It was not a day for dreams to come true. The 12th-ranked Chattanooga Mocs ventured into SEC play losing 45-10 at Tennessee in Neyland Stadium. Even in the loss, the Mocs defensive line showed its mettle with a season-high five sacks.
“I thought we could,” replied coach Russ Huesman when asked about his team’s ability to rush the passer. “We rush the passer really well. Keionta Davis, Davis Tull and (Derrick) Lott, those guys can run. They are hard to block, hard to handle in there.
“Especially when it is a definite passing situation.”
The defense only allowed two sustained scoring drives. The Vols scored five of their six touchdowns on drives of 38, 20, 19, 16 and 14 yards. The first, third and fifth of those came on special teams, while the other two were off turnovers.
“I told our guys we played hard, and I think we did,” Huesman added. “Tennessee played very hard. They are a very athletic, physical football team. We knew we were playing a good team. We felt confident coming in, but we made some mistakes. I’m proud of our guys. When they walk out that door they are going to forget about this one, we have to get ready for the biggest game of the year at The Citadel (next weekend).”
After the Mocs opening drive stalled at their own 30 yard line, Nick Pollard’s punt was returned 42 yards by Cameron Sutton to the visitors’ 38. It took the hosts eight plays, but Justin Worley found Marquez North on an 8-yard fade route to start the scoring.
The two teams swapped possessions for three straight drives when Tennessee mounted the first of its two long scoring drives. It marched 78 yards to the Mocs eight when Dee Virgin made a great play on another fade route to force the Vols into a 25-yard field goal.
It was a 17-0 score when Chattanooga found the scoreboard. Keionta Davis’ sack of Worley included an expert strip of the ball. Freeman recovered it to give the Mocs excellent field position at the Tennessee 27.
Jacob Huesman got his team to the 12 on an eight-yard run on third and four. The Vols defense got stingy from there as Chattanooga settled for a 27-yard Henrique Ribeiro field goal to close the margin to 17-3.
Worley engineered a key drive to end the half on the ensuing possession. He completed five of six passes for 62 yards as his 21-yard strike to Johnathon Johnson made it a 24-3 game at the break.
Tennessee’s special teams put the exclamation point to open the second half. Evan Berry took the opening kickoff 68 yards to the Chattanooga 19. Muhasabi Wakeel and Nakevion Leslie stuffed Derrell Scott for no gain on first down. Worley’s arm remained the difference as he found Johnson on the next play extending the lead to 31-3.
The Mocs offense had an impressive touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Huesman found Alphonso Stewart with a 13-yard catch-and-run. Huesman then ran for 12 and eight yards coming out after getting hit at the Vols 40.
Richardre Bagley converted the third down with a 10-yard burst. Backup quarterback Alejandro Bennifield hit Faysal Shafaat for 11 yards before running for five more to the 14. Bagley sped through the middle of the line the final 14 yards for the lone touchdown of the day.
The Mocs’ season-high five sacks were led by Freeman’s pair, which ties his career best. Lott, Davis and Davis Tull also downed the quarterback as the defense recorded nine tackles for loss total. Freshman Trevor Wright tied for game-high honors with nine stops.
Offensively, Huesman led the way with 45 yards rushing. The Vols limited the Mocs to 105 yards rushing and 201 total yards with 161 of those coming in the second half.
“When you hold an SEC team to 52 yards rushing through three quarters, you can take some pride in that,” senior defensive end Derrick Lott said. “Don’t get me wrong, we are disappointed we didn’t play better, but that’s something we can take back with us.”
Fellow defensive tackle Josh Freeman added, “We didn’t do enough. We made too many mistakes in all three phases. You can’t do that against a team with the talent this one has”.
Worley completed 19 of 24 passes for 198 yards and three scores in the air. He also had two with his feet accounting for five of his squad’s six tallies.