published Thursday, November 7th, 2013

UTC celebrates football victory with bonfire

Students watch a bonfire Wednesday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Students watch a bonfire Wednesday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

It started with a bulky pile of leftover shipping pallets and dead branches. A carefully lit torch -- tilted gently into the pile -- and suddenly, the UTC campus was ignited with Mocs fever.

Flames scorched the dark autumn night sky, and the chants continued.

"Go Mocs! Go Mocs! Go Mocs!"

Hundreds of UTC students and faculty members swarmed Chamberlain Pavilion -- the former grounds of historic Chamberlain Field -- for the university's fifth bonfire Wednesday evening.

The post-midterms celebration, complete with hot chocolate and marching band cheers, has been UTC's annual mixer to acknowledge the athletic department since 2009. Members of UTC's wrestling team and both basketball teams were on hand to take a bow.

But the night's real firestarter would undoubtedly be the football team. The 7-2 Mocs lead the Southern Conference with its best start since 1980, and will take on conference foe Wofford on Saturday at Finley Stadium.

The buzz surrounding the team is electric, and fans are feverishly expected to fill the bleachers for the Mocs' last home game.

"We need every one of you guys, and more, out there cheering us on," coach Russ Huesman said to the crowd. "It's probably the biggest game in the last 30 years of Chattanooga football. Hopefully, we go a long way toward winning the conference championship."

The campus first rallied around the bonfire on Nov. 11, 2009, just days before the football team would play a pivotal game against The Citadel. The Mocs earned their first winning record in four years with a dramatic 21-point comeback, prevailing 31-28.

But as Wednesday's controlled inferno kept the campus warm, students couldn't help but feel inspired.

"I've never seen anything like this," said freshman Alex Hansen. "I had no idea things like this would happen on campus."

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow him on Twitter at @PressLaFave.

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