The Chattanooga Mocs had one gridiron shot this fall. COVID-19 moved the league schedule to the spring and three non-conference games were cancelled. All that remained was an October date at Western Kentucky.
The two fought tooth-and-nail for 60 minutes. In the end, Western prevailed 13-10 in a controversial ending.
Tyrell Pigrome lobbed a 4-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal to Craig Burt, Jr., in the back corner of the end zone with just 1:21 to play.
Bryce Nunnelly took the ensuing kickoff 102 yards to retake the lead, but as ESPN personality Lee Corso so famously says, “not so fast”.
The referees decided upback Tyrin Summers called for a fair catch although he was not in the frame of the play. Replays showed Nunnelly clearly caught the kickoff with intentions to return it, but the call was made and the touchdown was called back. The Hilltoppers stopped the Mocs offense and the ball turned over on downs.
It was a contest Chattanooga led from the outset. Senior Drayton Arnold, making his first collegiate start, engineered a 75-yard, 14-play drive on the opening possession. He scrambled in from 10 yards out converting the Mocs third third-down of the drive for the 7-0 lead.
The Hilltoppers answered, moving deep into UTC territory before the defense stiffened limiting their hosts to a field goal. That became a theme. The play of the game, had the Mocs won, could have been traced to the end of the first half.
WKU threatened with a 19-play march all the way to the 10. On first and goal, Rashun Freeman snuffed out a trick play reverse for an eight-yard loss. That was followed by a strip sack by Jay Person and fumble recovery by Ty Boeck.
"It was a really good play,” Person recalled. “I told Kam [Jones] and Ty Boeck, if they do a pass play, we're going to get there. I knew the call and knew what it was. It was a great play.
“D-Max [Devonnsha Maxwell] was taking three blocks every time, it was pretty easy for me to get back there and make a play."
Another turnover led to the Mocs next score. Gabe Boring’s punt was mishandled inside the 10-yard line with Jerrell Lawson pouncing on the ball at the eight. The Mocs were stifled, but Victor Ulmo gave his squad a 10-3 advantage with a 22-yard field goal.
Missed chances in the fourth quarter led to a dicey ending. Pigrome’s 28-yard strike to Joshua Simon put WKU at the Mocs 13. A stuffed rush was followed by a pass out of the end zone. A late flag flew and roughing the passer was indicated.
First-and-goal at the six. Gaej Walker’s 4-yard run made it perilous on 2nd-and-2. Back-to-back 1-yard losses with plays from Lawson and Kam Jones. A late timeout before fourth-and-goal built the drama further before Pigrome-Burt’s fade connection provided the final tally.
Looking back even after the bitter disappointment in the ending, Coach Rusty Wright still had a positive to fall back on just by being on the field.
“It was awesome (to be back for a day),” Wright began. “There are no moral victories, but it was just so good to be in that pre-game meal. It was so good to be in that locker room before the game. Even though it hurt as bad as it hurt after this game was over, it was so good being in that locker room with them. We’ll keep building on it and we’ll be okay.”
RECORDS – Chattanooga (0-1) | Western Kentucky (2-4)
SERIES – Chattanooga leads 8-6
“Kids played hard, they were flying around, giving themselves opportunities, they were having fun. We just went out there and played. We didn’t do anything different from last year, we just lined up and played.” – Coach Rusty Wright
"I saw something that looked a little fishy. I didn't expect them to try something like that, that early in the game. We were playing good defense, so they had to do some trickery to try and catch us off guard." – Senior Rashun Freeman
“We did what we thought we should do. We ran the ball hard. We gave ourselves some options. They changed some things up in the second half. We’ll have to throw the ball better, teams won’t let us just line up and run the ball like that. Guys ran hard, didn’t turn it over, and gave us a chance. All we could ask for.” – Coach Rusty Wright
3 NOTES TO KNOW
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the only game for the Mocs in 2020. The Southern Conference has posted an eight-game league schedule that beings on Feb. 20, 2021. The FCS Playoffs are now a 16-team field that begins on April 24, 2021, with the championship game set for May 15 in Frisco, Texas.
- The 13 points allowed are the fewest Chattanooga has given up to an FBS opponent since a 7-0 loss at Vanderbilt on Sept. 7, 1985.
- Bryce Nunnelly’s 146 career receptions passes Terrell Owens (1992-95) and Jeremy Grier (2001-03). Tied with current New York Giant C.J. Board (2013-16) for sixth all-time at UTC.
3 STATS TO KNOW