CHATTANOOGA ( -- The Chattanooga Mocs football squad opened the Rusty Wright Era with a 24-10 triumph over Eastern Illinois at Finley Stadium. Wright, a 1996 graduate, took the helm at his alma mater in December 2018.
The Mocs used scoring runs of one yard from Nick Tianoand Ailym Ford sandwiching a 59-yard strike from Tiano to Bryce Nunnelly and Victor Ulmo's 37-yard field goal. EIU got a 37 yarder from Josh Delgado and a seven-yard John Brantley pass to Nick Stricker.
"It's hard to win a football game," Wright shared. "They didn't quit. We just kept playing. As bad as things got, and as sloppy as things got, they didn't quit. [EIU] did some things early that we weren't prepared for, and it kind of hurt us offensively.
"We were trying to figure them out early. In these first games, you just try to find a way to win no matter who you play. I'm thankful for that, I really am, because they found that way."
Tiano's plunge came with 5:14 to go in the first quarter. Colin Brewer's rugby line drive caromed off the shoulder of returner Chris Walker. Adrian King pounced on the fumble at the Panthers 13. Four plays later came the early score.
Delgado capped an 11-play effort on the ensuing drive extended by Mocs penalties. That sent the game into a series of defensive stops.
The Mocs started off on their own 11 midway through the second quarter. Tiano to Reginald Henderson for 18 yards and then another for 12 to Lameric Tucker. Tiano, taking advantage of excellent protection by his offensive front, looked deep for preseason All-American Bryce Nunnelly to give the Mocs some breathing room.
EIU answered again following a score. The march down the field included two fourth-down conversions. The latter came on fourth-and-three at the UTC 7 with a nice misdirection effort leading to the score from Brantley to Stricker.
But there was 2:33 left on the clock. The Mocs methodically moved down the field before settling for Ulmo's field goal as the halftime horn blared. Ford got his score on the opening drive of the third quarter where he tallied 37 of his game-high 50 yards rushing. A 14-10 game became 24-10 before the Panthers saw the offensive side of the ball after their touchdown.
"I challenged them in the locker room at halftime," Wright added when asked about the drive to start the third quarter ending with Ford's score. "I told them, plain and simple, let's put something together and put one on the board."
That ended the scoring for the night. The Panthers threatened repeatedly but could not break through the Mocs defense. The good guys stopped their visitors on downs once and Kameron Brown's pick with 2:04 to play ended another. The final horn stopped EIU's final foray in Mocs territory.
RECORDS – Chattanooga (0-0) | Eastern Illinois (0-0)
SERIES – Chattanooga leads 1-0.
"This is Coach Wright every day. He brings the energy and brings the passion every day. He holds us to match that. That's huge for a college football program to bring that to practice and games. That makes a big difference for us." – QB Nick Tiano on the fire and energy Head Coach Rusty Wright brings.
"It's a little bit of both. It's in the middle. We talk about having explosive plays and that we need six, seven and eight a game to get to where we wanted to be. It was a great play call by Coach [Joe] Pizzo at a great time in the game to get things started. It was a great call." – WR Bryce Nunnelly on whether he and Tiano talk about when it's time for a big play.
Check out all we heard at the quotes link at the top of the story.

  • The 59-yard scoring strike from Nick Tiano to Bryce Nunnelly in the second quarter is the eighth time in 12 games the duo has hooked up for 50 or more yards. Five of those eight resulted in scores.
  • Tiano moved up the record books in three categories. His 3,839 career passing yards passes Antonio Miller (2004-07) for ninth all-time at UTC. His 337 career completions passes Tim Couch (1984-86) for eighth. He's up to 4,207 career yards of total offense passing Tim Couch (1984-86) into ninth.
  • The interior of the linebacking corps combined for 16 tackles. Marshall Cooper made 10 stops, his fourth career double-digit tackle game, while Ty Boeck added a career-best six. Both are Chattanooga-area natives.

Check out all the extra info at the notes link at the top of the story.

  • The running game got off to a slow start with just 30 yards in the opening half. True freshman Ailym Ford gained 50 in the second half to lead all rushers.
  • It was a stout defensive effort for three quarters limiting the Panthers to less than 200 yards and a shade less than 3.5 yards per play. EIU accumulated 160 fourth quarter yards but was held off the scoreboard.
  • 100 yards receiving on the night for Nunnelly. It's the seventh time in the last 12 games he's topped the century mark. His six catches gave him 12 straight with five or more. 

Check out all the numbers at the stats link at the top of the story.
NEXT GAME – Chattanooga at Jacksonville State | Sat., Sept. 7 | 7 p.m. (ET)