The second-ranked Georgia Southern Eagles had to fight for their lives at Finley Stadium Saturday night, but they headed back home with a big victory after defeating the Chattanooga Mocs 39-31 in three overtimes.
Chattanooga had trailed 21-10 at the half, but scored a pair of third-quarter touchdowns to lead for the only time at 24-21 following a 10-yard run by quarterback Jacob Huesman with seven seconds left in the stanza.
The only scoring in the fourth came via a 24-yard field goal by the Eagles Alex Hanks with 8:06 to play in regulation.
Hanks attempted a 49-yarder on the final play of the quarter, but it was wide right as the first overtime began.
Darreion Robinson scored on Georgia Southern's second play of OT as he zipped 20 yards with the go-ahead touchdown.
The Mocs answered when Huesman found Faysal Shafaat from the 8 on third-and-5 and the score was still tied at 31 when the second overtime began.
Chattanooga couldn't move the ball on its possession and a 41-yard field goal attempt by Nick Pollard was wide right.
Then on Georgia Southern's first play, there was a bobble on the center-quarterback exchange and UTC's Zack Rayl recovered to force the third overtime.
The Eagles then mounted what turned out to be the winning drive as they used 10 plays to cover the 25 yards, including Jerick McKinnon's TD from the 1. He added the conversion run to put the visitors up by 39-31.
Huesman picked up 12 yards on second down and the Mocs kept moving on down to the 5, but Huesman was stopped short on fourth-and-2 by Darius Eubanks and J.J. Wilcox to end the game as the Georgia Southern fans erupted in celebration.
"Losing a game like this is hard and it certainly hurts, but I told the guys in the dressing room just how proud I was of them and their effort tonight," said Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman after the game ended.
"We certainly didn't play smart all the time and we had a couple of critical mistakes early. We were able to come back, but they eventually cost us the game. We had all the momentum until midway in the fourth and I was licking my chops as they weren't stopping us at all.
"We lost that fumbled punt in the fourth and that was critical, but I felt like we played much better in the second half. We should have won the game by the way we played in the second half and I guess we were lucky we weren't further behind at the half by the way we played in the first," the coach stated.
Huesman had an outstanding game as the Mocs leading rusher with 170 yards on 26 carries. Unfortunately, that last play at the end of the game overshadowed other brillant moves that kept the Mocs in contention.
"We talked about what we wanted to do on that last play and we had three or four ideas. We must have missed a block as somebody slipped through to make the game-ending tackle.
"I think his touchdown pass in the first overtime may have been his best play all year. We didn't have a timeout and he knew he couldn't take a sack. He was running left and threw back the opposite way for the touchdown. That was a great play," the father complimented his son.
"We still have a lot to play for and I'm confident that we'll come back tomorrow ready to get prepared for next week. We have too many good football players on this team to not come back," the coach concluded.
The Eagles, currently ranked second in the latest poll, scored first on a 29-yard run by Robinson with 9:52 left in the opening stanza and it was quickly 14-0 when the Eagles converted a Chattanooga fumble into another TD at the 7:32 mark when McKinnon scored on a keeper from the 10.
Chattanooga bounced back with a touchdown with Huesman rushing on four straight plays, including a long run of 44 yards, to cover 75 yards in four plays. Huesman scored from the 2 with 5:38 showing in the first quarter.
Georgia Southern's lead was 14-7 when the first quarter ended.
The Eagles extended their lead when McKinnon scored on a keeper from the 18 with 11:12 left in the second.
Chattanooga cut the lead to 21-10 when Pollard tied his career-long field goal from 39 yards with 4:54 to go in the half.
Georgia Southern had the ball for the remainder of the half and appeared to be moving the ball without a problem only to have a 24-yard field goal attempt by Hanks sail wide left.
The Eagles, who came into the game averaging more than 389 yards rushing, had 214 yards in the first half and finished with 372 yards on the ground. They also had 55 yards through the air for a total of 427.
Most of those passing yards came on a 40-yard completion from McKinnon to Zach Walker early in the second quarter when he made a leaping, one-handed grab on third-and-6 from the Georgia Southern 45.
McKinnon then scored the Eagles' third TD three plays later.
McKinnon was the leading rusher for Georgia Southern with 141 yards on 28 carries. Robinson finished with 74 in 11 attempts while bullish William Banks had 69 yards on 18 carries.
Chattanooga had 110 total yards in the first half and finished with 316 for the game, including 198 on the ground and 118 through the air.
While Huesman was the leading rusher with his 170, he also completed 11 of 20 passes for 102 yards.
Terrell Robinson was the leading receiver with five catches for 75 yards while Shafaat had 22 yards on three grabs.
Wes Dothard and Derrick Lott were the leading tacklers for the Mocs with 15 total hits apiece. Davis Tull finished with a dozen.
The Eagles also had a 21-14 edge in first downs.
Chattanooga is now 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the Southern Conference. The Mocs will be on the road next week for a game at Western Carolina.
Georgia Southern now has a six-game winning streak and stands 7-1 overall and 6-1 in the SoCon. The Eagles will host 15th-ranked Appalachian State next Saturday.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN 14 7 0 3 7 0 8 -- 39
CHATTANOOGA 7 3 14 0 7 0 0 -- 31
GSU -- Darreion Robinson 29 run (Alex Hanks kick), 9:52 left in first;
GSU -- Jerick McKinnon 10 run (Hanks kick), 7:32 left in first;
UTC -- Jacob Huesman 2 run (Nick Pollard kick), 5:38 left in first;
GSU -- McKinnon 18 run (Hanks kick), 11:12 left in second;
UTC -- Pollard 39 field goal, 4:54 left in second;
UTC -- Marquis Green 6 run (Pollard kick), 11:03 left in third;
UTC -- Huesman 10 run (Pollard kick), 0:07 left in third;
GSU -- Hanks 24 field goal, 8:06 left in fourth;
GSU -- Robinson 20 run (Hanks kick) first overtime;
UTC -- Faysal Shafaat 8 pass from Huesman (Pollard kick), first overtime;
GSU -- McKinnon 1 run (McKinnon run), third overtime.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)