STATESBORO, Ga. - The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team walked off the field at Paulson Stadium frustrated and angry Saturday night.
The Mocs lost another close game to a quality opponent, 23-21 against longtime nemesis Georgia Southern, which improved to 23-4 all-time against UTC. Unlike so many other close losses the Mocs have endured the past few seasons, where typically the opponent rose to the occasion more than the Mocs, UTC got in its own way.
Offensive penalties and missed tackles proved crippling and kept the Eagles' chances alive.
"This is the worst I've ever felt after a football game," said Mocs All-America defensive end Davis Tull.
Georgia Southern got two fourth-quarter field goals from Younghoe Koo, the last a 26-yarder with 1:56 to play that put the Eagles in front -- much to the delight of the Family Weekend crowd of 16,827.
Georgia Southern, which is leaving the Southern Conference next July for the Sun Belt, was able to win with a field goal because the Mocs had a 40-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Huesman to wideout Tommy Hudson called back with 10:56 to play because of a penalty for an ineligible receiver downfield.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," highly agitated Mocs coach Russ Huesman said after the game. "And those officials better be right on that touchdown. .... If they're not right, I'm getting somebody fired.
Huesman added: "That better be right; if it's right, I'll apologize."
On the play after the touchdown was called back, UTC (2-2, 0-1) was again flagged for an ineligible receiver, negating a pass to tight end Faysal Shafaat that went for double-digit yardage.
"We had some things taken from us and we took some things from ourselves," said QB Huesman, who totaled 148 yards rushing and was 9-for-19 passing for 92 yards and a touchdown.
UTC's defense nearly stopped the Eagles (3-1, 1-1) from taking the lead. Georgia Southern had a third-and-3 from the 4 and suddenly the ball was bouncing on the ground after a fumbled pitch. No Mocs appeared to have clear shots at the ball, but it was the there for the taking for a few moments before the Eagles recovered it at the 9.
"We had a couple of missed tackles, a couple of missed opportunities," said UTC senior safety D.J. Key, who had a game- and career-high 13 tackles. "Down at the goal line, we have to get that turnover."
UTC and Georgia Southern seemed to pick up where they left off in their triple-overtime game last year at Finley Stadium. The Eagles won that one 39-31 and struck first Saturday. They forced UTC to punt on its first possession and, with the help of a 26-yard punt return, soon were deep in UTC territory. Jerick McKinnon capped the 40-yard drive with a 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 10:48 to play in the first quarter.
The Mocs needed less than two minutes to answer. On third-and-3 at the UTC 49, Jacob Huesman faked a handoff, cut to the left and was gone for a 51-yard touchdown, tying the game.
After the Eagles scored 10 straight points, the Mocs had to get something going to stay close and give their defense a breather. They did, going on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard Keon Williams touchdown to make it 17-14 Eagles.
UTC's defense stopped GSU to open the second half -- Tull and Derrick Lott got in the backfield for an 8-yard loss -- and on the third play of UTC's ensuing drive, Williams caught a simple screen pass to the left and followed his blocks all the way to the right side for a 57-yard touchdown and a 21-17 UTC lead.
"We can hit the big play. We just can't do things to get the other big play called back," Jacob Huesman said.
Georgia Southern cut the margin to 21-20 with a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter, and like the two meetings before this one, this game was going to be decided in the final minutes.
"We've got a bunch of fighters in there," Coach Huesman said. "We've got a bunch of warriors in there and a bunch of fighters."
The Mocs are back at Finley Stadium for their next two games, SoCon matchups against Western Carolina and Furman. The Catamounts and Paladins are a combined 2-6 this season.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.