BOONE, N.C. - The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga freshmen are growing up fast. Several true and redshirt freshmen played critical roles in the Mocs' 35-28 win over Appalachian State on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
None was bigger than linebacker Nakevion Leslie's 28-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:52 remaining that proved to be the game-winner.
"The older guys, they prepared us," Leslie said. "All year long, they told us our time is coming and be patient and keep working hard. And with the injuries that we had, of course we had to step up."
Leslie's interception was set up by the pass rush of defensive end Keionta Davis, a redshirt freshman from Red Bank High School. Davis forced ASU quarterback Kameron Bryant into a hurried, off-balance throw, which Leslie snagged.
"I'm on my rush and I see [the left tackle] give me the inside move, so I take the inside move; I hit [Bryant] and I'm thinking I had the sack," Davis said. "I hear the crowd go wild, so I'm thinking he must have gotten the ball off and they caught it. Next thing I know, I get up and see Nakevion running. I just start smiling as I watch him go to the end zone."
Davis, who had 1.5 sacks late in UTC's win a week earlier against The Citadel, totaled 2.5 tackles for loss.
Offensively, two true freshmen made big plays. Running back Derrick Craine had eight carries for 29 yards and scored on a 1-yard run. Wideout Xavier Borishade had two receptions, highlighted by a 29-yarder that put UTC up 28-21 with 9:04 to play.
Here's how good UTC's fake punt early in the fourth quarter was: Even after the game, App State coach Scott Satterfield didn't know it was a fake.
"The fluke play with the Chattanooga punter helped them and took the momentum," he said of Nick Pollard's 17-yard run.
UTC coach Russ Huesman said the Mocs came in expecting to run a fake field goal, a fake punt and maybe an onside kick. They did the first two, successfully.
Early in the second quarter, UTC lined up for a field goal on fourth down at the ASU 7. But punter/kicker Pollard ran wide left and Jacob Huesman, UTC's quarterback and holder, caught the snap and ran the ball in for a tying touchdown. It was the team's second successful fake field goal of the season. Against Georgia State in week two, Jacob threw a 27-yard touchdown pass on a fake.
On the fake punt, UTC had a fourth-and-3 at its 33. App was in the coverage the Mocs wanted and Coach Huesman called the fake. He didn't call, however, for a high snap to Pollard, who had to make a leaping grab before taking off up the right sideline.
"My blocking was great," said Pollard, who had never run on a fake before.
Pollard also had three punts downed inside the 20 after having five a week earlier against The Citadel.
UTC did something in the second quarter it hadn't done all season -- stopped an offense in the red zone. With the game tied at 7, App State drove and had a first-and-goal at the 6. The Mountaineers got to the 2 but no closer.
The Mocs had allowed points on all 20 drives to inside their 20 before that, ranking last in the Football Championship Subdivision in the category.
In the final minutes, as UTC tried to hold on to a 35-28 lead, the Mountaineers drove to the UTC 9. On third-and-2 at the 9, pressure forced Bryant to make a quick throw, which fell incomplete. On fourth down, Bryant's pass into the end zone was high and incomplete.
Mocs cornerback Kadeem Wise led UTC with 14 tackles, and linebacker Wes Dothard had 10. ... Mocs wideout Terrell Robinson officially had three receptions for 24 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown. One went for no gain and another for a 7-yard loss.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.