The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga took the long bus ride home from Boone, N.C., on Saturday knowing that the Mocs were alone in first place in the Southern Conference football standings. Coach Russ Huesman spent part of the ride watching the film of the Mocs' 35-28 win over Appalachian State at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
"It was good," he said in his office Sunday afternoon.
Huesman said he received a text message from former UTC athletic director Rick Hart, who congratuled him on the big victory and told him to enjoy it for 24 hours.
"I texted him back and said I was going to give it eight hours," Huesman said, laughing.
The Mocs (7-2, 5-1 SoCon) have the best overall and SoCon record in the league after 10 weeks. This is uncharted territory for UTC's players, whose best seasons have ended 6-5. The Mocs haven't been 7-2 since 1980 and haven't had a seven-win season since 1997.
"The sky is the limit for us right now, and it's all in our hands," defensive end Davis Tull said after the Mocs' first win at App State since 1983.
The Mocs have been in the hunt for the SoCon title in October and November several times since Huesman was hired by Hart in December 2008, including last season. But they've always been chasing the league leaders. Now they are the leaders.
"It's been a long, long time since we've been in a situation where we're ahead in the conference and we don't have to look at other teams' scores and say, well, if this team loses we might have a chance," said quarterback Jacob Huesman, who threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes Saturday. "It's a great feeling to not have to do that."
Being in first is the good news. The bad is that UTC is very banged up on both sides of the ball -- it lost three linebackers against the Mountaineers -- and the two teams now pursuing UTC are still on the schedule.
UTC wraps up its home schedule this week against No. 16 Wofford (5-3, 4-1) and closes out league play on Nov. 16 at No. 19 Samford (6-3, 4-1), which suffered its first SoCon loss Saturday, 28-26, at The Citadel.
The Mocs have seven wins yet they haven't beaten a team that had a winning record when they played or has a winning record now. In terms of won-loss record, UTC's best win was its 31-9 defeat of Furman on Oct. 12. The Paladins were 2-4 after that game and are now 4-5.
It has taken clutch offensive and defensive playmaking for the Mocs to win their past two games. The defense got a pair of fourth-quarter stops, with a near-flawless drive for the go-ahead touchdown sandwiched in between, to beat The Citadel 28-24 on Oct. 26.
In the Mocs' final visit to The Rock on Saturday, UTC got behind, caught up; got behind and caught up again. That went on until the fourth quarter, when the Mocs scored two quick touchdowns to move ahead 28-21.
App State answered right back and tied the game with 7:07 remaining. The Mountaineer defense then stopped UTC and forced a punt, which the Mocs were able to down at the 3-yard line.
The Mountaineers drove to their 21, where Mocs linebacker Nakevion Leslie intercepted a Kameron Bryant pass and returned it 28 yards for the winning touchdown. There was still 2:52 remaining and ASU had all three timeouts, so the game was far from over.
Bryant led the Mountaineers all the way to the UTC 9, where the Mocs' defense held one last time.
Huesman said he didn't address the Mocs' place in the standings with the team Sunday.
"I guess they know we're in first place, everybody's told them, but they also know that nothing's changed from two weeks ago, and what has to happen with us," Huesman said. "I try not to talk about that too much. I just want to talk about this week and this game."
Huesman said none of the players' injuries appeared to be too serious. He said he'd know more by the end of today about their status for the Wofford game. The same goes for running back Keon Williams (ankle), who didn't play Saturday. Wideout Tommy Hudson (concussion) also sat out, but he should be good to go against the Terriers. ... Senior safety D.J. Key now has 278 career tackles, 10th all-time at UTC.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.