Down 20-18 early in the fourth quarter Saturday, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense did what it had been doing all game long. It gave the Mocs' offense a chance.
As a unit, the offense had struggled since losing tailback Bryan Fitzgerald to a foot injury against Samford on Oct. 10. But against Western Carolina, the offense, moving slowly and steadily, marched down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
Chris Awuah's 6-yard run gave the Mocs a 24-20 come-from-behind win over the Catamounts, who led 13-0 midway through the second quarter and 20-15 heading into the fourth quarter. It was UTC's first fourth-quarter rally since 2000.
"In the second half, they didn't do anything different, they just did it better," Western Carolina coach Dennis Wagner said of the Mocs (5-3, 3-3 Southern Conference).
The UTC defense set up the game-winning drive by forcing its fourth three-and-out of the game. The offense took over at its 23-yard line with 10:57 remaining, and what followed was one of the Mocs' most impressive drives of the season, covering 73 yards in 16 plays and using up 7 minutes, 24 seconds.
Quarterback B.J. Coleman hit wideout Blue Cooper for 9 yards on first down, and two plays later Awuah got 3 yards and a first down. Coleman hit Cooper across the middle for 5 yards on first down and connected with tight end Garrett Hughes for 17 yards on third-and-5. It was Hughes' only catch of the game.
On first down at the Western Carolina 43, Coleman and Cooper connected, again, for 8 yards. Awuah was then stopped for no gain and Bo Dyer barely got 2 yards on third-and-2.
Coleman hit Cooper on the next two plays and ran a sneak for 2 yards on third-and-1 to the Catamount 22. Sloan Allison then made a diving catch for 7 yards on first down for his only catch of the game.
"That was huge, the play that he made there," offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said of Allison's grab. "They deflected it and he had to come back and catch it."
Coleman's next pass was incomplete, setting up a third-and-3 at the 15. What followed certainly surprised Western Carolina (1-7, 1-5), and probably plenty of people in the stands at Finley Stadium, as well.
Coleman faked a handoff to Awuah and ran the ball up the middle for 9 yards. It was the first time all season that he kept the ball on a designed run other than a sneak.
"I knew they were going to give us three down (linemen) and our one play with three down this week was that play, and I was confident," Satterfield said. "We've been on (Coleman) for weeks now -- he looks like a dang tight end -- to keep it one time and just get your nose bloody and just get down hill, and he picked a really good time to keep it for the first time."
The offensive line gave him all kinds of room, with left tackle Chris Harr sealing the back side, and Coleman got the first down and more. On the next play, the right side of the line opened up a big lane for Awuah's game-winner.
"We were able to keep (the Catamounts) off the field, make some plays, convert some third downs and it ended up in a rushing touchdown," said Satterfield, chuckling about the rushing touchdown after the Mocs managed just 53 yards on 32 carries in the game.
The Mocs converted five third downs on the drive and walked off the field with a win and their confidence restored.
"We found a way to win," Coleman said. "Down 10 points at halftime, it was imperative that we came out and got this win."
Now UTC must turn its attention to this week's game at No. 7 Appalachian State (6-2, 5-0), which blasted Furman 52-27 on Saturday and has won six straight games.