BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - There was no University of Tennessee at Chattanooga celebration Saturday at Seibert Stadium. Instead it was Samford's students and fans storming the football field after Nick Pollard's 31-yard field-goal attempt in overtime hit the left upright and fell to the end-zone turf, no good.
The final score: Samford 17, UTC 14.
The 18th-ranked Mocs were hoping to close out Southern Conference play with their seventh straight win, securing the league title outright and the SoCon's automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Instead, UTC (7-4, 6-2) has to share the championship, the program's first since 1984, and hope either the tiebreakers after next week's games fall its way or the playoff selection committee feels the Mocs are worthy of an at-large bid. They close out their regular season this Saturday at Alabama.
"I told the guys in there," UTC coach Russ Huesman said after addressing the team in the locker room, "I said, 'Fellows, let me tell you something. I know you're disappointed right now -- we all are -- but you're conference champions. You won a conference championship. You won one and we're probably going to the playoffs.' I said everybody would have signed up for that before the season started, no question."
Still, the pain and disappointment of Saturday's loss was etched on the players' faces. None more than Pollard and quarterback Jacob Huesman, whose across-the-body overtime throw on third down, to fullback Taharin Tyson in the end zone, was just a few inches off the mark.
"I missed him and it's on me," said Jacob, who was 28-of-34 passing for 265 yards despite playing with a bad left knee that limited his mobility.
Samford (7-4, 6-2) led 14-0 going into the fourth quarter. Linebacker Wes Dothard gave UTC life with a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown to make it 14-7 with 13:07 remaining. The Mocs' defense, which held the potent Bulldogs offense to 311 total yards, got another stop right after that.
Playing with more energy, the offense drove 84 yards for the tying touchdown, a 3-yard Tim Tebow-like jump pass from Jacob to tight end Faysal Shafaat with 4:59 remaining.
"Once Wes got that pick-six, everyone was into the game more and we all got excited," said wide receiver Tommy Hudson, who completed a 30-yard pass to C.J. Board on the tying drive and finished with six catches for 45 yards.
In overtime, UTC's defense gave up an 8-yard run on first down at the 25-yard line. Defensive end Davis Tull then got a 3-yard tackle for loss, followed by a 6-yard sack by end Keionta Davis. Samford kicker Warren Handrahan then connected from 43 yards to give Samford the lead.
UTC got a first down and then soon faced a third-and-4 at the 8. Jacob rolled right, looking for a front-side target, he said, then threw back across his body toward Tyson, missing him by inches.
"I was close to it, but I just couldn't reach it," Tyson said.
After that a delay-of-game penalty moved UTC back 5 yards and Pollard set up for a 31-yard try that slammed into the post. It was UTC's fifth penalty of the game -- one of many, many Mocs mistakes.
Coach Huesman said he made the biggest one in the third quarter, when he opted to go for it on fourth-and-6 at the Samford 13, instead of trying the field goal.
"This loss is not on Nick Pollard," he said. "This loss is on me. I'm the idiot that didn't kick the field goal on fourth-and- to make it 14-3. I'm the moron that didn't do that."
It was UTC's first trip into the red zone in the game and Huesman said he just felt the Mocs needed more than three points out of the drive. One reason for the offense's struggles was its inability to run the ball, finishing with 104 yards on 44 carries.
Now the Mocs have to wait to hear their playoff fate -- the program's only postseason trip ever was in 1984 -- and lift their spirits as they prepare to face the undefeated Crimson Tide, the two-time defending BCS national champions.
"Hopefully we've done enough this season to earn a playoff opportunity," senior right guard Kevin Revis said, "but I guess we'll have to wait and see. It would have been nice if we could have put it together today and wrapped this up."
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.