GREENVILLE, S.C. — One by one, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football players stepped out of the visitors' locker room at Paladin Stadium, some solemn, others driven to tears. Senior linebacker Tavon Lawson was inconsolable, laying his head on sophomore defensive back Brandon Dowdell's shoulder while he cried.
This one hurt.
The Mocs lost 16-10 to Furman on Saturday in a Southern Conference matchup each team needed to win to maintain any hope of making the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Furman (4-4, 4-2) will continue that quest by closing the regular season with must-win road games against Virginia Military Institute (1-8, 1-3) and Mercer (4-5, 3-3).
UTC (6-3, 4-3) will play its SoCon finale next Saturday at Finley Stadium against Mercer before closing the season at South Carolina.
"We just have to capitalize on what we did well and celebrate that," said UTC linebacker Marshall Cooper, who had 11 tackles and a pass breakup Saturday. "We'll keep working hard and finish the year. We'll grow through this, come back next week and get to work."
The Mocs held Furman to 279 yards of total offense and won the turnover battle 2-1, but UTC's offense failed to reach 300 yards for the second time this season. The Mocs were limited to 176 offensive yards in a 21-10 loss to Wofford on Oct. 6.
UTC junior Nick Tiano was held to 154 passing yards at Furman despite 37 attempts and 25 completions. His 5-yard touchdown pass to Bingo Morton and Victor Ulmo's extra-point kick cut the score to its final margin with 1:49 to play, but Tiano was also intercepted late in the second quarter, and the Paladins turned that takeaway into points when Grayson Atkins made a 48-yard field goal to end the first half.
Atkins also hit a 50-yard field goal with 3:04 left in the first quarter and a 28-yarder with 13:30 left in the fourth.
Tiano led the Mocs in rushing with 40 yards on 10 carries. Tyrell Price added 33 yards on 10 carries, and fellow running back Alex Trotter gained 13 on three.
UTC sophomore Bryce Nunnelly had 52 yards on eight catches, pushing him to more than 1,000 yards for the season and making him the first Moc to top that mark since Joel Bradford in 2010. But the Mocs' longest completion covered only 13 yards.
Furman scored its lone touchdown on its second possession, with Devin Wynn running 50 yards to the end zone with 1:23 left in the first quarter.
UTC's offense, as it has on a number of occasions this season, failed to take advantage of good chances. Five of the Mocs' drives either started or ended in Furman territory, including the first two.
The Mocs quickly moved inside Furman territory on their first series, but penalties pushed them back 15 yards and they were forced to punt. On their next possession, the Mocs drove to the Furman 28-yard line, but Tiano's pass to Wil Young on fourth down was incomplete.
"We had multiple opportunities in the early part of the game that we didn't take advantage of," UTC coach Tom Arth said. "We didn't play well enough. I thought, defensively, we kind of got things figured out and played a great game. To hold a team and an offense like that to 16 points is really good.
"We were down in there and had opportunities to score. Just missed. Just missed on a few opportunities. Just missed on a couple of conversions. You can't beat a good football team when you hurt yourself. We had a number of self-inflicted wounds early on in the game. Dropped passes, things like that. It is just hard to overcome that against a team like that."
The Paladins led 13-0 at halftime, but the Mocs got on the board midway through the third quarter. Ian Hayes stripped Furman's Landon Lawrence of the football, Jerrell Lawson recovered and the Mocs gained a trio of first downs before Ulmo connected on a 23-yard field goal with 8:36 left in the period.
Furman responded with a 20-play, 64-yard drive that ate more than 10 minutes of game clock, converting on fourth down three times before Atkins' final field goal.
The Mocs drove inside the 10 midway through the fourth quarter, but Tiano was sacked on fourth down. UTC's defense notched its second takeaway of the afternoon five plays later, with Isaiah Mack forcing a Ridge Gibson fumble that was recovered by Rashun Freeman at the Furman 18. UTC's offense turned that into Morton's touchdown catch, but Furman recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
UTC linebacker Michael Bean had 12 tackles in his first game back from injury. Tavon Lawson and Devonnsha Maxwell had nine each, while Mack had eight and a sack, giving him 7.5 in his senior season, with 6.5 coming in the past three games.
"We never quit," Tiano said. "The defense never gave up on us. They fought hard all of the way to the end. We have to score more than 10 points to help those guys out. They played a great game today. This team never quit."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.