Chaz Moore doesn't have to dream about a Southern Conference championship ring anymore. He and his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football teammates have earned their own.
"I almost couldn't sleep last night," Moore said after Saturday's 20-10 home win over Wofford. "I told the boys this morning: Every day we work for a diamond. Now we've got it."
While the 23rd-ranked Mocs were beating No. 15 Wofford at Finley Stadium, Furman was upsetting No. 22 Samford, giving UTC at least a share of its first SoCon championship since 1984.
The Mocs (8-2, 6-1) jumped to a 14-0 lead against Wofford (5-4, 4-2) in front of a crowd of 12,090, and then the defense preserved their sixth win in a row.
"I'm proud of our guys, man, unbelievable," said fifth-year Mocs coach Russ Huesman, who played on two SoCon championship teams (1978 and '79) at UTC. "So many guys made plays. ... A bunch of people made a bunch of plays out there, and that's the reason we won the game."
The Mocs can earn the title outright next week with a win at Samford, which lost 35-17 at Furman.
Quarterback Jacob Huesman led the offense with 116 yards rushing and 151 passing. Linebacker Wes Dothard played one of the best games of his All-America career with nine tackles, 2.5 for loss, and a win-sealing interception on the Terriers' final drive. Linebacker Nakevion Leslie led UTC with 14 tackles.
Wofford has delivered its share of late-season heartbreak to UTC in the past four seasons, either knocking the Mocs out of the Football Championship Subdivision playoff picture or denying them a shot at the SoCon title. But not Saturday.
"It feels great to see this program turn around," the fifth-year senior Dothard said. "When I got here, we weren't good at all. And then we started progressing, going 6-5. Over the past couple of years it's been average, but now we're having a pretty good season. I love playing with these guys."
While "pretty good season" may be an understatement, there's no denying how far UTC has come. The Mocs went 1-11 in 2008, before Huesman arrived and before the remaining fifth-year seniors signed. Several of their former teammates -- including Ryan Consiglio, Jordan Tippit and Sloan Allison -- were on hand to see the Mocs win the biggest game in decades.
Allison, who played two seasons under his father, Rodney Allison, and two seasons for Huesman, was weeping as he stood at the end of the field and congratulated one player after another.
With eight wins and a share of the SoCon title, UTC is in a very good position to claim the league's automatic bid to the playoffs. The Mocs haven't been since 1984, and they don't want to leave anything in the hands of the selection committee.
"We've got to go play next week and play well, and just make sure we get this thing by ourselves," Coach Huesman said. "I don't believe Samford's going to give it to us."
Wofford made the Mocs work for it as well. After UTC's fast start, scoring easily on its first two possessions, with a Terriers three-and-out in between, Wofford settled down. The Terriers got a field goal to make it 14-3 and started getting stops.
The Mocs were pinned back at their 11-yard line on fourth down midway through the second quarter and were able to flip the field position thanks to a career-long 78-yard punt by Nick Pollard.
The score was 17-3 at halftime, but Wofford needed three plays opening the third quarter -- including a 60-yard completion on a halfback pass -- to make it 17-10. That score held until early in the fourth quarter, when Pollard made a career-long 42-yard field goal to make it a two-score margin.
UTC finished with 384 yards of offense, while holding Wofford to 271. The Mocs outrushed the triple-option Terriers 233-172.
"It still doesn't really seem real," UTC senior right guard Kevin Revis said. "I was looking at all the other seniors and all the other guys, and we just wanted it for each other so bad. We went out and got it -- defense, offense, special teams -- everybody. Whenever we're clicking on all cylinders, we can be a really good team."
And after Saturday, a championship team
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.