BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense continued to play like one of the best in the Football Championship Subdivision on Saturday.
The Mocs' defense repeatedly made key stops in a 24-9 Southern Conference win over Samford in front of a crowd of 6,522 at Seibert Stadium.
"Thank goodness our defense played really well," said UTC coach Russ Huesman, whose team came into the game ranked No. 6 in the FCS in total defense.
He was grateful because UTC's offense continued its struggles. With B.J. Coleman still out with a sprained shoulder and Terrell Robinson slowed by a sprained foot, Graham Nichols made the first start of his career at quarterback.
Nichols started, but UTC (5-5, 3-4) used two others at the position. Robinson got plenty of snaps and scored the game's first touchdown, and wide receiver Sloan Allison lined up in a version of the Wildcat that Allison said was called "Sloan Ace."
"I've never heard of a three-quarterback system winning a game, but this year and this team, anything can happen," said Allison, who finished with two catches for 12 yards and nine carries for 32 yards. He was 0-for-1 passing.
It wasn't always pretty or effective, but the offense did enough. Using the unconventional system, the Mocs had more yards at halftime Saturday (170) than they did in the entire game a week earlier against Furman (169).
The Mocs finished with only 228 yards of offense -- Samford (5-4, 3-4) had 342 -- but were able to keep the ball for 32 minutes, 44 seconds. More importantly, they didn't turn the ball over or have any penalties despite the quarterback shuffle.
"We did just enough on offense," Huesman said. "We weren't very good, to be honest with you. I don't know if we had a first down in the second half other than penalties, but we hung onto the football and let the defense win the game."
In fact, UTC had one first down in the second half that wasn't the result of a penalty. That came after Mocs cornerback Chaz Moore intercepted a Dustin Taliaferro pass at the UTC 1-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter.
On third-and-9 at the 2 on the ensuing drive, Nichols rolled out to his right to buy himself some time and hit Joel Bradford on the sideline for a 22-yard gain.
The Mocs eventually had to punt on the possession, which turned out to not be a bad thing Saturday. Bradford averaged 40.4 yards on his nine punts, with three of more than 50 yards and four downed inside the Samford 20.
Robinson put UTC in front late in the first quarter with a 3-yard touchdown run and UTC led 7-0 after the first, stretching the Mocs' streak to seven games in a row without allowing a first-quarter point.
Mocs linebacker Wes Dothard made perhaps the play of the game early in the third quarter. On the opening possession, he stripped Taliaferro of the ball, scooped it up, broke some tackles and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown and a 17-6 UTC lead.
Before fullback Taharin Tyson scored on a 1-yard plunge to seal the win in the final minute, UTC's defense had more work to do.
Samford's best drive of the day started with 8:05 to play and UTC still up 17-6. UTC helped by jumping offside three times, and Taliaferro was able to hit open receivers and move the ball to the Mocs' 10.
On second-and-6 at the 10, Taliaferro was forced to roll to his right and end Josh Williams brought him down for a huge 16-yard loss at the UTC 26. Samford's 13-play drive ended in Cameron Yaw's third field goal, which made it 17-9 with 4:21 to play.
UTC went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, but the clock kept moving and Bradford's 58-yard boot pinned Samford back at its 16 with 2:44 to play. End Davis Tull sacked Taliaferro on the ensuing possession -- UTC totaled four sacks -- and the Mocs wrapped up the win.
After going nonstop since reporting for practice in early August, the Mocs will get to rest for a few days because they're off next Saturday before finishing the season on Nov. 19 against Wofford.