If the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga set out to send a message Saturday afternoon in its Football Championship Subdivision first-round game against Fordham, that message was heard loud and clear in the first 30 minutes.
That's how long it took for the seventh-ranked Mocs to build a 31-0 halftime lead on the way to a 50-20 victory over the 14th-ranked Rams at Finley Stadium.
The Mocs ran 37 plays for 326 yards in the opening two quarters, while the defense limited a Fordham team that had averaged 456.6 yards per game and 38.8 points in the regular season to 145 yards, seven first downs and no points.
"It was very important for us to get off to a good start," said receiver James Stovall from Bradley Central High School, who had a career-best two touchdowns in the game. "We were able to be a little more relaxed.
"For us to have a good game, it was important to have a good start."
The Mocs (9-3) had four possessions in the first half, resulting in three touchdowns and a field goal. In addition, safety Lucas Webb had a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown, setting a school record in that category.
"The defense really helped us out in the first half," said quarterback Jacob Huesman, who finished with 340 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. "They played excellent; we were trying to come in and send a message. We executed and moved the ball."
Coach Russ Huesman said the first half was "probably the best we could do." That continues a string of strong first halves at Finley Stadium. The Mocs led 21-3 against Furman on Oct. 10, 35-6 on Oct. 31 against Western Carolina and 21-0 against The Citadel on Nov. 14.
The Mocs built on their first-half lead Saturday with a six-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, capped by Derrick Craine's 14-yard run.
"That set the tempo a little bit and said 'This one's over,'" Coach Huesman said. "We needed that. If we go three-and-out, punt the ball and give up the big one, I don't know what would have happened.
"Offensively our coaches did an unbelievable job. I'm disappointed defensively in how we played in the second half, but for the most part we played a complete game."
Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfree press.com. Follow him at @genehenleytfp.