It's a good thing that college football games last 60 minutes because the Chattanooga Mocs needed them all to record a stirring come-from-behind 28-24 victory over The Citadel Bulldogs Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium.
The first half was a disaster as the Mocs couldn't beat their way out of a wet bag, but the second half was a totally different story.
The Mocs trailed 17-7 at intermission as they didn't show any spunk on offense or much desire on defense.
Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman must have said the right things at the break because his team played a whole lot better in the second half.
"What a great win for our football team today," Huesman said, obviously relieved that his team had dodged an obviously huge bullet against the 2-6 Bulldogs.
"I don't have the words to express just how big this win was. We played so poorly in the first half. but we played much better in the second. And that was a great job by all of our guys on that last drive, but when the game is on the line, for us to get the job done like we did makes me really proud," the coach added.
Jacob Huesman, who completed four of 11 passes for just 28 yards in the first half, came back like a champ in the second as he tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the third quarter, the first for four yards to Faysal Shafaat with 8:01 showing and the second a 33-yarder to freshman Xavier Borishade with 2:47 left in the third.
Those scores got the Mocs to within 24-21 with 15 minutes to play and that's when Chattanooga put together its most important and certainly the most exciting drive of the season.
After the Mocs defense forced a Citadel punt, Chattanooga took over at its own 21 with 3:42 to play. It was put up or shut up time for the Mocs and them came through in the clutch.
Needing just six plays and 1:44 on the clock, the Mocs marched 79 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Marquis Green, who did an admirable job of filling in for the injured Keon Williams, started the drive with an eight-yard gain before Huesman hooked up with freshman C.J. Board on a 28-yard completion down the middle to give Chattanooga a first down on the Citadel 43.
Green gained seven on a run to the left before Huesman took the ball -- and the game -- into his own hands. The scrappy quarterback picked up a dozen yards on a draw before another attempt over left tackle netted 11 yards down to the 13.
Then with just over two minutes to play, Huesman galloped 13 yards into the end zone for the game winner.
Nick Pollard's fourth straight point-after kick gave the Mocs the lead for the first time at 28-24, but there was still plenty of time for the Bulldogs to come back.
Pollard's kickoff was returned to the 18, but on first down, Red Bank freshman Keionta Davis broke through the line like a man possessed and sacked quarterback Aaron Miller for a 10-yard loss..
Darien Robinson gained five yards on second and 20 before Davis had his second sack of the series with a one-yard loss on the 12. The Bulldogs called their final timeout before their final offensive play, which turned out to be an incomplete pass with 1:29 to play.
Citadel was out of timeouts, so the Mocs went into the victory formation and snapped the ball twice before the clock finally expired.
Davis is a 6-4, 240-pound ball of fire who really stepped up at the end when the game was still on the line. He was as happy as any of his teammates when the game ended.
"We knew that we had to make some plays on that last drive, but coach told me to get after the quarterback and I did. We did what we had to do to win this game, but the last time I was in a game this exciting was in high school," he nodded.
Jacob Huesman looked like a different player in the second half. He was just glad he could make up for some of the terrible plays he had in the first 30 minutes.
"I played like an idiot in the first half as I was overthrowing guys and just couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with anything. We played horrible in that first half, but we moved the ball better in the second.
"We got down early, but that was my first two-minute drive to win a game and it's very satisfying. We came together in the second half and made the most of what we had to work with, but it's good to be in control of our own destiny.
"What about that final drive?
"We had run that play twice and gotten first downs both times. The hole was there and I took advantage of it. Such a big feeling of relief when I crossed the plane, but that was probably the most clutch touchdown I've ever scored," he added.
The Bulldogs had a 267-83 advantage in total yards for the first half and they ended up with a 395-341 edge at the end, but stats don't win football games.
The Mocs finished with 189 yards rushing and 152 through the air as Huesman and Green were the leaders on the ground with 99 and 85 yards, respectively.
Board was the leading receiver with five catches for 59 yards as Huesman finished with 13 completions in 23 attempts for 144 yards.
Robinson finished with 129 yards on 24 carries to lead the Citadel ground game, which ended up with 334 yards on 59 attempts for a 5.7-yard average. Dalton Trevino added 63 yards on two carries, but the big one was a 61-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Miller completed five of nine passes for 56 yards, including a 41-yard TD throw to Jake Stenson early in the second quarter.
While Huesman and Davis will reap most of the headlines, perhaps the most unsung hero of this entire game was Pollard. He averaged 39.2 yards on six punts, but five were downed inside the 20, including four inside the 5.
"We have a bunch of winners on this team, but Nick kicked the ball great all day long and he's becoming a great weapon for us," coach Huesman praised the junior from Nashville's Father Ryan.
Muhasibi Wakeel was the leading tackler for Chattanooga with 17 total stops, including five solos, while D.J. Key had 13 total, including 10 solos. Wes Dothard and Zach McCarter were next with nine and eight, respectively.
Keon Williams, who has really come on in recent weeks as a punishing running back for the Mocs, apparently twisted an ankle on the opening kickoff return and didn't go back on the field.
The Mocs improve to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in Southern Conference play with their 500th overall victory.
The road doesn't get any easier as the Mocs travel to Boone next Saturday for an important game with Appalachian State. The final regular-season home game follows on Nov. 9 with Wofford in town before finishing with road games at Samford and top-ranked Alabama.
The Bulldogs are now 2-6 overall and 2-4 in the conference with a home game against Samford waiting next weekend.
THE CITADEL 10 7 7 0 -- 24
CHATTANOOGA 0 7 14 7 -- 28
CIT -- Ben Dupree 13 run (Thomas Warren kick), 9:14 left in first;
CIT -- Warren 23 field goal, 3:15 left in first;
UTC -- Kenny Huitt 7 run (Nick Pollard kick), 14:56 left in second;
CIT -- Jake Stenson 41 pass from Aaron Mller (Warren kick), 9:56 left in second;
UTC -- Faysal Shafaat 4 pass from Jacob Huesman (Pollard kick), 8:01 left in third;
CIT -- Dalton Trevino 61 run (Warren kick), 6:24 left in third;
UTC -- Xavier Borishade 33 pass from Huesman (Pollard kick), 2:47 left in third;
UTC -- Huesman 13 run (Pollard kick), 2:02 left in fourth.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)