Mocs bounce back with 35-27 road conference win over Samford
The Chattanooga Mocs posted a strong first half and held off a late charge in a 35-27 win at Samford today. UTC evens its overall record at 5-5 and moved to 4-2 in Southern Conference action. The Bulldogs dropped to 4-6 overall and 3-4 in league play.
UTC carried a 28-7 lead into halftime and held Samford to just 109 yards of total offense in the first 30 minutes. The Mocs stayed in front the rest of the way for their sixth-straight win over the Bulldogs.
“I hope it is a sign of growth and us becoming a football team the whole way,” stated UTC head coach Rusty Wright when asked about the resilience shown by his team today. “We had some adversity there in the second half where some things did not go our way.
“It is going to take all 60, whatever we brought on this trip, it is going to take all of them to go win it. To those kids’ credit, they did that. We found a way to win a football game on the road, which is a big deal.”
The Mocs’ will was tested early in the game when star freshman Ailym Ford went down with an injury. He came into the game No. 6 in the FCS and leading all freshmen with 119.1 rushing yards per game. He was 18 yards shy of UTC’s 42-year old freshman mark of 1,090 yards set by Mike Smith in 1977. However, he only posted nine yards on three carries before leaving the game in the first quarter.
In stepped senior transfer Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who had missed the previous four games with his own injury. All he did was score three times, two rushing and one receiving, and finish with 139 yards on 27 carries.
“I just told him to keep his head up and gave him some words of encouragement,” said Ibitokun-Hanks when asked if he spoke to Ford on the sideline. “I have been there before. To see him go down hurt, but I knew what I had to do for our running back crew to make sure we go out the right way.
“It felt good, it has been a while since I had almost 30 carries in a game. Just to be back out with those guys to show I am here to do whatever I have to do to contribute to the program.”
Senior Nick Tiano got the Mocs on the board in the first quarter with a one-yard run. Samford responded before the end of the frame to tie the score at 7-7. The Mocs mounted another 75-yard drive that ended early in the second with a four-yard run by Ibitokun-Hanks.
The Bulldogs threatened on their next possession, but junior D.J. Jackson picked off a pass in the endzone. The Mocs took advantage with an 80-yard drive that ended with Tiano hitting senior TE Chris James for a one-yard score.
The Mocs got the ball back and had a big play by freshman TE Jay Gibson. He caught a 10-yard pass from Tiano and turned it into a 31-yard gain by running over defenders to the Samford 32. Ibitokun-Hanks did the rest on the next play, racing 32 yards for a 28-7 lead.
Samford scored on the opening possession of the second half. The Bulldogs then took advantage of a UTC fumble to cut the lead to 28-20 in the third quarter.
The Mocs put together another 75-yard drive, capped by a four-yard pass from Tiano to Ibitokun-Hanks for a 35-20 lead. Samford would cut the lead to 35-27 with just under a minute to play, but junior Bryce Nunnelly jumped on the on-side kick to seal the win.
Tiano posted his first career 100-yard rushing game on 12 carries. He is the first UTC quarterback to run for 100 yards since Jacob Huesman had 129 on 15 carries against Fordham on Nov. 28, 2015.
James posted career-highs with five catches for 71 yards. Senior Jonathan Stovall also had career marks with 31 rushing yards on nine carries.
Defensively, UTC held Samford’s SoCon-leading offense to nine points off their average. Junior Brandon Dowdell and sophomore linebacker Ty Boeck led the team with 10 tackles each. Jackson and senior Aaron Floyd both had interceptions, while UTC tied a season-high with three sacks.