Wiedmer: UTC Mocs have second chance to ignite their fans

Wiedmer: UTC Mocs have second chance to ignite their fans

September 25th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UTC Mocs defensive back Chaz Moore (blue) hits wide receiver Davis Howell (white) causing a fumbler during practice at Scrappy Moore Field.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

UTC head coach Russ Huesman, right, shouts from the sidelines in this file photo.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

That's the tagline of the iconic 1980s Head and Shoulders Shampoo commercial. But should the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team bring a victory home from Georgia Southern on Saturday night, the Mocs just might challenge that premise.

Defeat the Eagles and UTC just might watch a sweeping case of amnesia overtake its fan base regarding its disheartening opening-game loss to UT-Martin. Knock off GSU, senior defensive back Chaz Moore noted, "And we'd come home 3-1. It would be great. The fans would all be excited again."

Moc Maniacs the region over rarely have been more excited than they were the afternoon of Aug. 29, the kickoff to this season only hours away. Then the game arrived, Martin won 31-21 and a sort of malaise set in around the UTC fan base, the notion that the Mocs might again fail to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1984 suddenly more likely than unlikely.

Fifth-year UTC coach Russ Huesman says he hasn't paid much attention to those concerns, quite possibly because his Mocs have looked very much like a playoff team in their two games since them -- a 42-14 victory at Georgia State and a 42-10 home win over Austin Peay.

"I try not to pay attention to the community," Huesman said. "I know they weren't real happy after the Martin game. But I have to worry about my football team first. I really have no idea what people are saying."

But just in case the Mocs Nation thinks Huesman believes his team has done enough to wipe away any questions raised by the Martin loss, he has a vote in the FCS Coaches' Poll and has yet to cast it for his team to enter the Top 25.

"I'll have much better feel for us after this week," he said. "We're about to play one of the five best teams in the country (GSU is ranked No. 15 in the Sports Network Poll)."

So would a win be enough for him to use a Top 25 vote on his Mocs?

"I think so," he said. "You'd think we'd deserve to be ranked if we win this week."

You'd also think it would be enough to win back the at least 1,976 fans who stayed away from Finley Stadium for the Austin Peay game after attending the Martin contest.

Being a Mocs football supporter may have more than its fair share of disappointing moments, but anyone who's supported UTC through countless sub-par seasons also has the kind of stubborn, almost defiant faith that needs little encouragement to remain positive and passionate.

Nor would going on the road to beat Georgia Southern be merely a little encouraging. It would be the kind of landmark win this program hasn't had much of in decades. It would signal that UT-Martin was the exception rather than the rule for these Mocs. It would signal that the playoffs were a realistic expectation rather than a pipe dream.

Of course, losing this game also shouldn't mean the end of all hope for a special season. GSU may have lost at Wofford, but it's also had two weeks to prepare for UTC, which means the Mocs' off week won't give them an advantage so much as a somewhat level playing field.

And anyone who's ever experienced a night game at Paulson Stadium knows it's doubly tough to beat the Eagles under the lights. But UTC did lose by a single point at Statesboro two years ago to an Eagles team ranked No. 1 at the time, and no Huesman squad has lost by more than 10 points to GSU.

Finally, this is likely it for the GSU-UTC rivalry. The Eagles have flown the FCS for the FBS, which means this is their final season playing a SoCon schedule. The two schools could agree to play again, but FBS schools don't go on the road to play FCS schools and GSU wouldn't be able to pay the kind of guarantee money the Mocs can earn from an Alabama or Tennessee.

"So I would think this would be it," Huesman said.

But if this is it, Huesman's son Jacob, the UTC quarterback, sees no reason not to take full advantage of it.

"It would be huge," he said of a possible Mocs win. "Get momentum rolling in the conference. This is where we start the grind."

And where they have a second chance to make a positive first impression on the 2013 season.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.