The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team went from feeling sky-high midway through the third quarter Saturday, to the deepest depths of disappointment.
So what the heck happened?
"You tell me," quarterback B.J. Coleman said after the Mocs' crushing 28-27 loss to The Citadel at Finley Stadium.
After taking a 27-0 lead with 9:39 to play in the third, the 17th-ranked Mocs seemed well on their way to their first Southern Conference win of the season -- and a comfortable one, too. What followed was failure in all phases of the game.
"It got to be one of those things where they scored [after an interception] and we kind of got back on our heels a little bit and it just started snowballing," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said Sunday. "We couldn't stop it, couldn't get first downs offensively, and defensively we gave up a couple of plays that probably shouldn't have happened."
The Mocs (2-3, 0-2 SoCon) have just a few days to mend their bruised bodies, pride and confidence before setting off for Statesboro, Ga., and this week's game at No. 1 Georgia Southern (4-0, 3-0).
"We've got to be 100 mph this whole week or else it's going to be the same old story," safety Jordan Tippit said.
Here's some of what went awry in the final 23 minutes Saturday:
A Coleman interception was returned 30 yards to the UTC 20-yard line, setting up the Bulldogs' first touchdown. Coleman was hit on the throw, but Huesman was adamant again Sunday that the Mocs shouldn't have been taking risks up 27-0.
"The one thing we didn't want was a turnover," he said. "A turnover at that point in time, you could just see the energy they got from it."
The Citadel (2-2, 1-2), which had 62 yards of offense in the first half, marched 72 yards on its next drive and scored to cut the Mocs' lead to 27-14 with a few seconds left in the third quarter.
A 15-yard offensive pass interference penalty, combined with a sack and a penalty for delay of game, killed UTC's first drive of the fourth quarter. The Mocs gained 3 yards on three plays on their next possession and then Mike Hammons' punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown, making it 27-21 with 7:46 to play.
UTC also had a special teams miscue returned for a touchdown last week in its 14-12 loss at Appalachian State.
UTC's next possession featured a 13-yard sack and two incompletions, and then The Citadel drove 71 yards in eight plays for the go-ahead score with 2:24 left in the game. UTC's defense only gave up two plays of 20 yards or more, one a 39-yard run by Darien Robinson on the winning drive.
"We missed a bunch of tackles," Huesman said. "It's ridiculous."
The Mocs had one last chance to regain the lead and avoid a stunning upset, but Coleman threw his second interception of the game on second down. UTC's final six drives were bookended by interceptions, with four punts in between. Only one of those drives lasted more than three plays.
"We had every single shot we could [want] to just put it away," Coleman said, "and we didn't."
Mocs wideout Joel Bradford (nose) left the game in the second half, but should be available this week, Huesman said. The same goes for tight end Faysal Shafaat (back). ... UTC has rushed for a combined 88 yards in its past two games, both losses.