Stakes high for Mocs against The Citadel

UTC's Lucas Webb celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown in the Mocs' home win over Furman last month. The Mocs host The Citadel this week, with the winner earning the Southern Conference title and an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs.

Because the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team lost a September game, the Mocs will be fighting for their Football Championship Subdivision playoff lives this week after suffering a narrow loss Saturday at Mercer.

But that September game isn't the one you're thinking of.

The Mocs (7-2, 5-1 Southern Conference) previously had a contract to play Ohio Valley Conference member Austin Peay the second week of the season, which would have given them three nonconference games against FCS competition. They already had games scheduled against currently top-ranked Jacksonville State (8-1), which beat UTC 23-20 in the season opener, and Big South Conference member Presbyterian (1-8), which the Mocs shut out 21-0 on Sept. 26.

But the Governors decided to buy their way out of that scheduled matchup, which left the Mocs with 10 games and only four at home. Needing another contest at Finley Stadium, UTC had to turn to NCAA Division II member Mars Hill.

The Mocs beat the Lions 44-34 in a tight game, but because they had to drop Austin Peay, they currently have only six wins against FCS competition. UTC is 6-0 all-time against Austin Peay, and there's no reason to believe the Mocs wouldn't have been victorious again - the Governors are 0-10 this season - but losing that game has added immense pressure on the team to defeat The Citadel (7-2, 6-0) in a winner-take-all game for the conference title.

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. Saturday at Finley.

"The Citadel is the most important game for us because it's the next," safety Lucas Webb said. "We came up short today, but we have to keep our head up. We have to control what we can control. We still have a chance for the automatic bid (for the playoffs), and we still have a chance to win the SoCon."

Should the Mocs win, they know they'll return to the postseason. With a loss, they will have to sweat out the FCS playoff selection show on Nov. 22 because their résumé will have just six FCS wins and no conference championship.

In this case, the team's ranking - which reached as high as No. 3, but will probably drop towards the bottom of the top 10 this week - doesn't matter.

"I think this week will say a lot about our football team," quarterback Jacob Huesman said. "We can respond in one of two ways. We can either say, 'Well, it's been nice being number three. We had a good run at it, but we'll see you next year,' or we can really get after it, really grind this week and not give a darn about the ranking and try to win the game next week and put ourselves in a good playoff sitation.

"I'll tell you, I'm going to do everything possible - everything possible - to make sure we win that football game next week. You won't be able to keep me out of the film room this week, and I know that can probably be said by a lot of the guys on the team. It starts with bringing better energy to practice, personally trying to get the guys involved and keep a positive energy so that we don't waste a day, because this is a huge week we have coming up."

It was a rough week in general for the top nation's top FCS teams - second-ranked Illinois State lost to 11th-ranked South Dakota State, fourth-ranked Eastern Washington lost by 22 to visiting Northern Arizona, No. 5 Richmond lost to New Hampshire, seventh-ranked Sam Houston lost to No. 9 Richmond and No. 10 Portland State fell to Northern Colorado - and so there will be a dramatic shakeup in the polls that come out later today.

None of that mattered moments after the loss to Mercer. The Mocs' primary collective thought was to quickly shift their focus after a disappointing performance that included four turnovers, a missed field goal and a goal-line stand by the Bears that stopped quarterback Jacob Huesman on back-to-back plays from the 1-yard line.

"It is frustrating, but the good thing about it is that there's a lot of season ahead of us, and we have to keep fighting," receiver James Stovall said. "Next week is real big because we're fighting for a conference championship.

"The Citadel is going to come ready to play, and we'll be ready. We know the stakes, we know what's on the table, and for us to get where we want to go and achieve what we want to achieve, we have to come out Saturday ready to play."

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