It’s always nice when good things happen to good people, such as when UT-Chattanooga football coach and former player Rusty Wright watched his Mocs invited to the NCAA’s Football Championship Division playoffs Sunday afternoon.
The Mocs have knocked on the door of the postseason pretty much every year since Wright took over the program in December of 2018. Never previously has the selection committee chosen to answer it.
And whether Wright will admit it or not, failing to get in that 24-team playoff year after year has begun to wear on Moc Maniacs the region over.
Especially because UTC under Wright has tended to play its worst when it needed to be at its best to impress the selection committee.
There was The Citadel disaster on the last weekend of the 2021 regular season, the one the Mocs lost 24-21 to a bad Bulldog bunch at Finley to finish 6-5 and out of the playoffs. The one where Wright infamously said, “I don’t think we played our most inspired football in the first half … there was no purpose, no passion, there was no reason,” then soon added, “We’ve got a lot more issues than personnel issues.”
There were the back-to-back, season-ending losses to Samford (at home) and at Western Carolina a year ago, defeats that turned a 7-2, near-certain playoff bid into a 7-4 final record that left UTC home for the holidays.
Then there was that Furman game at Finley a couple of weeks ago. Needing a win to earn the Southern Conference’s automatic bid, UTC blew a late lead, lost 17-14, that loss made more troubling by the inexplicable decision to throw a halfback option pass a second time after the same play had delivered an interception earlier in the game. With the game on the line, basically the same head-scratching play delivered the same result.
What’s the line? Those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them?
But come Sunday, the selection committee gave the Mocs and Wright a mulligan. They looked at the overall body of work, ignored the opening-game loss to North Alabama and said, “Come on in.”
Said Wright afterward of the opportunity to face Austin Peay less than three hours up I-24 in Clarksville on Saturday at 3 p.m., EDT: “It’s a really big deal for this program.”
And for the head coach, especially if the Mocs can advance. A win would set up a second-round game at Furman, where halfback option passes will hopefully be forbidden. A win would give the Mocs a playoff win for the first time since 2016, which was also the last time UTC was in the playoffs. A win would give the Mocs valuable practice time and recruiting energy toward next season. A win might encourage the Mocs’ boosters to bolster the NIL coffers to attract future players.
But Wright is also right that just earning a bid is a really big deal for the program. As Wright noted in a press release on Sunday: "It's always huge when you can put yourself in a position to be one of 24 out of 133 (FCS programs). It says a lot about the people we have in the building, you know, the guys we have in this program.”
One of those guys, injured running back Allym Ford, deserved so much better than to be on the sidelines for this one. He did so much to get them here, both on and off the field. If the Mocs need a rallying cry beyond attempting to win the school’s first football national championship, it should be “Win One for Allym.”
But whatever gets said between now until Saturday, when Saturday ends, regardless of the outcome, for the future of Mocs football, let us all hope no one in UTC Blue and Gold says there was no purpose, no passion, there was no reason.
Saturday is a really big deal to bury the bitter endings of 2021 and 2022 forever.