UT-Chattanooga held ETSU to 116 yards of total offense, took advantage of a blocked punt to set up the game’s only touchdown and held on for a 10-3 victory over the Bucs in the season finale for both teams Saturday at Finley Stadium.
“Ya’ll saw the same thing I did,” ETSU coach Carl Torbush said. “You can’t win any football games with 116 yards of total offense. But you look at it, we about did it. If we don’t make a mistake in the kicking game, the score’s 3-3 and we’re in overtime right now.”
The Bucs finished 4-7 overall, 2-6 in the Southern Conference. Chattanooga, getting its first home win of the season, finished 3-8, 3-5.
ETSU’s defense played well enough to win and stopped the Mocs one last time, getting the ball back with 1:42 remaining. The only problem was the Bucs had 87 yards to go, and up to that point, had gained 90 yards all day.
Quarterback Austin Herink was running for his life and was hit on every play during the final desperation drive that netted 16 yards. He had to be lifted off the ground by his linemen several times just to attempt the next play.
The Bucs finally ran out of time and lost to their main rivals for the second season in a row.
“We thought we had a good game plan going into this one,” said Herink, who completed 13 of 37 passes for 92 yards. “I thought we were going go down there and score. Frustrating, but well bounce back.”
JJ Jerman’s 51-yard field goal in the first quarter put the Bucs on top and their defense made that stand up through the first two quarters.
The Mocs appeared set to take the lead in the second quarter when a Richardre Bagley run got down to the 2-yard line, setting up a first-and-goal. A false start penalty moved the ball back five yards and Victor Ulmo eventually missed a 24-yard field goal.
That left the Bucs up 3-0 at halftime despite the fact that they had gained 17 total yards.
For those looking for a silver lining in a first half bereft of offensive statistics for ETSU, punter Marion Watson averaged 47 yards a kick in the first 30 minutes, including two of over 50 yards into a stiff wind.
Watson’s kicks kept the Mocs backed up just enough that they only got close enough to think about scoring one time, on the missed field goal.
Chattanooga got the opening it needed early in the third quarter. Watson’s first punt of the second half was blocked by Marshall Cooper, giving the Mocs life on the ETSU 27-yard line.
Four plays later, Cole Copeland hit Joseph Parker on an 8-yard touchdown pass and suddenly, Chattanooga was up 7-3.
“It was the type of game where one mistake will get you and it did get us,” Torbush said.
That seemed to get the Mocs’ offense going in the right direction and they added a 34-yard field goal by Ulmo on their next possession for a 10-3 advantage.
Meanwhile, ETSU’s offense continued to stagnate. Through three quarters, the Bucs had 52 total yards and five first downs. They finished with nine first downs and rarely showed an ability to threaten the Mocs.
“This win was for all of us,” Chattanooga coach Tom Arth said. “It was very important to end the season with a win at home. We've been playing better, but it hasn't necessarily translated to wins. You have to give our team a lot of credit. Offense, defense and special teams. It was special teams that really came through for us tonight.”
With a limited receiver corps — Vincent Lowe and Hunter Wike were out with injuries and Drake Powell was playing hurt — the Bucs’ passing game couldn’t bail out a rushing attack that had been nonexistent all season. ETSU averaged 2.0 yards per play and gained 24 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Luckily for ETSU, the Mocs were their own worst enemies with 10 penalties costing them several chances to move into scoring position.
The defense rests
The ETSU defense held Chattanooga to 238 total yards, 3.2 per play.
“The defense kept responding, kept getting stops,” ETSU junior linebacker Dylan Wiegel said. “That’s what we needed to do coming into the ballgame. It didn’t happen today but in the future getting those stops will lead to us winning some ballgames.”
Weigel had 12 tackles, giving him 92 for the season. He has 325 for his career, tying for seventh in program history.
Nasir Player had one of ETSU’s four quarterback sacks and a tackle for a loss. He finished the season with seven sacks, the fourth-best single-season total in ETSU history.
Blake Bockrath had eight tackles and a sack. Also recording sacks for the Bucs were Zack Yancey and Trey Qullin.
The 354 combined yards for the two teams was the lowest total ever for two teams in a game in Finley Stadium. ETSU’s total was the lowest ever for a Chattanooga opponent in the stadium.
Herink, Weigel, center Matt Pyke and defensive lineman Chris Bouyer have started all 33 games for the Bucs since the program was restarted in 2015.
The Mocs lead the all-time series, 22-18-1, including a 14-8 advantage in Chattanooga.