Mocs can't complete comeback in 31-24 loss at VMI
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team tried to mount another fourth-quarter comeback at VMI in Southern Conference action today. Unlike last week against The Citadel, UTC could not make up the deficit and fell to the Keydets 31-24.
The Mocs end the season with a 6-6 overall record and a third-place finish in the SoCon at 5-3. It was the most league wins for UTC since 2016. The Keydets wrap up a 5-7 campaign and a 4-4 mark in league action.
Turnovers were the key to this game, with the Mocs giving up 14 points on special teams and defensive scores. The first miscue came early in the second quarter when UTC was driving up 10-3. Senior quarterback Nick Tiano fumbled on the VMI 12 and the Keydets tied the game on the ensuing possession.
"We could not make enough plays early,” stated UTC head coach Rusty Wright. “I thought the fumble in the first quarter was huge. We had a chance to go up 13-3 or 17-3, and they go and score and make it 10-10. I knew we were going to have a hard time all day."
VMI then forced a 3-and-out on the next UTC possession, and the Mocs snapped the ball over punter Gabe Boring’s head. He recovered the ball and tried to get the punt off, but it was blocked. VMI scooped the live ball and scored for a 17-10 lead that would hold until halftime.
VMI kept the momentum going on the second play of the third quarter. QB Reece Udinski found Jakob Herres for a 54-yard score and a 24-10 lead.
Later in the quarter, the Mocs put the ball on the ground again when senior RB James Stovall fumbled at the VMI 36. The ball squirted out of the ensuing scrum on the wet and rainy field and Jarrod Richmond returned it 64 yards for the score. That gave VMI a 31-10 lead with 7:42 left in the third quarter.
UTC cut into the lead later in the frame when Tiano found TE Chris James from nine-yards out. It was the exact same play they scored on earlier in the game. That left the score 31-17 with 2:42 left in the third.
The Mocs drove down to the VMI 22 early in the fourth quarter, but stalled on fourth-and-1. Tiano fumbled again, which was recovered by OL Colin Truett, turning the ball over on downs and ending the drive.
Chattanooga got the ball back after junior DB Jordan Jones picked off a Udinski pass. Tiano then marched the Mocs 89 yards in 12 plays to cut it to a one-score game. He capped the drive with a nine-yard run, his ninth rushing score of the year.
At that point, there was 4:42 left on the clock, but VMI was able to get three first downs and run out the clock.
"We did a lot of things that we don't usually do,” stated senior DL Khayyan Edwards. “We made a lot of mistakes. I think that is what shot us in the foot. It just shows that you have to stay focused all year. No matter what happens, you have to stay focused and finish out the year strong."
UTC had an impressive day on defense, only allowing 264 yards of total offense. The Keydets came into the game leading the SoCon and No. 17 in the FCS with 293 passing yards per game. Today they were held to 219 and 50 yards on the ground.
Senior Marshall Cooper led the effort with 10 tackles, while sophomore DL Devonnsha Maxwell had three TFLs with two sacks. Jones added two break-ups to go with his INT.
VMI running back Alex Ramsey came into the game leading the SoCon and No. 5 in the FCS with 114.5 rushing yards per game. Today he was held to 66 yards on 18 carries. Udinski finished 20-26 for 214 yards, two TDs and two INTs. He came into the game with just three INTs on the year.
"Came up short today, unfortunately,” added Tiano. “We played about as bad of a first half as we could have. We did what we have done all season and battle back in the second half.”
Offensively, UTC put up 451 yards, including 221 on the ground. Senior Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks had 132 yards on 28 carries for his fourth 100-yard rushing outing in a row. Tiano was 19-39 for 230 yards and the two scores to James. He also ran 10 times for 37 yards and a score.
James ended with four catches for 36 yards and two scores, while junior Bryce Nunnelly had six receptions for 96 yards.