Wiedmer: Mocs still have plenty to smile about

Wiedmer: Mocs still have plenty to smile about

November 17th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Ka-boing!

That's the sickening sound a football makes when it hits the hollow metal left upright of a goal post. It's also the sound of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team's dream season imploding before the Mocs' eyes and ears Saturday evening at Samford's Siebert Stadium.

Because Nick Pollard's 31-yard field goal hit that upright and bounced away, the Mocs fell 17-14 to the Bulldogs in overtime, a loss that denied them an outright Southern Conference title and a certain NCAA FCS playoff bid.

Because that kick drifted six inches farther left than desired, that sound and that sight will rattle around in UTC's collective psyche for months, if not years, to come.

Or as senior defensive back Chaz Moore said, "I'm going to see that for the rest of my life."

He likely won't be alone. One could argue that other than Russ Schoene's missed runner/layup/teardrop shot against Minnesota on the NCAA tournament's opening weekend in 1982, a shot that would have propelled the Mocs to the Sweet 16, this may have been the most painful moment in UTC sports history.

But as Moore also said, "That's football. That's what I love about it ... just not today."

Every Georgia Bulldogs backer on earth would surely echo that sentiment this morning after UGA's 43-38 loss at Auburn about an hour after the Mocs lost. But that is indeed sports. For every point there is a counterpoint. The greater the joy on one side, the more painful the hurt on the other.

But what Moc Maniacs everywhere should attempt to focus on today is what it took to get to this maddening, saddening moment. The six straight wins. The late heroics against The Citadel and Appalachian State. The textbook home vctory over Wofford eight days ago.

Just to reach this overtime took something of a miracle comeback, beginning with a 70-yard interception return by the matchless senior Wes Dothard less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. UTC trailed 14-0 before Dothard's score. The Bulldogs again driving at that point, the Mocs looked as if they were about to fall behind 21-0, the Samford passing attack suddenly clicking, including a 92-yard scoring strike nine minutes earlier.

But then UTC's defense stiffened. And sophomore quarterback Jacob Huesman began to hobble around well enough on his heavily wrapped left knee to lead a game-tying touchdown drive inside the final five minutes. He even channeled his inner Tim Tebow on the tying score, throwing a jump pass over the goal line to tight end Faysal Shafaat.

Yet even then no overtime was certain. The Bulldogs drove it far enough at the close of regulation to attempt a 50-yard field goal for the win. It had been a 55-yarder until the Mocs were flagged for an offside penalty. Worse still, no UTC opponent had missed a field goal against the Mocs all season -- a perfect 13-for-13.

But Warren Handrahan's kick curved left.

OT.

And all the momentum seemingly with UTC.

Not that Mocs coach Russ Huesman necessarily felt comfortable. Facing a fourth-and-6 from the Samford 13 late in the third quarter, he had ignored a near-certain field goal in favor of a going for it. In retrospect, those three lost points might have cost UTC the game. At least Coach Huesman decided to paint it that way after attempting to console Pollard.

"I'm the idiot who didn't kick it on fourth-and-4 (actually 6)," he said. "I'm the moron who did that. I made the biggest mistake of the football game. It's probably the worst coaching move I've ever made in my life."

However, the biggest mistake of the overtime was physical, not mental, and it didn't involve Pollard. Running a brilliant misdirection play on third-and-4 from the Samford 8, Jacob Huesman's pass sailed too far right of fullback Taharin Tyson, who was all alone near the back of the end zone.

"I had Taharin wide open and I missed him," said young Huesman. "We were in control of our own destiny for most of the season. Now it's in the hands of the [playoff selection] committee."

That committee reportedly will announce the at-large teams for the 24-team tournament a week from today. There is no certainty that UTC will be chosen, despite owning no worse than a share of its first SoCon title since 1984.

But there is also no certainty the Mocs will be left out. Their two SoCon losses came largely because of a terrible official's call at Georgia Southern -- a call the league later apologized for -- and a missed field goal in overtime.

"If we're not in the playoffs, there's something wrong," Coach Huesman said.

There's something wrong with Mocs Nation if it doesn't shower Pollard with hugs and emails and texts in support of the redshirt junior, who, if there's any justice, will get a chance to redeem himself in the postseason.

Until then, Russ Huesman is going to focus on the all the good stuff his fifth UTC team has done and may yet do.

"We're conference champions and we're probably going to the playoffs," he said.

Unless you're Auburn this morning, that should be enough of an accomplishment for any college football team. Especially one already assured of its most successful season in 29 years.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com