A youthful Tom Arth knew he was facing the biggest coaching challenge of his life back in the spring when he was hired as the next head man for the Chattanooga Mocs football team, but he didn’t know exactly how challenging it would be.
It hasn’t been the season that Arth had planned as things didn’t always go as he had hoped, but the best news is that the season finished on a positive note.
Entering Saturday’s season finale at Finley Stadium with a 2-8 record and facing an East Tennessee State team that wasn’t much better at 4-6, most folks figured it might be a hard-fought game between two teams with identical 2-5 records in the Southern Conference.
It certainly wasn’t the prettiest college football game you’ll ever see, but to Arth and the Chattanooga faithful, it was simply awesome, beautiful and spectacular as the Mocs scored twice in the third quarter and made it stand for a 10-3 victory over the Buccaneers.
It’s been a struggle for the UTC offense most of the season as progress has been slower than expected, but on a day when the Mocs had 238 total yards to only 116 for the Bucs, a last-game victory gave Arth and his team something positive to take into the off-season.
“We knew it would be a tough game with a lot of emotion on both sides, so we had to control what we were doing. We knew we had to keep the pressure on their quarterback. It was important for us to come away with a win today,” Arth said in his post-game media comments.
“We didn’t have any turnovers and that was critical in a game like this, but we’ve gotten a whole lot better in recent weeks and it all starts up front with the offensive line. We struggled with our running game at the start today, but we just had to take advantage of what they were giving us.
“Their quarterback (Austin Herink from Cleveland) is a great player. He took some tough shots, but just kept coming back. The defensive line did a great job of keeping pressure on him and our crowd today was fantastic as they created a lot of noise and made it tough to communicate for both teams.
“I’m really excited about the players we have coming back and I wish that we could just keep playing, but it was nice to finish the season with a win,” Arth concluded.
The Bucs scored their only points when junior kicker J.J. Jerman connected on a 51-yard field goal with 4:05 left in the opening stanza.
UTC’s Victor Ulmo missed a 24-yard field goal attempt late in the second quarter, so ETSU’s 3-0 lead was still good at intermission.
The Bucs got the second-half kickoff and picked up one first down before punting on fourth-and-8, but Chattanooga’s Marshall Cooper blocked the punt before teammate Alphonso Stewart recovered to give the Mocs great field position at the ETSU 27.
Quarterback Cole Copeland, the freshman standout from Bradley, completed a 15-yard swing pass to Walker Valley grad Bryce Nunnelly on first down before getting a TD throw of nine yards to Joseph Parker with 11:35 left in the third quarter. Ulmo’s PAT gave the Mocs the lead for the first time at 7-3.
Ulmo, a redshirt freshman from Baylor, extended the lead to 10-3 with a 34-yard field goal with 3:43 left in the third to conclude the scoring.
The next three possessions for ETSU in the fourth quarter ended in punts and Herink’s final throw from ETSU’s 29 was incomplete as the game ended.
ETSU coach Carl Torbush knew it would be a close game.
“We only had 116 total yards on offense and it’s hard to win many football games like that,” he said during his post-game radio interview on Davenport Field.
“It could have been an overtime game, but we weren’t able to score again and we knew coming in it would be a fight. We won a lot of close games last year, but that hasn’t been the case this fall as we’ve lost all the close ones. But we just have to go back to the drawing board and get ready for next year,” he nodded.
The Mocs finished with 238 total yards, including 84 yards on the ground and 154 through the air.
Darrell Bridges was the leading rusher with 74 yards on 20 carries with a long of 16 yards. Richardre Bagley added 30 yards on 10 trips.
Copeland completed 20 of 29 passes for 154 yards, including four to Bagley for 25 yards and three to Wil Young for 28 yards. Parker also had two catches for 20 yards, including the all-important touchdown.
East Tennessee State had 116 total yards, including 24 on the ground and 92 through the air.
Falon Lee was the leading rusher with 21 yards on 10 carries while Herink had seven yards on seven carries, most of the time scrambling for his life while trying to pass.
The slender southpaw completed 13 of 37 passes with four going to Anthony Spagnoletti for 54 yards, including a long of 20. Dylan Dockery also had four receptions for 25 yards.
Both punters had busy days with nine kicks each with ETSU’s Marion Watson averaging 42 yards per boot while UTC’s Colin Brewer averaged 40.7 yards.
The Mocs finish the year at 3-5 in league play for seventh place while ETSU is eighth at 2-6. VMI is dead last at 0-8.
EAST TENNESSEE ST. 3 0 0 0 -- 3
CHATTANOOGA 0 0 10 0 -- 10
ETSU – J. J. Jerman 51 field goal, 4:05 left in first;
UTC – Joseph Parker 8 pass from Cole Copeland (Victor Ulmo kick), 11:35 left in third;
UTC – Ulmo 34 field goal, 3:43 left in third.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)