BOONE, N.C. -- The pain of this defeat, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman said Saturday, was "a million miles" worse than last season's loss to Appalachian State.
The No. 14-ranked Mocs know how to play well against the mighty Mountaineers, ranked No. 3. They know how to put a scare into one of the Football Championship Subdivision's elite programs. But they can't find a way to come out on top.
"We should never have lost this football game, no way," an animated Huesman said Saturday after UTC fell 14-12 in front of a crowd of 27,304 at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
The Mocs let a 35-14 fourth-quarter lead slip away last season and lost to ASU 42-41. Saturday, UTC (2-2, 0-1 Southern Conference) held the Appalachian State offense scoreless, but the Mountaineers (3-1, 1-0) returned a fumbled snap 73 yards for a touchdown and then got a 46-yard interception return for a score.
"That team is not better than us. ... They made plays when they had to," Huesman said. "We lost, they won, hats off to them, but it hurts. This one hurts more than any that I've been involved with. ... We had chances to win that game and we didn't get it done."
The Mocs' offense struggled to finish drives and keep quarterback B.J. Coleman on his feet. But UTC did have a 3-0 lead at halftime and a 6-0 edge late in the third quarter. The opening half was the first time since 2004 that the Mountaineers had been held scoreless in a half by an FCS opponent.
Coleman finished 22-of-42 for 270 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. Counting the four times he was sacked, UTC's running game produced just 32 yards on 30 carries.
"They had a great scheme today," Huesman said of ASU's defense, which attacked UTC's young offensive line.
The Mountaineers were held scoreless for more than 44 minutes, but they seized on their opportunities during a 1-minute, 22-second stretch that ultimately shattered the Mocs' hopes of a a second win this season over a top-10 team -- something no UTC team has ever done.
Leading 6-0 in the final seconds of the third quarter after two Nick Pollard 22-yard field goals (he also missed from 35 yards), Huesman opted to try a 26-yarder. Long snapper Brock Oliver's snap hit a teammate's leg and the ball caromed away from everyone.
Defensive back Rodger Walker got to it first and ran 73 yards for a touchdown that put ASU in front.
"I tried to dive on it, but I couldn't get to it," Pollard said.
The Mocs have had their place-kicking issues this season -- Pollard is 4-of-8 and has had a couple blocked -- and Huesman said he maybe should have gone for it on fourth-and-5 at the 10-yard line.
"Now as I go back and think, we're playing really good but I figured get a field goal, it's 9-0, now it's a two-score game and I'd look like a freaking idiot if I didn't kick a field goal there," he said. "I'd look like a complete moron if I don't kick the field goal there. But now looking at it, I should have went for it. Can they go 95 [yards] on us? No! But you've got to kick it.
Just 82 seconds later, linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough intercepted a deflected Coleman pass and returned it 46 yards for a score. Coleman fired the pass to wideout Jeff Veres, but Veres, who had five catches for 57 yards, couldn't bring it in.
"It touched my hands; I should have caught it," Veres said.
The Mocs cut the lead to 14-12 with 9:51 left in the game when Coleman hit Sloan Allison in the right corner of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. UTC went for the two-point conversion, just as it did at the end of last season's game, and just like then, ASU was able to break up a pass in the end zone.
UTC outgained ASU 302-284 and had 21 first downs, five more than the Mountaineers. But the Mocs got only one touchdown and two field goals out of five trips inside the red zone.
The Mocs host The Citadel at Finley Stadium next Saturday.