On the very first play from scrimmage in his first career start, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga quarterback Terrell Robinson took off on a 32-yard run. It was that kind of night for Robinson and the Mocs.
"Is that how long it was?" he asked later. "I didn't really know. I just ran the ball, got a big gain and on to the next play."
Robinson, whose nickname is "Silk," gave Mocs fans plenty of reason to smile Saturday. The redshirt freshman ran the ball effectively, ran the offense and threw three touchdown passes in the Mocs' 51-7 homecoming rout of Western Carolina.
For all the joy Robinson created in his first career start, in place of the injured B.J. Coleman, there were some scrambles that turned into big losses. He also caused the Finley Stadium crowd of 11,866 to hold its breath late in the third quarter when he stayed down briefly after getting the wind knocked out of him a 10-yard run.
"It was a good week of preparation, and we went out and executed in the game," said Robinson, the former South Pittsburg star who finished 7-of-11 passing for 123 yards and three scores and ran 14 times for 72 yards.
The victory was UTC's first in the Southern Conference this season, snapping a three-game losing streak. That slide included a 28-27 loss to The Citadel in which UTC (3-4, 1-3) blew a 27-0 lead, but there was no such collapse against the Catamounts (1-5, 0-4).
Even after UTC led 17-0 after the first quarter and clearly outclassed the Catamounts, the Mocs kept up the offensive and defensive pressure. The defense got a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown from linebacker Ryan Consiglio in the second quarter, and safety D.J. Key returned an interception 85 yards for a score in the third quarter.
"It just feels good to get a win," said UTC coach Russ Huesman, whose Mocs had dropped three in a row by a combined four points.
Robinson is the first UTC freshman to start a game at quarterback since Matt Lopez in 2003, and Saturday couldn't have started any better for him. After the 32-yard run, he and J.J. Jackson took turns carrying the ball until Robinson faked a run to his left and threw a screen pass back to tight end Faysal Shafaat, who ran 18 yards for a touchdown.
"It was huge for us to have that success early," Huesman said. "That was probably as critical of a situation as there was in the game."
The defense then forced a punt and UTC went on a 10-play drive that ended with a Nick Pollard field goal. UTC's third possession of the opening quarter ended with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to Ron Moore.
By halftime, the Mocs had a 31-0 lead and 280 yards of offense to just 87 for the Catamounts.
The Mocs led The Citadel 24-0 at home on Oct. 1, only to see the Bulldogs rally. That was in Huesman's mind as UTC went into its locker room.
"At halftime I told the guys, 'Don't even look at the scoreboard. Do not smile. I don't want one smile the rest of the game,'" he said.
Western Carolina got the ball to open the second half, and on first down UTC defensive end Josh Williams got one of his two sacks. On second down UTC cornerback Chaz Moore picked off a Brandon Pechloff pass and returned it 14 yards to the Catamounts' 22. On the third play of the half, Jackson ran 22 yards for a touchdown.
The Catamounts' only score came on a 1-yard Michael Vaughn run in the third quarter.
The Mocs finished with 388 yards of offense, including 265 on the ground, the most by a UTC team since 2005. Freshman Marquis Green, who scored the game's final touchdown, led UTC with 93 yards on 16 carries. Chris Awuah rushed for 46 yards and Jackson added 39.
Wideout Joel Bradford scored on a 21-yard second-quarter pass and finished with four catches for 59 yards.
The Catamounts got most of their 264 yards in the second half and turned the ball over five times.