The Samford Bulldogs may have won the battle, but the Chattanooga Mocs won the war.
Facing each other in a key Southern Conference football battle at Finley Stadium Saturday night, the Mocs had their hands full, but were able to pull out an important victory by a final score of 27-20 before 10,469 fans.
The Bulldogs entered the game on a two-game losing streak, but were leading the league in points scored per game at 38.7, passing yards at 374 per contest and total yards at just over 500 per game.
They weren’t able to match those numbers, although they did enjoy a 437-364 advantage over the scrappy Mocs in total yards.
The first half of the game was the key as Chattanooga scored 17 straight points to start the game and were ahead by a touchdown at halftime.
Turns out that seven-point lead was the final margin of victory.
Chattanooga’s offense did well at the start, but it was the Moc defense who really stood tall, especially in the second half when Samford trimmed a 27-13 lead to 27-20 with 6:43 left in the fourth quarter.
That last stanza seemingly lasted forever and the Bulldogs had chance after chance after chance to tie the score, but the Chattanooga defense answered the call every time and escaped with their fourth straight win against no defeats.
Samford is now 1-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play.
Chattanooga coach Tom Arth was certainly happy when the final horn sounded, but it’s just another step in the process for him and his team and he refused to get overly excited about another 4-0 start.
“What this game represents is a complete team win. We were able to get off to a great start early and somehow found a way to hang on at the end. The bottom line is we’re playing for each other and it’s great to be part of it,” he said following the nail-biting victory.
“Samford has an outstanding football team and a very high octane offense. We had to do a good job of keeping their quarterback in the pocket and to keep any of them getting behind us on a long pass play. I felt like we did a pretty good job of that for the most part.
“We didn’t run the ball as well down the stretch as we needed to and that’s something we have to keep working on as we have to be able to execute in situations like that where a first down or two would have put the game away.
“I’m really happy to have won our first four games, but we can’t let that get in the way of what we have to keep doing to keep getting better. But this was a big win for our program and I’m proud of our guys for doing what it took to prevail,” Arth concluded before heading upstairs for his post-game radio show.
Samford coach Chris Hatcher certainly didn’t dodge any bullets once the final horn sounded.
“Give great credit to Chattanooga for playing us a tough game tonight,” he began just outside the Samford dressing room.
“You can’t spot a team 17 points and expect good things to happen, but they really got after us and we didn’t respond very well. You don’t say a whole lot to them after a win and you say even less after a tough loss like this, but we’re just not playing very well right now and that’s on me as their coach.
“We still have a lot of football left to play, but we’ve sort of lost our way. We just have to get back after it on Monday and try to find some answers,” he added.
The Mocs won the coin toss and elected to take the opening kickoff.
The decision was a good one as the Mocs marched 79 yards in six plays to score the first touchdown of the game with 12:17 left in the opening stanza.
Junior quarterback Nick Tiano, who seems to be getting more and more comfortable leading the Chattanooga offense, completed three of four passes in that drive, the last of 55 yards going to former Walker Valley star Bryce Nunnelly. Victor Ulmo’s kick gave the Mocs a 7-0 lead.
Ulmo kicked a 23-yard field goal on UTC’s next possession to extend the difference to 10-0 with 8:49 left in the first while an 18-yard pass from Tiano to Tyrell Price on the first play of the second quarter made it 17-0.
Samford finally got on the board with a 56-yard drive that needed eight plays, the final being a one-yard plunge by DeMarcus Ware with 7:51 left before halftime. Mitchell Fineran’s kick made it 17-7.
He added a 22-yard field goal in the final minute of the half as the Bulldogs went to the break still very much in the game trailing 17-10.
Tiano had an outstanding first half as he completed eight of 17 passes for 148 yards. He too had a big grin on his face while standing in the end zone just outside the Chattanooga dressing room talking to friends after the game.
“This was a huge win for us. The defense played great and we were able to score just enough to win. I feel like I played well at times, but there are still plenty of things to improve on. We just have to keep working,” the former Baylor star added.
Fineran booted a 36-yard field goal with 8:42 showing in the third to get Samford within four at 17-13, but it never got any closer than that as the Mocs answered with another touchdown.
Tiano had three straight completions, first a 46-yarder to Joseph Parker down the middle, the second a 15-yarder to Bingo Morton and another 12-yarder to Nunnelly to give the Mocs first and goal at the 5.
Tiano then called his own number and scored on a keeper to the right with Ulmo’s kick extending the lead to 24-13 with 5:42 left in the third.
Ulmo’s second field goal of the game, this one from 30 yards with 14:41 left, gave the Mocs a 14-point lead with more than enough time remaining to set up the frantic fourth quarter where the Moc defense did a lot of bending, but never broke.
Samford made it interesting with its final touchdown at the 6:43 mark, but the Bulldogs never scored again. The Bulldogs had moved down to the 15 for the final play of the game, but a pass into the end zone from Devlin Hodges fell incomplete as the final horn sounded.
Hodges completed 44 of his 62 passing attempts for 366 yards, but he was also intercepted three times by Kareem Orr, D.J. Jackson and Marshall Cooper.
Kelvin McKnight was his favorite target as the 5-8, 186-pound senior snagged a dozen passes for 128 yards. Andrew Harris had six catches for 57 yards while Ware caught eight for another 28.
Ware was the leading rusher for Samford with 48 yards on 15 attempts.
Tiano completed 16 of 35 passes for the game for 278 yards and the touchdowns to Nunnelly and Price.
Nunnelly had 108 yards on five grabs, the fourth straight game where he’s gone over 100 yards. Price had six catches for 61 yards while Bingo Morton had three for 49 and Parker one for 46.
Price was the workhorse on the ground for the Mocs as he finished with 45 yards on 23 tough carries. Tiano had 39 yards on four attempts, including a big 32-yarder in the first half.
Samford plays at Kennesaw State next Saturday for its next game while the Mocs go to Johnson City to face East Tennessee State.
SAMFORD 0 10 3 7 -- 20
CHATTANOOGA 10 7 7 3 -- 27
UTC – Bryce Nunnelly 55 pass from Nick Tiano (Victor Ulmo kick), 12:17 left in first;
UTC – Ulmo 23 field goal, 8:49 left in first;
UTC – Tyrell Price 18 pass from Tiano (Ulmo kick), 14:50 left in second;
SAM – DeMarcus Ware 1 run (Mitchell Fineran kick), 7:51 left in second;
SAM – Fineran 22 field goal, 0:55 left in second;
SAM – Fineran 36 field goal, 8:42 left in third;
UTC – Tiano 5 run (Ulmo kick), 5:42 left in third;
UTC – Ulmo 30 field goal, 14:41 left in fourth;
SAM – Chris Shelling 17 pass from Devlin Hodges (Fineran kick), 6:43 left in fourth.
YARDSTICK SAMFORD CHATTANOOGA
First Downs 31 17
Rushes-Yards 25-71 28-86
Passing Yards 366 278
Total Yards 437 364
Passes Comp-Att-Int 44-64-3 16-35-0
Penalties 9-74 9-78
Fumbles 3-1 1-1
Punts-Avg. 3-33.0 4-31.5
Time of Possession 32:13 27:22
SAMFORD RUSHING: DeMarcus Ware 15-48; Devlin Hodges 5-12; Antwione Sims 4-10.
SAMFORD RECEIVING: Kelvin McKnight 12-128; DeMarcus Ware 8-28; Andrew Harris 6-57; Montrell Washington 5-22.
SAMFORD PASSING: Devlin Hodges 44-62 for 366 yards and three interceptions.
CHATTANOOGA RUSHING: Tyrell Price 23-45; Nick Tiano 4-39; Alex Trotter 1-2.
CHATTANOOGA RECEIVING: Bryce Nunnelly 5-108; Tyrell Price 6-61; Bingo Morton 3-49; Joseph Parker 1-46.
CHATTANOOGA PASSING: Nick Tiano 16-35 for 278 yards and no interceptions.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)