs had an impressive 36:42 to 23:18 advantage in time of possession.
“We made a lot of big third down plays today,” coach Huesman added. “You saw Alejandro come in there with some fresh legs and he looked faster than everybody. You then saw Bingo Morton come in there with some fresh legs and when he caught that screen, he looked quick.
“We had a lot of people contribute today and it was amazing. I’m proud of (Derrick) Craine for sucking it up after coming off a ding in his knees. He was cleared today and is tough as nails.
“Obviously Jacob is just a baller. If he’s not the best player in the league, then tell me who is because the kid can play.”
The defense was equally up to the task. It limited Samford to 313 yards total and just 58 on the ground (1.34 yards/carry). The Bulldogs entered the game ranked second in the nation in total offense (644 yards/game), and passing offense (399.5 y/g) while ranking third in scoring (51.5 points/game).
Linebackers Leslie and A.J.Hampton had 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. The defensive line dominated with six sacks led by Keionta Davis with two, Isaiah Mack and one-and-a-half, while McMillian and Josh Freeman each had one. Brand ended with a half as three of the six were shared.
That’s the most sacks by the Mocs since six in the home win over Eastern Kentucky (9/18/10) almost five years ago to the day.
“The bottom line is that our pass rush was relentless,” coach Huesman continued. “They could not drop back and feel comfortable throwing the ball. I give (coaches) Marcus West and Tony Brown credit for not letting them throw the ball. Our guys were tired because it was hot out there, but they sucked it up and got the win.”
Chattanooga tied the game late in the first half on a 28-yard pass from Huesman to Xavier Borishade. It was one of two TD passes for the senior. He added another rushing in the first half.
Karel Hamilton answered with a 100-yard kick return to make it 14-7 just 13 seconds later. The Mocs took over from there for the 31-21 win.
Eubank was 27 of 36 for 255 yards with one touchdown and the pivotal interception. Obajimi was his favorite target with 11 catches for 137 yards and the early score. Jamerson Blount had a game-high 13 tackles.
Chattanooga is back on the road for a non-conference tilt at Presbyterian next week. Kickoff is at 7 p.m., with video provided by the Blue Hose. GoMocs.com has links to video, audio, stats and more. Fans can follow live updates on Twitter @GoMocsFB.