This wasn't the start the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was expecting. This wasn't the debut upon which memorable, playoff-bound seasons are made.
The Mocs' 2013 football season opener was short on offensive success until it was too late, was high on missed tackles and ended in a 31-21 loss to UT-Martin.
Mocs coach Russ Huesman credited the Skyhawks (1-0) with being better coached, more physical and the superior team Thursday. He also said UTC did very little well enough to win.
"It was just an ugly, ugly day," he said, "probably one of the worst days I've been involved with since I've been here."
Huesman is starting his fifth season at UTC. He beat out UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson for the job in 2008. But it was Simpson, a former UTC offensive coordinator, who was smiling after Thursday's game.
Simpson's squad had size, power and tenacity on its side, and it showed from the opening offensive play, a quick screen to big wideout Jeremy Butler that went for 6 yards. Simpson said he was wary of giving up sacks to UTC's defense, so he opted for quick passes.
Many of those short passes outside, and inside runs, led to big gains because UTC couldn't get the Skyhawks down. UT-Martin had two backs rush for more than 115 yards, and the team finished with 451 yards of offense. UTC finished with 368, but much of that came late.
"Everybody's kind of shocked," Mocs All-Southern Conference cornerback Kadeem Wise said. "We didn't expect to start out the season this way."
The Mocs' starting offense and defense were missing some key pieces. Terrell Robinson, UTC's top returning receiver and part-time quarterback, was decked out like his teammates in their navy uniforms. But his didn't get dirty due to a hamstring injury, Huesman said.
Among the other players UTC was missing was All-SoCon senior safety D.J. Key, who missed nearly all of the preseason.
Thin on defense and facing a big, powerful Skyhawks offense, UTC's tackling got worse as the game progressed. UTC, one of the preseason favorites to win the SoCon, was expected to possess one of the top defenses in the league and Football Championship Subdivision.
The Skyhawks hurt themselves with penalties during the first half (four for 40 yards), but it was the Mocs that made the big mistake. On third-and-5 at the UTC 28 late in the second quarter, a Jacob Huesman pass went off tight end Faysal Shafaat's hands and into the hands of Skyhawks safety J'vontez Blackmon,
Between Blackmon's return and a facemask penalty on UTC, the Skyhawks had the ball at the UTC 5. Two plays later, running back D.J. McNeil scored on a 3-yard run for a 7-0 UTM lead.
UTC wanted to throw a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the half, but quarterback Huesman was sacked before he could send the ball into the end zone. It was a deflating end to a deflating opening half of the season for the Mocs.
Jacob Huesman was 17-for-30 passing with three touchdowns and the interception. He also led UTC with 90 rushing yards. Keon Williams had 40 on eight carries.
The Skyhawks took a 14-0 lead in the third quarter when backup quarterback Dylan Favre ran through most of the Mocs defense as he scrambled and bounced his way into the end zone on a 13-yard run. It capped a 12-play, 89-yard drive.
UTC did answer right away, with Jacob Huesman hitting wideout Tommy Hudson for 41 yards and then Shafaat for an 18-yard score on the next play. That made it 14-7 with 1:00 to play in the third quarter.
The momentum didn't stay on UTC's side for long. The Skyhawks had little trouble driving for their own answer, with Favre hitting wideout Chris Thompson for a 13-yard score and a 21-7 lead with 12:56 to play.
UTC recovered a fumble 9:09 to play and scored on a 29-yard catch-and-run for a score by running back Marquis Green. It was 21-14 with 7:16 to play -- plenty of time for UTC to rally. Except UTM responded with a 69-yard kickoff return that led to a win-sealing field goal.
The Mocs will have a few extra days to figure out their next move before visiting Georgia State on Sept. 7.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.