DAYTON, Tenn. - University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior Lance Geren is a Tennessee Volunteers fan when football season comes along, but when he's fishing he bleeds blue and gold.
Geren and UTC bass fishing teammate Robbie Moore stormed from 11th place to edge a UT team and win the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional on Watts Barr Lake, part of the five-day BASSfest event.
"It's still not real to me," Moore said after he and Geren celebrated their win on the Bassmaster stage where the Elite Series pro anglers will be weighing in fish all weekend. "I'm still shaking from it. It's just great."
After a hard first day Thursday, Geren and Moore came into Friday with 11 pounds, 12 ounces -- 4 pounds, 9 ounces behind first-day leaders Tyler Wadzinski and Matt Beeler of UT and just barely inside the top 12 needed to qualify for the Carhartt collegiate national tournament July 31-Aug. 2 on Chatuge Reservoir at Young Harris, Ga.
Friday was better from the beginning for Geren and Moore, who had five keepers in the boat by 8:30 a.m., but they knew they were going to need something big to jump to the top of the leaderboard. Geren said that perhaps a little karma late in the afternoon gave them the push they needed.
"We had helped some guys out earlier with some ice, and I said, 'Maybe the fishing gods will help us out,'" he said. "Then [Moore] threw out onto this point and hooked into the big one. We knew we needed that kicker fish all day."
Moore's 5-11 bass, caught in the final hour of competition, pushed their Friday total to 19-6 and a two-day haul of 31-2.
"When we caught that fish, [Moore] said, 'We just won the tournament,'" Geren said. "But for me it wasn't until I talked to the Western Kentucky team and they said that they only caught five and didn't have a great day that I knew we had a shot."
Friday was not as kind for Wadzinski and Beeler. As the day-one leaders, they were shadowed by other boats for much of day two.
"There were other boats around us on the second day," Wadzinski said, "and we just didn't get the same quality bites that we were getting in practice or on the first day. This was my first day on the lake. I was kept really busy with school work and stuff and I wasn't able to make it over there. But we did practice a little bit the day before, and we fought hard."
Geren and Moore had to sweat out as the final few teams teams weighed in while they watched from chairs on the stage at Dayton's Point Park in front of fans who had braved rain all day to watch the weigh-in.
Bassmaster emcee Dave Mercer and tournament manager Hank Weldon took "selfie" photos with Geren and Moore on stage to break the tension before the final two teams weighed in.
Wadzinski and Beeler were the final team to weigh in, needing 14-14 to hang on for the win. When Mercer announced their total weight was 14-4, Geren and Moore could breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate a Mocs victory over the Vols -- a victory that Geren doesn't want to see repeated this fall in Neyland Stadium.
"My parents went [to UT], so in football I'm through and through for the Vols," he said, laughing. "But for us to beat them [was great]. We fish against them all year. ... We're friends off the water, and they're great guys."
While disappointed at not getting the win, Beeler was satisfied with how he and Wadzinski did this week.
"We're happy with what we got," he said. "We had a great week here and we caught fish. We never caught our limit in practice, but we caught five keepers yesterday, five today."
Geren and Moore thanked the UTC bass team sponsors, which include MoonPie and the local Tow Boat USA franchise, for making it possible for them to fish in big tournaments and for UTC to host the Tennessee Collegiate Bass Fishing Trail.
Chickamauga Lake Tow Boat president Shane O'Neal watched nervously as Geren and Moore waited out their win. He seemed as excited as they were about the victory for UTC bass fishing.
"It's wonderful knowing that we've sponsored them for the past three years and they've fought and battled for all that time," he said. "This is Lance's last year, and he's been with us from the start. ... It's wonderful for him to be going out as a champion."
Geren and Moore now will turn their attention toward nationals in just over a month, and they've already started thinking about how they want to fish Chatuge, although they did plan on taking a few days to enjoy what they accomplished on Watts Bar.
"We've got friends who are college anglers that we've been talking to who have experience [as Chatuge]," Geren said. "We're going to lean on them for help. It's a great opportunity, and we're going to enjoy it.
"But we're going to enjoy this opportunity first."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.