UTC backs Ailym Ford, Tyrell Price pair up for dominant run

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / UTC running back Tyrell Price (23) moves behind the block of Colin Truett to score a touchdown during last Saturday's home win against SoCon rival East Tennessee State.

Ailym Ford and Tyrell Price heard the chatter.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga running backs said that, entering this season, there were those who expressed the belief that while they may be a potent duo, Ford and Price weren't breakaway threats.

Who said it?

"Coaches not in the (Southern Conference)," Ford said this week.

That gave the pair even more motivation this year, but it wasn't just that. An injury ended each player's season in 2019, and so they spent a lot of time working out together in preparation for the 2020 season before most of it was moved to this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the Mocs wound up opting out before completing their SoCon schedule.

"We've been through a lot the past couple of years," Price said. "Being in the same position group, putting in this work together and building off that just made us come closer as teammates."

The pair have eight runs of at least 33 yards in the past four weeks heading into UTC's SoCon battle against Samford (3-3, 2-2) at 1 p.m. Eastern on Saturday at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama. Ford, who leads the Mocs (3-3, 2-1) with 589 yards and six scores this season, has runs of 48, 54, 65 and 49 yards, while Price has 456 yards, including runs of 33, 57, 33 and 58.

This pairing could have happened two seasons ago.

Price (5-foot-11, 211 pounds) was coming off an All-SoCon campaign in 2018, his first season at UTC after coming from the junior college ranks and the year before Ford arrived. Price started the 2019 schedule as the primary back before an injury in the second game sidelined him the rest of the way, which opened the door for Ford (5-9, 210) to take on a workhorse role before an injury late in the season put him down - but not before he had done enough to be voted the SoCon's freshman of the year.

photo Staff photo by Troy Stolt / UTC's Ailym Ford (32) runs the ball during the Mocs' SoCon opener against Western Carolina on Oct. 2 at Finley Stadium.

"It's just both of them working their tails off," UTC coach Rusty Wright said. "That's the thing they respect about each other; there's no quit in either of them and they go. If one of them's not having his day to start, the other one picks up the slack and goes with it.

"They both do different things well, and I think that's what complements both of them. I think that both of them have a mutual respect for each other and what they've come through and how far they've been and what they can do to get it."

They've been patient as well. Most of the big scoring runs have come in the second half, some with the game still in doubt. The Mocs held a 14-10 lead over East Tennessee State last Saturday and were on what appeared to be a time-consuming drive when Price broke free for the 58-yard touchdown run that put the game away and dealt the Buccaneers their first loss of the season.

The Mocs will need quarterback Cole Copeland to make plays along the way, but they are going to be led on offense by this rushing attack, one that has at least 171 yards on the ground in each of the past five games. That means it's going to need a lot more of this duo.

They are ready.

"It's like a one-two punch," Ford said, "and I believe that we're one of the best one-two punches around."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.