A comfortable fourth-quarter lead disappeared for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team Saturday night. A 17-point margin was down to a touchdown when Samford's Adam Summerlin heaved a Hail Mary pass into the end zone on the game's final play.
Mocs cornerback Sema'je Kendall reminded his teammates in the huddle before the play to knock the ball down and not try to catch it. And that's just what he did, preserving a 20-13 Southern Conference win for the Mocs.
"That's all we talked about," said linebacker Gunner Miller, who had a key second-quarter interception, "and Sema'je did a great job of that."
The Mocs (4-3, 3-1) won on a night in which the offense never found a high gear. UTC finished with 250 yards of offense but had only 29, and no first downs, in the fourth quarter. A big reason for that, UTC coach Russ Huesman said, was Samford's defense.
Huesman had specific praise for the the Samford secondary, which has four guys who average about 6-foot-1, 200 pounds.
"Did you see those DBs?" Huesman said. "They're hard to block."
So was UTC's defensive front line, which regularly disrupted the Bulldogs' attack. Samford (5-3, 3-3) came into the game averaging 401.9 yards and 29.4 points per game. UTC held the Bulldogs to 259 yards, and 126 came on their final two possessions.
"It wasn't pretty," Huesman said of the win.
The Mocs host No. 3 Georgia Southern next Saturday.
The Bulldogs were playing without their coach, Pat Sullivan, who stayed behind in Birmingham due to a pneumonia relapse.
It was a quiet night at Finley Stadium, which held an announced crowd of 7,103 -- the lowest attendance since Huesman took over as coach. UTC's students were gone for fall break, and apparently a few thousand others stayed home to watch the Tennessee-Alabama game.
"We're going to play hard even if there's only one person here," said Mocs defensive end Davis Tull, who had two sacks to raise his SoCon-leading total to eight.
UTC led 3-0 in the second quarter following a Nick Pollard 29-yard field goal, and Miller set UTC up for another score -- a 1-yard Jacob Huesman plunge -- with his interception and 17-yard return.
"It was a little high and I popped up there and grabbed it," Miller said.
Jacob Huesman finished with 64 yards on 23 carries, including a 19-yard sack, and was 18-of-23 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown. Terrell Robinson was 5-for-6 for 15 yards and caught nine passes for 65 yards. His only rush went for a yard.
The funky formations and creative plays that worked so effectively the previous game, a 31-10 win at Furman, yielded little for the Mocs in the first half. An offbeat formation did help UTC take a 20-3 lead with 50 seconds left in the third quarter, however.
With Jackson, Marquis Green and Robinson lined up in a row on the left side -- a formation called "hammer" -- Green broke free in the middle of the field and quarterback Huesman hit him for a 16-yard touchdown.
"That's a blocking formation, really, but at halftime the coaches decided to change it up because of the looks we were getting," Green said. "I slipped inside to the middle of the field and I was open."
Samford cut the lead to 20-6 with a second Cameron Yaw field goal, with 12:13 remaining. A Fabian Truss 1-yard run made it 20-13 with 3:35 to play.
The Mocs went three-and-out on their next possession and Samford had a chance to tie. Kendall made sure that didn't happen.