UTC running back Gino Appleberry maximized chance to help team win in tough spot

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / UTC running back Gino Appleberry went over 1,000 career rushing yards during Saturday's road win against Wofford.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Gino Appleberry played his role.

In some ways, that was nothing new.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior running back has worn a number of hats during his time in the Scenic City, many of them on special teams. He plays on kickoff coverage; he plays on punt coverage; he has been in on kickoff returns.

Appleberry has also had his moments running the ball, of course. Entering Saturday's game at Wofford, he had 926 career rushing yards and nine touchdown runs, but with fellow senior and prolific UTC rusher Ailym Ford banged up against the Terriers, there was a need for other players to step up.

A big reason the Mocs pulled out a 23-13 win is because Appleberry was one of those who did.

His 93 yards, highlighted by a gain of 41, and a touchdown run aided the team's comeback victory as the Mocs improved to 4-1 this season and 3-0 in the Southern Conference. He may not have been the starter, but if you ask anyone on the team, there was nothing unexpected about Appleberry finishing the job.

"We've known that Gino is a great running back, so it wasn't he surprised us, but it's good to see him get his time to shine, too," said quarterback Chase Artopoeus, the junior first-year starter and offseason transfer from UCLA. "Unfortunately, Ailym did go down, and Gino, I think he stepped in and did really well, and I think Chris Houston came in and did really well with the carries that he got and the targets he got. I think he definitely performed, so I'm really proud of those guys."

Houston's two carries for 29 yards included a 19-yard gain, and he also had a catch.

The Mocs needed their running backs to get them moving, because the offense had mostly been in the mud against Wofford (0-5, 0-2). Artopoeus found himself harassed by the Terriers, throwing a pair of interceptions and getting sacked twice. Minus that 41-yard run by Appleberry, the team averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, continuing a theme of a rushing attack that has struggled to get going this year.

"I just don't think I had the best game — to my standards, to the team standards, to the coaches' standards," Artopoeus said. "I think what they expect from me, I didn't put out there today and I'll own up to that, so the game went out like it did. But on a positive note, I think a lot of guys stepped up on the offensive side and had good games, and I think the defense played a really well-played game."

But in a moment when the Mocs needed someone to ignite the ground game, Appleberry answered the call. At times, Ford had been leaned on too much, having logged 755 official carries in his career with more than 200 carries in each of his three full seasons (he played only one game in the shortened 2020-21 season).

It will be more than simply good for the Mocs to have more guys who can handle the load from now on; for this team to reach its goals, it will be vital. That includes Saturday's 4 p.m. homecoming game against Western Carolina (4-1, 2-0) at Finley Stadium, where both team will enter with four-game winning streaks.

"It felt great because as an offensive unit we had been struggling, but we'd been working hard and practicing on the run game, and we had been waiting on that big explosive run," Appleberry, who went over 1,000 career rushing yards with that final 41-yard run, said after the win. "We had two or three today, and that just built a lot of confidence going into the next week with our offense.

"But we've got each other's back. Our coach (running backs coach D.J. Knox) does a great job building up the running back room and getting us prepared each week to face the battles and adversities, and he also preaches to us on life. So if you're struggling, you just have to keep on fighting."

And at Wofford, Appleberry's fight helped the Mocs get to 4-1.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com.